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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Guest Post by David Stoddard -- When Laughter Isn't Funny: Refugees Defend Their Faith in Kangaroo Court

One of the most anticipated, decisive, and nerve-wracking moments for every refugee in Germany is the day in court, when their case is heard as to whether their life is truly in danger if they were to be sent back  to their home country. For Christian converts from Islam much of their case rests on proof of a true conversion. Each refugee is asked about their journey into Christianity. However, this day in court often resembles a kangaroo court rather than true justice. The nature of the questions refugees are asked belies the German courts ability to assess conversion to Christianity. Furthermore, refugee's answers are often incorrectly translated by court appointed translators who haven't a clue about Christianity either.

Faith on trial
Here are some of the questions judges have asked to assess whether a refugee truly knows and understands what the Christian faith is about:

"What were the names of the sons in the parable of the prodigal son?""What is the global capital of the Christian faith?""Why haven't you read the whole Bible?""How do you reconcile the sovereignty of God with His Trinitarian nature?""The Bible is also considered holy writing in Islam and can be obtained freely; why haven't you tried to buy a copy?""Martin Luther is an important person in the Gospels. What do know about him?"There is a sad irony to these questions. A secular state that hasn't a clue about what true Christianity involves is in the position to judge whether refuges are true Christians. More poignantly put: A secular state, often hostile to the gospel, is judging whether people who do hold the gospel should be sent back to countries hostile to the gospel.

How can someone who is unconverted judge those who are? In our work with refugees many arrive having just begun their journey toward Christ. Many have said, "I've known the darkness of Islam, and a hunger to know Jesus began in my homeland. God brought me to Germany so that I might find this Jesus." They are new to Christianity, and yet are examined as if they've walked with Jesus for decades, or have completed a theological degree, by those who know little about Christianity.

Lost in translation
However, the problem isn't just with the judges. Much gets lost in translation by translators who don't understand Christianity either. In a recent case in Kassel an Iranian refugee who has converted to Christianity was asked what was preached in the church he now attends. He began speaking about a sermon series from the book of Matthew (Matthäus) and Luther's understanding of the gospel. The translator didn't understand the refugee's response and said, "He preaches about Lothar Matthäus."

The courtroom erupted in laughter. Lothar Matthäus is a soccer legend in Germany. The judge irreverently retorted, "So does Matthew have a new coaching position?"

Longing for justice, met with laughter
The journey of a refugee is more difficult than most of us can imagine. They've lost friends, family, culture, security, identity, comfort, possessions, and any sense of home. Many come to Germany seeking a new life and lose it on the way. When they arrive, they are met with differing reactions, suspicion at a minimum and racism at worst. Their hope is often in their day in court, when their plea is heard, justice is provided, and they can begin a new life. My heart was broken to think of their day in court as simply a kangaroo court. How devastating it must be to stand before the judge, desperately longing for justice, refuge, and a new life, and to be met instead with laughter. The saddest part is that for most in the court the laughter costs them nothing. However, for the refugee in the dock, the laughter, the misunderstanding, can lead to a life in prison, or at worst, their lives if they are sent back.

I think of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was also brought into a kangaroo court. It should have been a place where his case was heard and was met with justice on earth. As earthly justice failed, he looked to heaven's court to see the true Judge. Jesus in Acts 7:8 is standing not sitting. It is the position of judge who is rendering his verdict. On earth Stephen was found guilty and stoned. In the heavenlies he was found innocent and was glorified.

Our heart's long for earthly justice for our refugee friends. Most of their lives they've hopped from one kangaroo court to another. They've looked into the eyes of their heavenly Judge and found hope. May their hope, their testimony change the hearts of those who translate them, judge them, hear them, and see their lives. May their joy turn the laughter of derision into the laughter of disciples who follow the true Judge, whose verdict is the only one we will hear ring into eternity.

See Original post here When Laughter isn't funny

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Biblical Theology of Womanhood and Feminist Chaos

Image result for picture of man and woman holding hands

Feminism has, no doubt, brought positive change and necessary correctives in the area of how we view and treat women as equals. However, it has morphed well beyond its helpful contributions to the human rights of women and has ushered in a post-modern culture of death by elevating abortion to the sacrament of choice and the lie of self-definition as the ultimate good. Furthermore, by promoting the dissolution of gender binaries, it is well on its way to rendering itself obsolete. What is feminism, if, after all, there is no agreed-upon, objective form of womanhood left to herald? Yet feminism has also left its mark on the church. Limp and tentative, she is second-guessing her calling to proclaim binary truth to a dying world. Without real distinctions between good and evil, male and female, God and creature, the Christian message is no longer Christian. There have been many attempts to reconcile the Bible with feminist thought. But an evangelical feminist view of gender is untenable for a Christian serious about the biblical theological progression of revelation found in the Scriptures. Unlike proponents of trajectory hermeneutics who suggest that the Bible, though not clear on certain topics, nevertheless points us in the right hermeneutical direction toward liberation, the Bible contains its own self-contained revelatory trajectory that does not nullify or fudge on gender roles and creational structures. One simply has to follow the arc of its trajectory to the end to see what we find there.

Looking at the end to understand the beginning

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 1:1-3)

Womanhood was not God’s afterthought. In fact, the book of Revelation describes the glorious climax and fulfillment of the womanhood paradigm in the new heavens and the new earth. It is breathtaking! This is the picture of the Bride glorified, her task on earth accomplished, and united with her groom in pure ecstatic joy. The tears that flowed from painful labor and that sum up the pain of fallen creation are forgotten and replaced with tears of joy. Herein we see that womanhood fulfilled is as much as a paradigm for describing the redeemed state as sonship is, for example. Womanhood in the biblical conceptual framework is a signpost pointing to the greater reality of the redeemed bride of Christ, the new Jerusalem of God, which will encompass people from every tribe, nation and tongue. If this is the fulfillment, then surely in seed form, womanhood should bear some resemblance. 


Eve, named “chavvah” by Adam, is the life-giver. She is the help God gave to Adam to fulfill the creation mandate to spread God’s glory throughout the world by ruling over it and creating glory image bearers to fill it. This Hebrew word is also metaphorically used for a place of dwelling, a tent village or town. Womanhood is the paradigm for the life-giving task made possible by her unique ability to be inhabited, indwelt, to be filled with the presence of another. This is not insignificant to Adam, when he realizes the mandate he and Eve have been given to fulfill and very surprising to Eve herself as she asserts she has brought forth a man! He cannot do it without her. The help the woman represents is ultimately necessary for the survival of man as a species. But she is also more than just a receptacle, a walking womb. She is perfectly fitted for Adam in every way, as one puzzle piece fits into another. She is ezer kenegdo, the equal but opposite and necessary helping counterpart to Adam. This, God sees as great necessity to him. But the creation order is clear! There is no possible interchangeability because genetics and design were integral to both identity and task. The unique task assigned to womanhood is at the very center of God’s redemptive plan. The tragedy of fallen womanhood is, of course, that she precipitated the entrance of death into the world instead of being faithful to the meaning of her name, life-giver, which was clearly meant to be more than just physical.

Post-fall, God ubiquitously reveals himself as Husband in pursuit of his Bride. Fallen womanhood for the people of Israel was, on the one hand a prophetic paradigm of her own failure to be faithful to her husband, Maker and Lord. She, as a people, failed to be the habitation fit for holiness she was set apart to be. Barrenness was a curse, symbolic of her fruitlessness in her task and lifelessness in her ethics. On the other hand, and paradoxically, womanhood also stood at the center of the promise throughout the old covenant: the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head brought a counter-intuitive hope for redemption. The Messiah would redeem the impossible curse of barrenness by being born of a woman, humbling himself to inhabit a womb. And so was born the Second Adam, dependent on a woman and dwelling in her. He did not despise the virgin’s womb! Mary was a real dwelling place for the very presence of God! The physical indwelling of the woman by the Son of God was the fulfillment of the messianic expectation of the Old Covenant as well as the inauguration of a new covenant reality: Jesus came to live in and among his people and usher in the indwelling of each believer by the Spirit in the fullness of Pentecost.


Christ the second Adam institutes a new creation mandate in the Great Commission and gives this task to the Church, his bride. The picture is clear. The Church fulfills the ezer role given to Eve. It is the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Ezer, who indwells, gifts and enables the Church to fulfill her role as ezer-bride. Through the Paraclete’s empowering, she becomes the Ezer of God, the one Christ has entrusted to help with his great task of bringing life to this lost world. This earth-shattering truth might sound almost blasphemous were it not propounded by the Apostle Paul and his teaching on the church’s union with Christ through the Spirit! The new Israel is no longer the faithless harlot, she is the Bride commissioned by the Husband to act on his behalf. Though Christ certainly doesn’t need the Church, as Adam needed Eve, he chooses to be united to her and use her to fulfill the new creation mandate! He is the Head, she is the Body. He is the capstone, she is the edifice of the new temple built to be inhabited by the very presence of God. The task of the church resembles greatly that of the Proverbs 31 woman: to open her hand to the needy, to teach with words of faithful instruction, to care for the needs of her covenant family, to bring honor to her husband, to work hard in word and deed for the good of her household as well as being strategic in making gains and advances in the land for the sake of her husband’s name and influence. Womanhood is the paradigm for the age of the Spirit inaugurated at Pentecost and descriptive of the already-not yet state of engagement. The church though already bride, still awaits the great Consummation to come. Early church fathers recognized that one could not have God as Father without having the church as Mother, confirming her complimentary “feminine” role: she is home, she is teacher, she is life-giver, she is compassion, she is tender, she is discipline, she is nourisher, she is presence in the world. How humbling to think that God trusts his Bride to such an extent and entrusts her with representing Him to the world!

Fulfilled, not reversed

Human marriage is the vignette for the great love story between God and his people, between the Lamb and his wife. It is a mystery, not because it is completely incomprehensible and hidden, but because the trajectory of its revelation points us to a reality far greater than human marriage. It is within this context that the great well-known Pauline passage of Ephesians 5 comes alive. Having made sure to express that being filled with the Spirit is the precondition to what follows, Paul writes:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:22-27)

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:31-33)

The mystery revealed in full in the eschatological glory will pale in comparison. Paul describes marriage as a beautiful and yet very accurate picture of a present reality and the glory yet to come. Because of that coming reality, the relationship between man and wife can no less be reversed that the greater relationship of Christ and his Bride, the Church. It can only be fulfilled. Egalitarians tend to take this passage in the light of the “submit to one another” imperative, affirming interchangeable mutual submission. But given this picture, it would be aberrant to say that the Lamb will submit to his wife. The Lamb was slain for his Bride and the bride glorifies her husband in all eternity. Christ submitted himself to the Father unto death for the sake of his Bride. Paul picks up on this theme when he implores husbands to lay their lives down for their wives out of love and wives to submit to and respect their husbands. These roles cannot be reversed without bearing false testimony to the clear revelation about the new heavens and the new earth. This is why gender is not a peripheral issue to Christians. It is usually an overzealous and over-realized eschatology that leads to the blurring of creational distinctions in the here and now. Verses like Galatians 3:28 are taken to mean that in the Kingdom, the differences in functions and identity are eradicated for this already-not-yet period. However, we live in an age of overlap between the fulfilling of the cultural mandate and the Great Commission. This means both co-exist. We live in the “already” relationships of the first creation while anticipating the “not-yet” relationships in the new. But when we look at the fulfillment of both in glory, we see that the Bride continues to be bride and Christ continues to be Head. She is not emancipated to a better independent state, rather, she is glorified in and through her relationship with her Husband!  What falls away is the lesser picture of human marriage because, though its fulfillment, it is no longer needed. There will be no marriage and giving in marriage then because the collective Bride will be married to her Husband. She will glorify her Husband perfectly. But notice that she is also a city. She is perfected in her beauty as a holy habitation. She is the beautiful, eternal Chavvah. What is at the core of womanhood, namely the ability to give life and to be inhabited, will be fulfilled in new perfect heavenly dimensions that are incomprehensible to us right now. 

Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev. 21:10-11)

The beauty of our common future reality far surpasses any worldly promises to women.  Feminism is a woman-centered worldview that does not honor God because it champions woman’s autonomous self-definition. Eve tried that. It failed miserably. The grace-filled biblical story of redemption not only provides forgiveness for every woman who places her faith in Christ, it also puts womanhood at its center as the paradigm for what it means for the Church to fulfill her calling. This should give every Christian woman an awe-filled sense of great worth, honor and position as she realizes her unique, life-giving contribution to the Kingdom of God.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ent war

This poem was inspired by the sight of this great fallen tree.
Silently fallen, the great oak tree,
Old age witness of secrets past,
Lying rootless in the grass.

Branches, the old panoply,
Caught in the wind like tangled hair,
Dragged its giant body down.

No rustling of leaves,
Nor bending in the breeze.
Centurion of time, a guard no more.

O shepherds of the trees
Where art thou, gentle guides,
To lead the feeble herd?

The enemy wields the air
Against the dawn of time,
Scheming onslaughts, mercy-free.
The trees in our local park at this time of year

As ents of old went to their doom,
Wake up and fight for all things green!
Let black sights move thee to obey
To sound the horn, “arise, assail!”

For truth foretold and endless day,
Dawn breaking through the darkest night.
For verdant pastures, trickling streams,
From death's dark vale to jubilee!

For worth eternal, endless glee,
Purest laughter after rain,
Lips proclaiming through the pain
The words that set all free.

Deep roots stretching toward true life,
Strong in the tossing winds of change.
Life sap flowing through the veins,
A German artist secretly transforms tree stumps into "mini-ents"
Growing upward to the light.

For such there is no holding back,
No slinking silence in the ranks.
This war condones no cowardice,
The orbs of which are limitless.

March on, ye shepherds of the trees!
Haste your duty to enfold
Saplings yearning to be free,
Courage waning, lean on thee.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Leading like Jesus

Image result for photo leadershipI know! This title sounds almost blasphemous! But honestly, I sometimes feel like we are getting more and more of our leadership paradigms from a business world and model than from Jesus whom we proclaim. Our reality, as missionaries, is that we are called to a ministry, not a business, to a vocation, not a paycheck. There are no career ladders to climb, other than the way down the rungs of service.

Sometimes it’s tempting to adopt a business model in missions because it simplifies things, it’s easier to cut our losses, distance ourselves from the pain and it is so much more politically correct. For followers of Jesus who are called to be leaders, here are some observations on the topic of leadership. You may say, “yeah, well that was Jesus, for crying out loud! That’s not me…” And sure, we cannot know the depths of people’s hearts or cause a storm to be still at the sound of our voice. But Paul is not bashful to call us to be imitators of Christ. His Spirit lives in us and therefore, we will be amazed at how He is able to work in and through us. But it does presuppose leading His way, not ours and the results will be in His hands, not ours. So how DID Jesus lead?

 1.      He bore much responsibility

There is a sense of weightiness about Jesus’ leadership. His task was the greatest any human was ever sent to do. Accepting that was a big part of Jesus’ service to us. His disciples never really understood the gravitas of his mission, even up to the very end of his life. They napped through his greatest moment of need in the Garden of Gethsemane. This can be true for us too. There is a loneliness to leadership but unlike Jesus, we do not have to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are part of his body and can find rest and reprieve there. We need to find people with whom we can share burdens.

2.      He needed time to pray and fellowship with the Father

No comment! Well, allow me just one: If Jesus, the Son of Man, needed to spend many hours in prayer talking to the Father, how much more do we? In modern terms, he balanced being alone with God and ministry to people.

3.      He invested in a few disciples

Jesus taught the masses but invested in the leadership training of a few. He spent much time, sharing life with 12 men, going deep in his teaching and applying it to them specifically. They learned by watching him do. Jesus, the Word of God through whom all things were made, chose 12 men to fulfill his task. What? Such a small plan for influence? More is not always better…as Jesus demonstrated, but multiplication was the key.

4.      He delegated

Jesus sent out various groupings of disciples to do what he did. He did not go with them or oversee them closely but let them make their own experiences and mistakes. He empowered flawed people with his task. He was all about building his church through weaklings in order to show God’s power and glory. Can we release control, believing that the message is more powerful than the messenger? It’s not about us, but about the message of the Gospel.

5.      He met physical as well as spiritual needs

Jesus was not an academic in his ivory tower, nor a preacher that spent most of his time at his desk. He led by going out and meeting people’s needs (physical, emotional, spiritual), sometimes all at once, sometimes one need at a time. He always prioritized what was ultimate, without ignoring what was immediate.

6.      He knew how to party

He delighted in the world he created by going to places where people were gathered to celebrate. He led by living a full life of joy! He was present at weddings and dinner parties, enjoying good wine and making friends and good company out of sinners.

7.      He knew how to receive the service of others

Jesus led by allowing others to serve him. Whether a woman washing his hair with her tears, Martha serving him food, people laying their cloaks down before him or the women with him at the cross, he received their humble acts of service freely. Do we allow others to help and serve us?

8.      He was not above touching the broken

Jesus broke all social norms and touched the untouchables, leading by example and courage. Leadership is not about maintaining the status quo, rather humbly realigning outward realities with God’s heart, wherever possible. If something structural or cultural is in the way of God’s mission, it needs to go. And, as a leader, if God has given you the position to do it, you should! There are no casts or holy cows, only God’s holy will!

9.      He spoke truth

A lot of Jesus’ leadership involved speaking the truth both in public and private settings. He was not afraid of confrontation and could get angry about the right things. He rebuked sin and spoke harshly to hypocrites. This is an aspect of leadership we sometimes shy away from for fear of being controversial. But peace is not always the best state to pursue if God’s honor is not being defended.

10.   He knew how to apply God’s Word to every human heart

With Jesus, there is no cookie-cutter approach to people. He led by challenging every individual in a different way, according to the situation and context. This is true wisdom! To know how God’s word uniquely applies to every heart. We should strive to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word and theology and seek opportunities to help others apply it to their diverse situations.

11.   He made people hungry and thirsty for more of God

Jesus’ leadership had a more-ish effect of people. This is what he also commanded us to do: to have our speech seasoned with salt. We are to make people thirsty for God. But warning: good leadership will sometimes make others feel uncomfortable because salt stings where there are open wounds. Sometimes our words will even be the flavor of death to those who are perishing.

12.   He lived on a mission

Jesus had a sole purpose and everything he did funneled into that purpose. It was no less than God’s plan of redemption for the world. This makes a good leader sometimes sound redundant. Don’t you ever talk about anything else than God’s kingdom or saving the lost? There may be specific things God is calling us to pursue. “For such a time as this” may be a phrase to ponder for yourself and your leadership. What is God calling me to do here and now?

13.   He did not defend himself

Jesus led by silence. He was silent in front of his accusers, bearing rejection and shame because he knew God was his ultimate defender. He was both strong and weak. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to do. We are tempted to protect our own reputations, our territories, our spheres of influence. Can we let those go for the sake of Christ’s kingdom? Hmmm…Preach to the choir!

14.   He understood his suffering as part of God’s plan

Jesus led with an eternal perspective on the here and now, especially when it involved suffering. Submission to God and drinking the cup of God’s wrath was the only way to his exaltation. Jesus has seen the result of his suffering and is satisfied. Can we trust that the sufferings we take on for Christ’s sake will bear fruit, even if we can’t see it yet? A good leader needs to be able to live it and point others to the hope of this truth as well.

15.   He forgave others even though they were unwilling to repent

Jesus led in forgiveness. The most powerful moment of his servant leadership is the scene on the cross when Jesus forgives his assassins. There will be many moments in the life of a leader when someone unjustly opposes or publicly “crucifies” you. It will take nothing short of Jesus in you to respond in the way Jesus did. We are so weak and often so unable to respond like this. Because we are not perfect like Jesus, we will need to lead by repenting of our failures to others and in willingness to forgive even those who are not yet willing to repent.