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Monday, May 7, 2018

Little Engine Mission



Being on the mission field is a difficult, humbling and growing experience. There are many wonderful and exciting aspects to living overseas. But the challenge with missions is that the one thing I am called to do is the one thing I cannot do! Think about it: The Lord commissions us all to “go and make disciples.” Sounds like a simple enough command, right? Well, it is an actual impossibility for any of us. Why? Because we cannot change hearts. We cannot move someone closer to the Kingdom. We cannot argue them into the Kingdom, not even woo them into it. We cannot make someone love God or be attracted to his nature. The work of converting hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. And when he’s not moving in that way, it feels like we are knocking our heads up against a wall. I experienced this for many years, working with atheists in the former East Berlin and praying fervently for their salvation. There were times I doubted that the Gospel was really God’s power to accomplish it.

Image result for the little engine that couldNo amount of Little Engine that Could pep talks can help. “I think I can-I think I can-I think I can“ doesn’t work. In fact, if we start thinking this way, our engine backfires because we are denying certain core truths inherent to the Gospel. We believe people are dead in their sins and cannot respond to God unless he regenerates their hearts. We believe that when He calls them, they respond because His voice is compelling and His work effective. No amount of my screaming to a corpse can make it come alive again. We even believe that outside human agency is not always involved in this process. All of these facts might lead us to believe that God doesn’t need us at all. And yet, God chooses to use his people in the process, mostly through their desperate supplications of behalf of their friends. It is a mystery I cannot truly comprehend.

Through my recent work with the refugees, I have been reminded repeatedly of God’s sovereign work and hand in people’s lives. Their needs are so huge, I know I’m helpless to help. My resources are naught, my compassion quickly exhausted, my control over situations illusory. Because of this, I am cast to my knees and so are they. The beautiful truth that this has shown me and them is that God is able. In the face of the terrible housing market, God has opened doors because we prayed. After a few months of asking God together, one of the ladies called and said: “Jesus gave me an apartment!” when a real estate agent called her out of the blue with a place for her and her family. She realized it was the Lord. Another woman said that during her journey towards the Christian faith she had started to pray that God would reveal himself to her so that she would know who he is. One night she had a dream in which a man stood behind her and spoke in a language she did not know but somehow understood what the man said: “all you need to know about me is that I am who I am.” She only realized later that this was Jesus. God has brought these precious people into our midst and I know full well I can’t…I don’t even think I can. My conclusion is the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is still the same today. He can still bring people back from the dead. That leads me to want to shout over the rooftops: “I knew He could-I knew He could-I knew He could!”

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. 


Chavvah

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.

Ezer 

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.