Last weekend I had the privilege of spending time with Eliudi Issangya, a friend and colleague from Tanzania. After seeing vending machines for automobiles and experiencing next-day delivery from you-know-who, he made the following observation:
“America is the land of milk and honey.”
It’s a phrase from the pages of the Bible, often used to describe the “promised land” that God would provide for the nation of Israel. But Eliudi observed that it’s easy for people who grow up in a place like the US (a land of abundance) to assume this is how everyone lives.
I mean, we know that, but we forget that. Living with so much abundance and opportunity can lull us into a slumber that closes our eyes to the harsh realities of much of the world that struggles with injustice, poverty, and scarce resources. (And yes, I realize that there are those in this country who struggle with the same things.)
That’s what led him to comment that it would be good for more of us to travel internationally, to see some of the rest of the world. It changes a person when they travel. It sharpens our focus. It awakes us from slumber. If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the
“majority world” (a.k.a. the “two-thirds” world), I would encourage you to put it on your bucket list.
Something else happens in this land of milk and honey. We grow complacent. We think this is it. As C.S. Lewis put it, “we’re too easily pleased.” We think the good life is found here. We believe that a big paycheck, a big house, a big family, and a big nest-egg are the pinnacle of life.
There is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” though. It’s called the kingdom of God (or sometimes the kingdom of heaven). And the amenities and comforts that we look for here pale in comparison. Not because they’re not good, but because they don’t really satisfy. What we long for is what God offers. He offers it in part now, as we experience a relationship with God through Jesus. And he offers it in full when Jesus returns. At that time we will experience God face to face.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
So as we enter the season of Lent, it might be helpful to set aside a bit of milk and honey in order to see more clearly. Not just to see the world around us, but to see the world that God is ultimately calling us to.
P.S. Thank you to all of you who contributed to our efforts to provide funds for the shipping containers destined for Tanzania. If you’d like more info on the ministry there, check out this website.
Chicken Little was sure the sky was falling. Increasingly, the conversations we are having in our country and communities sound a lot like Chicken Little. The sky is falling because _________. (insert your favorite problem here) But is that true?
That’s the question posed by a well-known Harvard psychologist named Steven Pinker. In his recent book, Enlightenment Now, he argues that despite the tsunami of headlines that have us convinced the sky is truly falling, the numbers and data tell a different story. For example, he notes the following:
- Humans are living longer lives than in previous generations
- Millions fewer people are living in extreme poverty
- War-related deaths are down significantly
- Totalitarian regimes are in decline
- Literacy and equal rights are far more wide-spread
- Economic prosperity is growing for many populations
- Terrorist deaths are reduced
- Overpopulation threats are diminishing
Is he right? Well, some agree, and some accuse him of cherry-picking the data. I’m not doing either one of those. Whether you agree with Pinker or not, his point is powerful: Our opinions of our current and future well-being have almost EVERYTHING to do with what we choose to focus on. In 2018 it’s super easy to focus on the click-bait headlines and get thoroughly disgusted and demoralized. Pinker’s suggestion is to look at something else, namely the hard data.
Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus calls us to focus on something other than only what’s going on under our noses. The temptation is to become fearful and anxious because of the events happening in our family, our city, our nation, or our world. But there’s another place to focus: the kingdom of God. That glorious, unstoppable revolution that Jesus started, and which he will one day finish when he returns. If the book of Revelation has left you scratching your head, then know this about it: Jesus wins! That’s the message of the whole book. For that matter, it’s the message of the WHOLE book, from Genesis thru Revelation.
But we easily forget that. The click-bait culture is conspiring to cloud our vision of true reality. We get so tightly focused on here, that we forget there’s another reality. Here will one day be caught up in the “hereafter.” Oh, don’t be confused. It’s not that we’re getting whisked off this planet. No, it’s actually scheduled for a radical restoration project, much like the radical restoration project that God has already begun in the followers of Jesus. (For details on this, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s, Surprised By Hope, a book that is sure to rock your understanding of life in the here AND the hereafter.) The hard question is, “what are we focused on?” Is it the immediate…the headlines…the click-bait?
What if, while working faithfully on the real challenges we DO face (because we’re called to be the light of the world), you could focus on the reality that Jesus wins. What if, when tempted to wring your hands and fling your accusations at the mess around us now, you could lift your head up and see down the road. What if, in those moments, you could see the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. What if you took him at his word when he said,
Don’t worry…but seek first his kingdom. (Matthew 6:31-33)
What if we left Chicken Little behind and became men and women whose vision was transformed by the power of the Spirit of God, and fueled by the HOPE of the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ? Then whatever happens around us, we can be those who ignite the HOPE of the gospel in our city, county, and world.