The end of the age

How could we not be filled with thanksgiving as we look back on our three years overseas?  We were loved, held in prayer, and sustained by all of you over the course of time.  We thank God for all of you.  This has been our time of greatest need, and through that need we have learned much of the true church.  While we have experienced great need, we have also been able to learn of the tremendous blessing of humility in this way.  Thanks to all of you who helped to send us to Uganda.  I only hope God has used us to impact some people, even if just to a fraction of a percent of how He has matured the faith of my family over these years.

Thank you!!

If you are still making donations to New Hope Uganda in our name, we want you to know that your donations will be used according to the needs of New Hope Uganda.  We have no say over any additional funds.  Whether you decide to discontinue support, or would like to change your support to another area of the ministry, you should reach out to New Hope Uganda to make those changes.  We have received our final support payment from New Hope Uganda, so no additional funding will come to our family.  If you still need to make any changes, please contact Lucy Cole, the Donations Manager for New Hope Uganda.  You can reach her by phone at (605) 717-0315.  You can also email at donations@nhum.org.  We would encourage you to pray over this, and let any decision be one that is God’s will for you and your house.

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Family photo at the Omanikor wedding

March 2020 has come and gone, but it has left a mark on us for the rest of our lives.  We will never forget this time of the coronavirus, the world war on the price of oil, and the closing chapter of our lives in Uganda.

As I consider the ending of this chapter, I can’t help but to consider the ending of the age.  As I study scripture and consider the times in which we live, I frequently look forward to Revelation 21.  I love this section of scripture, from verses 9 to 21, where an angel is bringing John to see the New Jerusalem.  This is where we are given the picture of heaven having streets paved in gold.  For a while, I always had a bit of trouble with the concept of heaven being full of all these crystals, and streets that are gold.  I can’t make sense of a place like that.  In high school, we had a janitor who was so concerned over the gym floor.  He’d chase everyone off for not wearing non-scuffing soles, or dusty/dirty shoes.  That floor was just wood! I’d be scared of walking on the gold, and I’d be running around telling all the children to keep their hands off the crystal!  I’d forever be looking around for the janitor!

I really fell in love with these verses a couple of years ago, when it occurred to me that the city being talked about wasn’t a city, but actually represented the sanctified church.  I don’t see it as a physical place, but instead as a completed, diverse, sinless, free, and beautiful church.  Verse 9 starts by telling us that an angel came to John in his vision, and told John he was taking him to see the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  The angel took John to the top of a high mountain to show him holy Jerusalem.  Holy Jerusalem is the bride of Christ.  The apostles are given their place in the church as the foundations for the city wall.  The tribes of Israel are represented at the city gates.  Now, there is all kind of imagery depicted in this scene, and much time could be spent on the meaning of all this.  For me, what matters most, is that I see a church that is absolutely pure.  I see a great diversity in the description of precious stones.  I see dimensions that are complete in every way.  I see a beautiful, finished church at the end of the age, with the glory of God shining forth from her in crystal-clear brilliance.

I think the reason this passage means so much to me is that we currently face such fallen circumstances.  This world brings pandemics, chaos, and filth.  In Uganda, we experienced so much.  We learned through trials and experiences that we wouldn’t have ever imagined.  Witchcraft, snakes, malaria, driver ants, and cultural differences, teamed up with the typical host of troubles like broken vehicles, miscommunication, and more typical illnesses.  We were hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed.  Every trial would test our faith, and patience was our reward.  If we are to be this brilliant church, Lord help us to shine a light into the surrounding darkness.

While we expect to find these trials in a sinful and fallen world, there is another truth that is often more difficult to reconcile.  This filth isn’t just in the world, but it exists right here within us.  Maybe the most disturbing thing of all is the amount of sin in the church.  We see it everywhere.  It’s the megachurch pastor found in an adulterous relationship.  It’s the narcissistic leader that runs people out of a church more quickly than it grew.  We all have examples we can call to mind of how sin is rampant in our churches.  The very place that people should come to find hope is often the place of hypocrisy and religious elite who judge from seats of self-deceit.  No doubt, with the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, there is a light to be shone forth.  However, our light is hindered by the condition of our own broken vessels.  While the church in Revelation 21 is made of gold, jasper, pearls, and precious stones, it is currently found in its earthly vessels.  Gold is found in ugly ore, pearls beneath the mucus of the oyster, and jasper in stones that appear only as common.  The church is precious, and Jesus knows the value of those who are His.  He sees us as we will be when His work is perfected in us.  When the precious gold has been mined from the depths, broken away from the stones, and finally refined in the fire.

The church can and should be a place of sanctification and redemption.  This should be a place where we exist in loving conflict with one another.  We should be as iron sharpening iron.  We should be submitting ourselves to each other in love, knowing that inside these ugly vessels are pieces of pure gold.  We should desire the kinds of relationships that would challenge our thinking, build each other up, encourage, and sustain one another in steadfast prayer.  All too often, this work is lost as we refuse criticism, and run from conflict.  We want the accolades without correction, and we refuse to hold each other accountable over fear of rejection.  Under the guise of mercy and patience, we refuse to offer the loving rebuke.

I love the church in Revelation 21 because I see what the church is becoming.  It’s not a matter of if we get to that point, but when.  Some day, Christ will have purified each one of those who call on Him as Lord and Savior.  In that holy city, I will see my brothers and sisters as Christ sees them.  The light will shine so bright, that I wonder if I will even be able to set my gaze upon them.  They will shine in reflection of the glory of God.  Maybe most amazing of all, is that I will also shine in this brilliance.  I am no stranger to my own brokenness.  I am all too aware of the ugly ore that I feel so trapped in.  In that day, even those brothers and sisters with whom I have experienced conflict and pain will stand side by side with me in all our radiant beauty, reflecting His glory together in perfect union.  Our diversity will only add to that beauty.

While our time at New Hope Uganda came to a close with some conflict and adversity, it is my hope that all of us will grow toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, who did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but humbled Himself, even to the point of death.  Scripture led us to the point of our decision to leave, but not because we don’t deeply love and care for the ministry of New Hope Uganda.  We continue to pray for our dear friends and fellow servants. 

I can’t wait to be there and find my place in that beautiful city.  Will I be gold in the street, an amethyst on a high building, or a brick of pure topaz?  What I do know is that God has a lot of work to do to polish this common looking stone.  I am so thankful that God accepts me as I am in all my brokenness, and does His transformative work for me.

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