Reflections on Uganda - Realizations about Trussville
Heart Transforming Grace
Prosperity is alluring...and deceitful. It entices you in, but it never satisfies. It always leaves you wanting more. Ugandans are certainly not immune to this desire for prosperity. Some have attained it. Some are getting a growing taste, and the effects are tangible.
To a degree, prosperity has been a blessing for the nation. While medical care and clean sanitation services are paltry by American standards, access to them is growing. Better roads aid in connecting people. Cell phones are everywhere. Cities are growing, and with all of this increase, the people's desires are changing.
In my first visits to Uganda, I was struck by the people’s hospitality. I could walk up to a hut in the small village and ask someone to talk. They would then bring a bench and ask me to sit, for as much time as I needed...or wanted. While on the whole, Ugandans do move at a slower pace, I am noticing that with prosperity, there is less willingness to linger in conversation. This is partly due to greater employment levels, partly due to changing desires.
For all of us, our desires serve as an open window into our hearts. As I continue to see this Scriptural truth played out in my own life, I'm also coming to see that prosperity has a way of deadening our desires. With more things, we tend to desire more things...at the expense of relationships.
Speaking of relationships, I began this conversation by asking you if you knew Jesus. So what does all of this talk about desires have to do with my initial question? Everything! Ultimately, the object of our desire speaks to the state of our heart, and as we continue our conversation, I'd like to first speak to the heart.
In the Bible Belt church culture, we often take the conversation straight to behavior. Sadly, much of this talk is centered on being a "better you." It's not that our behavior is unimportant, but focusing on behavior, rather than the heart, is like treating the symptom while ignoring the underlying disease. Jesus didn't come to be a bandaid. He came to be the cure. That means we need to do the hard work of digging deeper than our behavior, and looking at the true desires of our heart.
The Bible has much to say about the heart, and at first glance, what it says might surprise you. Our hearts, or at least Adam and Eve’s hearts, were created good...in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) Yet, in the Fall, sin entered the picture through Adam and Eve. Their hearts, which once were good, became hardened by sin, and we ALL inherit this diseased heart. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Ezekiel 36:26 then tells us of God's promise to His children, to give them a new heart by removing their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh. This is what Jesus was referring to when he told Nicodemus that he must be born again. (John 3:3)
Nicodemus, like many of us, knew about Jesus. He was a religious man. He knew of Jesus’ teaching, and even his power, but Nicodemus did not yet recognize his own sin, and thus his need for Jesus as Savior. In knowing about Jesus, he did not yet know Jesus. He was looking at the world, and at Jesus, through a man-centered lens. He needed to be born again.
Along with a new clarity as to our sin, and our need for a Savior, the new birth begins to transform our desires. So, I repeat the question. Are your desires merely shaped by the world of prosperity, or have your desires been transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ? A born again Christian will still desire things, but his greatest, and growing desire is for Jesus.
Please do not misunderstand me. The beautiful promise of new birth, also known as regeneration, is a glorious gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children. A Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Christian will never reach perfection until he is in glory with God. But, it you consider yourself to be a Christian, it is right to ask if Jesus has any ongoing implication in your life, or is he merely some past event that you point to in order to justify your claim of him?
I'm reminded of a young man I met last week in Northern Uganda. He shared with me that he was a Christian. Upon hearing this, I asked him to share his testimony with me. His response was that his mother was a Christian, so he was too. There was no transformation, no joy...he merely accompanied his mother to church.
I have often heard similar testimony stories where someone walked an aisle and was baptized at some point in the past, yet Jesus had no ongoing relevance in their lives. If that is your story, may I apologize on behalf of the Church? The Church, and her ministers, have been too quick to give empty promises of salvation by pointing to a work that you have done rather than to the work that Jesus did. The truth is, our works, apart from Jesus, will not last. His, on the other hand, will transform for eternity.
Please do not hear from all of this that you must have a well articulated testimony with a deep theological understanding of salvation in order to be converted. No! I am simply saying that your heart (and mine) is the root of the problem. To be born again means that the Spirit of God has ripped out your old, diseased, wicked heart. He has put it to death and replaced it with a heart given to you by the perfect donor...Jesus Christ.
This new birth is both a gift of transforming grace, and an identifying mark of new life in Christ. The born again Christian will continue to sin, at times struggling with the temptations of the world. The presence of those struggles do not indicate that a person is not a Christian, but if we have been born again, there has been a tangible change in our hearts, in our lives, and in our desires. And those desires serve as a telling indicator for us as to our saving knowledge of Jesus. Far too often, the message of outward religion coming from the church sounds a lot like forsaking your desires. Please don't ever think that grace kills desires. Grace ELEVATES desires. So, consider your desires, and pray for the Lord to give you a greater desire... for Jesus.
Friend, thank you for letting me take a little more of your time along the red dirt road. I'd like to continue if we could. We needed to talk about our need for a new heart, so that we could truly see. But truly knowing Jesus means more than seeing him. Next time, I'd like to talk about the beauty of Jesus and his work on the cross, where by his grace, he has erased shame for God’s children. Until then, be comforted by the truth, and reality, of his transforming grace.