A Reluctant Charismatic in Bavaria

Why was I reluctant to become a Charismatic? I was already a Christian. I had been a believer since about 1981, though I had done some regrettable flirtation with the „historical-critical school“ of Bible scholarship in late undergraduate and early graduate school. The details of the story are extensive and had their turning point in of all place Flensburg on the German-Danish border in spring 1995. The short version is that I had been raised Baptist and taught a strict „cessationist“ theology of miracles. While on graduate school exchange program in 1994-95, I fell in with a lively and international group of Charismatics and Pentecostals in Kiel, Germany. They did not buy into „cessationism“, not one iota. I found this confusing and at time even troubling. Our disagreement on this point of faith led to some…tense… discussions. Nevertheless, it was with some members of this group that I attended a „Lobpreis- und Gebetskonferenz“/ „Praise and Worship Conference“ in Flensburg that spring. During worship time on… a Friday evening, if memory serves, people around me, including my friends, started speaking in tongues and I was freaked right out. When my friend Torsten asked me what I thought of the service so far, I said „Dies ist ein heidnischer Ekstasekult mit christlicher Oberfläche. Ich bin hier weg!“/ „This is a heathen ecstasy cult with a Christian veneer. I’m outta here!“

Only I wasn’t. At the base of the stairs, on the way out of the building, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, audibly, as HE had only one other occasion prior to that night.

„Turn around right now. These are my people and I am not letting them be deceived.“

I felt a powerful wave of conviction, turned around, went back to my seat beside Torsten, and sat there in something of a baffled state for the rest of the night. The conversation on the way home I do not recall in word-for-word detail, but I do recall that I told everyone in the car what the Holy Spirit had told me when I set out to leave the building and that I was in the uncomfortable position of needing to revise my entire understanding of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit- real 1st Corinthians 12 and 14 stuff.

Twenty years later…at an international Christian gathering called the MEHR, organized and hosted by the Gebetshaus Augsburg (Augsburg House of Prayer), I was ministering as a translator, having come all the way from Texas just to translate for them.

The blonde-haired blue-eyed woman sitting next to me in the simultaneous interpreter’s booth looked genuinely startled at what I had just told her in the break. The LCD computer monitors showing the stage allowed us to watch the worship band from the Gebetshaus Augsburg and the accompanying lightshow (it was dazzling). There was no need to interpret during worship, and so we had time to converse. Her name was Susie, she was from the north of Germany. She told me something of her life story while we were waiting on the next speaker to start and listening to the worship band play: She had moved to England after her time as a missionary in Asian, specifically Tibet, and had gotten married to a Bolivian man she had met through her church. We had both taken our headsets off and set them down on the table next to the control box for our audio feed.

“Do you really mean that? I’ve never heard an American say that before!”

So, I repeated what I had said (auf perfektes Deutsch selbstverständlich): “God loves your people and His history with you did not end with the rise of Hitler and the monstrous evils of the Nazi regime. The Lord wants to restore you, to heal you, to use you to bless other nations. Like with all peoples of the Earth.” 

I’d said variations of this to other Germans I had met and worked with over the years, and there had been many. I was by education one of a dying breed called “Germanic Philologists”- survivors of teenage Tolkien poisoning who had gotten fascinated with Old Dead Germanic Languages and not gotten the memo that the job market for that academic profession had died about 1985. But Susie, the fellow interpreter at the MEHR 2015 Conference in Augsburg, Germany, she had never heard my prepared remarks before. Don’t mistake “prepared” for insincerity, friend. I prepared these remarks about my love and God’s love for the German-speaking peoples of Europe precisely out of a sincere love.

“You mean, you, an American, you see something to love in us, Germans? What?”

I held up my hand and began to count off on my fingers. “Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Goethe, Schiller, Klopstock, Heine, Storm, Fontane, Mann, Doppler, Herz, Mach- can I name a few more Germans whose names have become units of measure in the physical sciences? Like Fahrenheit, perhaps? There’s a lot you can and should be proud of in your history.”

 The clear expression of incredulity on her face only grew clearer. “And you think these all matter in spite of the Holocaust?”

“The Holocaust is not the totality of your history. For a long time, being a Jew in Europe meant being German- well, you know, the 200 plus different states that became what is now Germany. There were periods of persecution long before the Nazis but there were also long periods where ethnic Germans and ethnic Jews lived in a peaceful sort of symbiosis. Where did the first pogrom in Western Europe take place and when?”

“In the First Crusade, here. In the Rhineland.”

“Nope. Spain. In 1066 in Granada. It was instigated by Muslims. 1,500 Jewish families were wiped out over night practically. And who stopped the Crusade pogroms in 1096? The U.N.?”

 She smiled. “Germans stopped Germans from killing Jews, I know. But it should not have happened in the first place.”

“No, it shouldn’t have. But time and again when waves of anti-Jewish violence broke out in German-speaking lands the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, it was Germans that started them and it was other Germans that stopped them.”

Susie shook her head. “To me, this is incredible. I’ve never heard anyone talk about us like that, about Germans like you do.”

“No one?”

“Well, no. Sure, I’ve heard Americans thank us for our part in the Cold War, but there’s always the Nazi ghost in the background. We’re always just one question away from ‘What did your grandparents do during the War?’ ‘Oh, they gassed Jews at Auschwitz, of course.’”

“Or they tried to start a student revolt against their own government,” I added.

“It wasn’t enough. Not the military resistance, either.”

“They weren’t nothing. They didn’t come out of nowhere. They were more German than that shrieking Austrian maniac, for sure.”

She shook her head. “No, you don’t get the depth of this. We are taught that the Nazis are really who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to hate ourselves for being German, my generation.”

“But you had nothing to do with it, and God knows that. I don’t believe in collective guilt in perpetuity.”

“No, not guilt forever, but for how long?”, she asked. “Some people said after the war that Germans would bear the guilt of the Holocaust for a hundred years. And that sounds right to me. What else do we do with the guilt of our parents and grandparents?”

“Glaubst Du an die Kraft der stellvertretenden Buße?”, I asked. “Und glaubst Du, dass Gott einem ganzen Volk vergeben kann und will, wenn seine Heiligen um Vergebung beten und Buße tun?”

Which means, I asked essentially if she believed in the power of vicarious repentance and if she believed that God could and would forgive a people if the believers among them ask for forgiveness and repent.

“What do you mean, vicarious repentance?”

“The idea that a person who is right before God can intercede for the sins of his nation. Like the prophet Daniel. He wasn’t even born when the nation of Israel was conquered by the Babylonians in judgement for their sins, yet he comes before God and says ‘forgive us’ as if he had been part of it all. That’s our main ministry here, really, vicarious repentance.”

To be continued….

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Ukrainian Guests, Old and New Missions in Translation

It has now been two months since the Russo-Ukrainian War began. And it has been two months and a piece since refugees from Kiev arrived in our little Christian community outside of Augsburg, Koinonia. There are thirteen of them total: three small families and a single woman in her 40s. One of the family fathers is a plastic surgeon, another a barber, and the children are all under 10. They are settling in relatively well- though they tend to keep to themselves through the week. The children are getting to know and establish relationships with our local children well, and as best I can see, are more outgoing than their parents. Not surprising, this.

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Keep in mind, though, and keep in prayer, that they had lives not unlike those of other middle-class or even upper-class Europeans prior to February 25th of this year. Then, Russian artillery and bombing shattered their city and blew their homes into rubble, and the advancing Russian armor and infantry forced them to flee. Now these people are in a country they hadn’t even planned to visit…ever… and have no idea how long they will have to stay here. The loss, the trauma and the uncertainty weighing on them is nothing short of tremendous.

There is another wrinkle in that the families who came here, to a Christian eucumenical community, are from a Moslem religious background. Well, most of them are, but they do not seem to be particularly observant. So, with their recent losses and background in mind, please pray that we in the Koinonia community are able to help to our Ukrainian guests effectively. To date, ministry to our Ukrainian guests has mostly involved teaching them a little bit of survival German, providing as much conversation as we can with the language barrier, and helping them find their way around the social and physical environment they now find themselves in, helping with shopping, assisting with German bureaucracy, and other more or less quotidian activities. Anything we can do to help them we will, with the Lord’s help and out of love for him.

Our Personal Ministry

The weeks since the war started have not brought with them any suspension of our day-to-day ministry lives. We had a great TCJII-Deutschland meeting a little over a week ago. There are two events in the near future: A theological conference with the Swiss and Austrian branches of TJCII and a few weeks after that a meeting of TJCII Germany and Switzerland in Rüdlingen in Switzerland. I am also working on updates for the TJCII-Germany website. 

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In another recent development, I am also now working for Reasons to Believe as their German translator. Which is a challenging but very rewarding new direction for my work. The motto of RTB’s radio show back in the day was helping „thinkers to believe and believers to think“, which is a dearly needed mission here and everywhere. If you would, do pray for the efficacy of the translations in the German-speaking world.

If this reads as if there’s a lot for us to do, that impression is correct. There are moments when it feels like I’m juggling a rabbit, a bowling ball and a chainsaw, and if my attention wavers, the rabbit will have a regrettable encounter with the chainsaw. If the „rabbit“ is my family life, this would be very bad, indeed. So, please do pray for my work and our mission life here.

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Helping Ukrainians in Augsburg

A stack of humanitarian aid goods being prepared for shipping to Kiev from the Gebetshaus Augsburg

The initial shock of Russia’s attack on Ukraine was still very fresh here when Germans churches, along with Christian charitable institutions both Catholic and Protestant, organised to provide what humanitarian aid they could send themselves to the people fleeing the war and being housed in temporary shelter in western Ukraine and Poland. Here in Augsburg, the Gebetshaus launched a campaign to raise funds and collect humanitarian aid packages on March 4th. The local chapter of the Royal Rangers, Pentecostal boy/girl scouts for those who don’t know, also organised a relief effort in which our Pentecostal church is still participating. And there are multiple other relief efforts and prayer groups that are working to aid those on the run and those still in the country. Juden für Jesus/Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, Toward Jerusalem Council II, Jean-Luc Trachsel Ministries, Youth with A Mission, and Awakening Europe- in short, every organisation with which we have even tangential contact- is involved in aiding Ukrainians and praying for both Ukraine and Russia.

We have also had groups of refugees arriving. Monday the first group of Ukrainian refugees arrived at Koinonia. It consists of two small families with children under 10 and one grandmother in one of these families, along with a couple which has no children and a middle-aged woman I have not met. One of the family fathers is a barber, the other a plastic surgeon. They likely had rather ordinary middle-class European lives like those of the young professionals here in Augsburg until about 18 days ago. Please pray for them as they adjust to being here and have to cope with the reality of destruction and massive loss of life in their homeland.

Pray also for communication with them. My Russian is better preserved than I thought it might be, and I have been able to use it some to communicate with them- Ukrainian and Russian are similar. Three of them speak some English, and everyone is running around with their Smartphone translation Apps trying to get their meanings across. People in Koinonia are discussing setting up German and English classes for them, but that will take time.

Which raises another point: We have no idea how long our guests are going to be here. I, personally, do not know who’s been shopping for them. I think the parish of Sankt Andreas (our Catholic church just down the road) has been helping Koinonia in some capacity with that, but need to talk to house leadership to learn the specifics. It’s only been a week.

I would also ask people to pray for the spiritual atmosphere among Germans here. We were in the Prayer Room at the Augsburg House of Prayer for our regular shifts last week (we’re „Gebetshausfamilie“, not regular members, before anyone asks), and people seemed to be shocked, fearful, upset, tense, and a generally sombre feeling, a gravity of events weighing on the intercessors. Trust in the Lord is made for times of great loss and greater uncertainty, the spiritual gifts of faith and endurance given for times of great duress, but the gifts do not make the duress or the loss automatically „all better now“. We persevere with intercession because we know God’s hand does move among the nations. We need however your support in prayer, as well. Pray the Holy Spirit strengthen, refresh and guide us in the days, weeks or months ahead.

Pray also against mutual animosity between Russians and Ukrainians here. There are many from both countries here in Bavaria, more in the larger cities. Since Wednesday, various news outlets- Die Süddeutsche Zeitzung, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, just to name three- have been reporting that there have been attacks on Russians and people who simply have Russian-sounding names.

And, if you can and would like to assist Koinonia in meeting the costs involved in housing our unexpected guests, you can donate to a GiveSendGo campaign I started for that purpose: https://www.givesendgo.com/G2WR6

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The Sharp Sword of Suffering

How to describe suffering—other people’s, I mean. I am just back from a shopping expedition for emergency food that my family would never eat. Everything must be pre-packaged and ready to eat. German sausages in cans, black rye bread that can also be used for paving streets, bizarre Christmas cookies that won’t go bad until two years from today. I pack all these items—along with toothbrushes, covid masks, and diapers into the biggest box that I can find and hope that it finds its way to the Ukraine. We all hope that these items will reach the people who need them: people living out of their cars, trying desperately to cross the border and get away from a place they never planned to leave.

Even given the strange circumstances of the past two years, it is hard to picture Europe—my Europe—two years from today.  Even last week, we could not have pictured the circumstance Eastern Europe currently finds itself in. A life full of contradictions and mind-numbing suffering.

Not suffering of the beautiful or transcendent kind. No, that was last week, when my daughter along with thirty other beautiful maids and handsome youths sang the poetic strains of Gorki and Brecht’s “Die Mutter”, a prose poem set to music which extols the excellencies of youthful idealism and condemns the horrors of war and inhumanity of work.  They sang in a baroque concert hall built by Jesuits in the sixteenth century. I don’t think there was anyone who was not struck by the irony that Augsburg’s Brecht Festival opened in 2022 on the day after Russia invaded, (yes, old fashioned invasion) the Ukraine.

Der Kleine Goldene Saal in Augsburg

Toward the end of Brecht’s piece, the haunting lament of the working-class mother Pelagea, for her son recalls the strains of the Stabat Mater from the thirteenth century. In the choir they have been rehearsing Die Mutter since October.  That was when my daughter sent me a photo of the sheet music on her phone, asking me what the Latin song had to do with choir practice. This is her first encounter with church music being used to make a political point.  “It’s an Easter song,” I tell her. What happens to Mary of course, is not Pelagea’s story.  A sharp sword pierces Mary’s heart and she participates with Christ in his suffering.  Marxism would have it the other way round.  Human suffering has no transcendence, it can all be reduced to an argument about the price of soup.

After the concert we walked out into the night, heavy with wind even after sunset. Another young choir member joins us at the tram stop. The girls hold on to the tulips that they received at curtain. And then, one a German girl from Turkey and the other  from America, begin to sing to each other snatches from Brecht. Barely heard, the melody drifts off into other noise, but it proves that meaning is not so easily done away with—especially in hardship—as Gorki and Brecht hoped it might be.  The chords Brecht uses are less important than the dynamics. Brecht knows better than many how to elicit empathy from his audience. The song is not so much sung as recited operatically in a strained concentrated style that perfectly conveys the shock of grief.

That is what all my newspapers are saying: Europe is experiencing grief, national grief for the first time in seventy or eighty years. Grief over disunity, grief over fighting. Grief over having to fight and not wanting to.  

Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, the bells of all participating churches will toll for two minutes into darkened streets. We’ve all been told to extinguish our lights as a sign of national grief. At church, about two hours ago, we lit the altar lamps and threw ashes on our heads. We sang hymn number 523, the hymn of the mother, the one standing at the foot of the cross.

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“Do a blog entry about supernatural healing and rationality.”

That was the note that I wrote myself a few days ago, though work and the quotidian plethora of social responsibilities has kept me from being able to put thoughts into pixels in this matter. To put a blunt point on it, I will here address a question beloved both by skeptics who mistake philosophical materialism for a valid apprehension of reality, and by Christians who are desperate to be liked by those people, namely, “Does God still heal in Jesus’ name today?”

In his discourse about miracles in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that no one should believe in accounts of miraculous events because…brace yourself … no one ever sees them. Furthermore, nothing that goes beyond the scope of “common human experience” should be believed. The logical contradictions inherent in Hume’s thinking do not seem to have mattered to him. One rather needs a sense of common human experience in order to discern what events depart from that common course of human experience, ergo one would not be able to know a miracle from an everyday occurrence if miracles were everyday occurrences. Now, if miracles are the experience of some significant set of humans, they have to be treated as belonging to “common” if not everyday human experience. If it is the case, that not “no one” but multiple hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions or people report that they have experienced miraculous events, then Hume’s argument fails. And that is exactly the case. Over the course of centuries there have been recorded hundreds of hundred of millions of accounts of the miraculous written down by credible witnesses. I use the term “credible witnesses” here because Hume devotes a considerable length of text to impugning the intelligence and character of people, especially religious people, who make claims about miraculous events. Hume’s essential argument is entirely one based on the prejudiced presumption that only those who think like he did, have a dispassionately objective point of view.

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Really? Did the man have a mirror? Did he know that he was a mortal man given to error and mistake? The man was willing to impugn the intelligence, discernment and honesty of anyone whose view of miracles differed from his own, so, seemingly, on basis of his prose, those two questions have to be answered in the negative. Again, based on his writings, humility and self-knowledge (that Socratic virtue) were foreign to Hume and are foreign to his modern disciples. Of course, he was capable of error and prejudice, as he aptly demonstrated in that essay. The fact is, credible accounts of miracles, healings, and even resurrections from the dead, are legion upon legion, and come from doctors, lawyers, farmers, university professors, bricklayers, truck drivers, in short, persons from all echelons of society, all ages, all ethnicities and most if not all religions.  Just sticking with my own religion here, there are thousands upon thousands of accounts of miraculous healings, supernatural impartations of knowledge, and other such events from places like Lourdes, Medjugorje, Redding (California), Kansas City, Austin, Augsburg, Lüdenscheid, Frankfurt, Helmond and Hamburg, many of them recent and backed up with another line of evidence that the supposed objective Mr. Hume completely neglected: Physical records, i.e. x-rays, MRI results,  blood test results, now-disused wheelchairs, and with those, people who can say, and do, “my test results said ‘death’ and Jesus said ‘life’,” holding up the medical documentation to back up that claim. Claims do not get more empirically, objectively verifiable than that. Thus, the claim that “miracles don’t happen” or the slightly less pointed claim that “miracles don’t happen today”, is not one that is supportable empirically or objectively.

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In my case, I have written before about my own personal experiences with Jesus’ supernatural working, with the power of the Holy Spirit. See for example, this entry:

How I became less reluctantly Charismatic – martinfamilyinbavaria

Or this one, in which I write about a miraculous healing I experienced in 2016 (about ¾ of the way through):

My Problems with the Alleged Problem of Evil (Continued ) – martinfamilyinbavaria

To put the matter succinctly, I have experienced real leading from the Holy Spirit and real healing in the name of Jesus in my own life, experienced with my own senses in real time, with, in the case of the healing, medical documentary evidence to back up that claim. And I have personal knowledge of scores of other actions of God in the lives of friends and acquaintances. Like…the man who got a prophetic word about three women on the edge of child-bearing age, each getting pregnant and each having a daughter, when each one of them thought she was done having children. And those three girls are now about 12 years old. That was in Texas, by the way, and this knowledge is first-hand, not second-hand. So, yes God heals in Jesus’ name today, clearly, and works in the lives of His people to this day.

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Israel as blessing to the nations, Jesus as king of the nations

As it should be, Christmas for believers in Jesus is often a time when preaching and teaching focus on the fulfilment of messianic prophecies in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Finding teachings about the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah as prophesied in Micah 5:2 or the meaning of „alma“ in Isaiah 7:14 will take all of 3 seconds using the search engine of your choice. And there are of course those commentators of a skeptical or non-Messianic-Jewish persuasion who will leap on the fact that Jesus is not now sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem as proof that he is not the Messiah. How do we who know Jesus as Messiah respond to this?

One approach is to focus on the future fulfilment of such prophecy, as spoken by Jesus himself in Matthew 25. Messiah does not rule the world from the city of his father David…yet. But he shall. This approach will by necessity then lead to a further exploration of prophecy and its fulfilment, including the restoration of the nation of Israel, the return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland, as a fulfilment of end-times prophecies from Isaiah.

This is certainly a valid response. The problem that I see with it is that it depends on the fulfilment of a prophecy we may not live to see. Sure, faith is that answer to that quandary, the evidence of things (as yet) unseen. But there is another way to respond to the skeptical objection that Jesus does not rule the world in any kind of obvious, demonstrable way, and the key to that reading of prophetic, too, can be found in prophecy, specifically, this one from Isaiah 49:

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 And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am[a] honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This passage not only foretells the – obviously fulfilled–return of the Jewish people to the physical land of Israel, but that Israel will be a light to the gentiles, shedding the light of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the entire world. This has demonstrably, observably happened. Today in 2021,  the whole world, with the possible exception of the  officially atheistic Communist block of China and North Korea, shares many if not all of the basic moral precepts taught by the Torah and the New Testament, i.e. prohibitions against stealing, adultery, murder, revenge, mistreating the stranger and foreigner, even greed (a mental/spiritual state, not an act) are universally condemned and forgiveness, faithfulness, non-violence, generosity, the brotherhood of humanity (ala Revelation 5) are universally celebrated. New Testament scholar, concentration camp escapee, and Orthodox Jew, Pinchas Lapide put it this way, speaking of moral development in terms of „evolution of thought“:

The eighth evolution of thought is the great double-love- for God and for one’s fellow man, as anchored in the Hebrew Bible-which the Rabbi from Nazareth also took on and proclaimed. One who does not love his neighbor cannot claim that he loves God. For the shortest route to God is always through the neighbor, whether man or woman, black or white, rich or poor.

Pinchas Lapide

And more to the point, the hope that Messiah is has become a universally shared hope. To quote Lapide, again:

The Messiah-this is a Hebrew concept which has been naturalized in all languages and become the quintessence of all the force of biblical hope. It gave and continues to give the Jewish people the power to go on and start over again and again, in spite of all disasters- even in times when all sense of a humanity threatened to die out and the unredeemed nature of this world seemed to cry out to heaven. The Messianic assurance has been taken over from Judaism by the Christian churches- with the person of the Rabbi from Nazareth as the savior in the teaching of redemption.

Pinchas lapide

Lapide is but one of several well-known Jewish intellectuals and public figures, among them are also Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Jael Eckstein, Rabbis Daniel Lapin and Meier Soloveichik, have expressed a similar appreciation of the role of Christianity, which is to say, of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, has played in reforming and improving the world. This leads me to my final and indeed main point, the other counter-argument to the “Jesus isn’t king” objection one hears from those who aren’t (yet) persuaded that he is Messiah: Yes, he is king. Wherever he is acknowledged as king, he truly does rule, and moral foundations based on his teachings, which are the same moral teachings carried in the Tanakh, undergird all global civilization today. To put it another way: There are at last count 192 nations on this planet. In every single one of them, without exception, some sub-set of the populace, ranging from a few score to hundreds of millions, will, today, in 2021, call Jesus, that “Rabbi from Nazareth” their king, the king of their souls and their lives.  Geographically, that’s a lot more territory than King David ruled over at the apex of his power and in terms of population, far more subjects than King David ever could have had at any time in his life. Today, in the here and now, in (partial) fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, Jesus is King over more than 2 billion people who live in every single country on the face of the Earth. He does indeed rule over the Gentiles and has in fact spread the light of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over the face of the whole world.

And he’s not done, yet, either. „Of the increase of his government there shall be no end.“

Jesus the Good Shepherd Capitol at Kloster Volkenroda, Germany

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A Tale of Two Houses and a Bridge

(A post by Susan Martin)

“Over the river and through the wood,

To grandfather’s house we go–

The horse knows the way

To carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow.”

This poem by Lydia Maria Child was written in 1844 when the author was living far from the rural setting it describes in urban New York.  As I look out my window this morning, the white and drifted snow of southern Germany reminds me of this cheerful sleighing song. The song celebrates the carefree and sometimes heedless attitude of children toward their play. Of course, crossing rivers and going through a wood in deep snow is not child’s play, but here it is treated lightly as the children have complete trust that the horse—and driver—know the way.

Sometimes I think that is what I am doing in Germany—a kind of play. But it is the best type of play, that has meaning and purpose. I have crossed the river—actually many of them—and comet through the wood to Grandfather’s house: to Germany. Germany belongs to the welcoming, loving and forgiving heart of our Father in heaven. And it is this spirit of the Father that makes it easy, or at least easier, to trust that the pathway from heaven to earth will be adventurous, sure-footed, and joyful in his hands.

Miss Child’s poem tells the story of two houses, the house the children start out from—presumably where study and duties prevail—and the longed for Grandfather’s house (only later changed to grandmother’s house) where the children shall have a day of play. My life in Germany is also a story of two houses, Christ the Reconciler in Elgin Texas and Koinonia. House in Biburg, Germany. Koinonia House was founded in the nineteen nineties in the midst of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and an Evangelical revival movement in Germany (for an interview with Father Peter Hocken about the Importance of the Charismatic Renewal for Christian Unity) and life lived together. It has remained true to its calling now for over thirty years. I must admit I had misgivings when I first heard that an apartment had opened up in a German commune.  (I pictured myself painstakingly sharing out one stale bun among four or five hungry rumpled children and praying for revival in my bathrobe.)

The most important aspect of Koinonia House today is play and celebration together. Creative house members sponsored our first ever German Thanksgiving Day this year, and our second year of community Advent celebrations despite Corona restrictions. We believe that play between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is a key element of the Trinity and one that should be made manifest on the earth.

I would not be a part of Koinonia though, had another house not dressed me, and furnished the trappings and bells on my sleigh: Christ the Reconciler. CTR is the home we started out from in 2016 to be part of the Wittenberg 2017 reconciliation initiative in Europe. We were privileged to receive the original teachings on reconciliation handed down to Amy and Thomas Cogdell from George and Hanna Miley, and we still carry that anointing along our way in Germany.

There is one more structure that Child’s poem speaks of but does not name: the bridge. One of the tools we brought with us to Germany was something called “Bridge Prayer.” But what is the connection between bridge-building and prayer? Bridge Prayer builds connections between Protestant and Catholic traditions of prayer.  When we pray together as one body we believe it strengthens connections between what God is doing in Austin and in Augsburg.  

It is an important time to be thinking about international connections in the heart of the Father. We received news of how the Spirit is moving in our CTR community in Elgin, stirring members of a German ministry, HFAN, to break down walls of hard heartedness. Some of the German members will go to Texas. Perhaps more of the Texans will come to the grandfather’s house in Germany.

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Arrivals II

My apologies for the delay in continuing this series. My day job- yes, I have one- has kept me up to my eyeballs in alligators while trying to drain the swamp, so, lamentably, blog activity has been a lower priority. Where were we…

Ah, yes. We had just gotten word that two apartments had opened up in Augsburg within about 50 hours of our arrival here. The word was brought to us by one Stefan Karrer, a dedicated intercessor who had been involved with the Gebetshaus Augsburg for years and who had graciously allowed us to stay with his family for a couple of weeks while we looked for a permanent housing solution. We had come to Germany on faith, trusting the Lord would open up a place for us. And now we had two to look at, and, with the help of Stefan and his family, we soon made arrangements to look at each of them by the end of the first week.

The first of these was an apartment in the south of Augsburg, held at the time by Hermine and Hans-Martin Harsch. The Harsches were friends of the Karrers, and they were very happy to meet Americans who had moved to Augsburg to join the 24/7 prayer movement in Germany. The apartment was roomy, had some good light, and living there would (have) put us in easy walking distance of the Gebetshaus, schools, shopping, and other amenities Only it would have meant being …well…in an apartment. In the city. We’d come home, close the door, and be by ourselves. Maybe we’d make friend with neighbors, develop stable relationships with them, and enjoy regular fellowship. Maybe not. And how the „maybe not“ would impact our daughter was a concern. We didn’t want Felicia to be socially isolated. The Harsches did not have any children living with them who could give us insight into the child population of the building and that was a significant minus, no matter how close we would be to any prayer room. But the price was right. At least, before any costs for utilities were included. And they were willing to leave basically all the appliances, some furniture and the window fittings for us. That was a huge point in favor of the in-city apartment.

The next apartment we looked at was owned by one Johannes Hüger. He was an outgoing type, a Christian business consultant who regularly held seminars in the States. The apartment was in a Christian community house, a „Gemeinschaftshaus“ named „Koinonia“, located in Biburg, which was not far away from where the Karrers lived. I asked about the „Gemeinschaft“. What was its focus?

„Ökumene, aber im persönlichen Sinn“- „Ecumenism in a personal sense“- was the response I got from Stefan to my question. I dug into the background a bit more, and learned, to my very pleasant surprise, that Koinonia had been founded by Evangelicals and Catholics who wanted to share life centered on the author and perfecter of their shared Christian faith: Jesus the Messiah.

In other words: The core of their mission was the core of our mission. Bringing Christians from different streams of the historic Christian faith together in reconciliation and shared lives in Holy Spirit-driven faith.

Hüger picked me up the next morning, a sunny late June day in the alpine foothills of Bavaria, and the drive was only about 15 minutes. We pulled into the cobblestone driveway of the converted monastery and…there were children playing the yard. Children who were close to Felicia’s age. She would have automatic playmates if we moved there. The apartment itself was smaller than the Harsches‘ apartment, and we would be 11 kilometers from the city. We would be dependent on public transportation and help from others to get to and from the Gebetshaus, shopping, whatever churches (there were going to have to be two) we eventually landed in, and we would not have the already furnished apartment to move into. In Germany, unfurnished really means unfurnished. I liked the place and its mission really gelled with ours. But the distance, for people who did have their own car, could potentially isolating.

But there were children at Koinonia who were close in age to our own daughter. I knew of course that I would have to talk with Susan about it, and she needed to see the apartment with her own eyes, and give me her thoughts about the weight of the advantages and disadvantages. So, the second trip to see Koinonia with Herr Hüger was a whole-family trip. Within minutes it was clear that we agreed. Having other children, other children from Christian families who shared with us, in their own form, a vision for reconciliation in the body of Christ here on Earth, was a plus that outweighed the minuses by several orders of magnitude. We would be moving into Koinonia.

And on July 1st, 2015, we did.


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From Francke’s Orphan City to Augsburg’s Christian Kindergarten

Looking at the world through a child’s eyes

„Kindergarten“ is of course, a German word, and many know that the institution started here. But did you how and why? Here’s an essay from Susan exploring the origins of the familiar form of early childhood education.

At the “Little Friends” kindergarten in Augsburg stand rows and rows of neatly arranged cubby holes and next to them a boot tree, each branch of which ends in a pair of brightly colored rubber rain boots, decorated with hedgehogs, leaves, or polka dots. The soles of the boots point heaven-ward, ready to be picked up for playtime outside. The boots are there just in case a child might forget to bring their own pair on a rainy day, but also to instill in the children a sense of providential fullness: everything provided in one place, and no part of daily life that is without God’s provision and help.

Germany invented the kindergarten in the seventeenth century as a Christian answer to the problem of child poverty.  In the north-German town of Halle, August Hermann Francke, a Lutheran pastor decided that the gospel should not only be proclaimed from the pulpit, but should be implemented to change the culture.  Material provision for children fostered their spiritual understanding, and understanding God’s Word motivated the whole society to provide for the weak and abandoned.

The final battle of the Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) was fought not 15 kilometers from where we live right now.  Fought in a drained wetland, the battle of Zusmarshausen was considered one of the bloodiest of the entire war. We often take the bike path through this low flat marsh now home to meet nesting storks or look for beavers.  An old mill has been restored and now serves as an environmental center.

Not every kindergarten is Christian and not every technical workshop reflects human values. But we can thank Francke and the German Pietists for laying much of the groundwork for Christian communities and child formation in Germany today.

When the battle of Zusmarshausen was finished, the entire countryside lay in ruins.  Both rural and urban populations dropped dramatically. Civil life as well as rural farming life had to be reorganized and the previous values of hard work and faith that had guided family life had been destroyed by war. To renew family and civic life powerful Kurfürsten (prince- electors) reconceived of the city as a form of Christian community every aspect of which would be designed to form the individual into a faithful servant of God to whom Christ would gladly lend his help.

Francke’s Orphan City was the first post-Reformation attempt to change the destiny of individuals by changing what they know—in terms of what they experience in their environment, and how they perceive themselves. For the pietists, this translated into a specific focus on the child and the development of a child’s knowledge and worth.  Orphans were not to be warehoused or ignored, they would be placed in an environment that would form the child’s inner world–what they knew about themselves according to God’s word.

Francke’s Orphan City was the first post-Reformation attempt to change the destiny of individuals by changing what they know—in terms of what they experience in their environment, and how they perceive themselves. For the pietists, this translated into a specific focus on the child and the development of a child’s knowledge and worth.  Orphans were not to be warehoused or ignored, they would be placed in an environment that would form the child’s inner world–what they knew about themselves according to God’s word.

Not every kindergarten is Christian and not every technical workshop reflects human values. But we can thank Francke and the pietists for laying much of the groundwork for Christian communities and child formation in Germany today.

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Arrivals I

Bronze relief depicting the angelic entities from Ezekiel , Ottmarng Ecumentical Meeting Centre

So, way back in July, I recounted how we, the Martins, got a call from God to minister in Germany. Our mission was to work with a ministry called Wittenberg 2017 (which you can read about in detail following the link), along with joining the 24/7 prayer movement by getting involved in the Gebetshaus Augsburg. We had left the States with only a promise of a temporary place to stay outside of Augsburg, in a town called Gessertshausen. From there we would have two weeks to find more permanent accomodations somewhere in or near Augsburg.

Reaching Gessertshausen was almost as challenging as getting to our connecting flight in New York had been. Once our flight had touched down in Frankfurt and we got through the unexpectedly non-interminable line for customs and immigration, we had to wrangle our huge amount of luggage- five large suitcases, backpacks, laptop case and jackets- through the hall, to the cab stand, hail a cab to transport us to the Hauptbahnhof, then find and board the train to Ulm, then find and board the train from Ulm to Augsburg with the stop in Gessertshausen (there was a local express that did not stop in Gessertshausen, and that one we had to avoid), and en route to Gessertshausen, make contact with our host, Stefan Karrer. No problem.

Or, would not have been, had we not all three been tired, jet-lagged and gaining, minute-by-minute, a fuller understanding of just what we had done. We were really in Germany, to stay. For at least two years. There was no house to go back to. No cats. We would not be at either Hope Chapel or Christ the Reconciler for the foreseeable future. And Felicia would have to start going to school. Public school in German. One step at a time…first we had to find that train…. The platform in Frankfurt turned out to be on the lower level. Getting all the luggage there required two carts and two trips with an elevator.

Once we arrived at the station in Gessertshausen, contacting Stefan was pleasantly easy. He recognised the previously unseen Americans at once on his first pass, we schlepped the luggage in his direction, got it all packed in the car with some effort, and were soon on our way to the apartment they had so kindly offered us for the first two weeks of our stay.

The room we found we were staying in had until rather recently been a storage area, essentially, like one of those garages converted into an outdoor living room one sees in the southwest in the States. And all three of us were in that same room. Quite a come-down from the three-bedroom house in Round Rock. But we had two weeks to find a new place to live. So, we settled in, prayed, stowed our gear as best we could and got ready to live out of our luggage for 2 weeks. Our hosts were not what you’d call encouraging about our prospects of finding a place quickly.

They were good folks, the Karrers. They were both involved in the local Evangelical (i.e. Lutheran) church and had connections with the Gebetshaus that went back a while. Their neighbors, the Liesegangs, were Pentacostals, it turns out, and very enthrusiastic about America, which was encouraging. And, though we could not know it at the time, they were members in what would later become our home church in Augsburg, Die Arche.

Another pleasant surprise was that the weather was significantly cooler than we were accustomed to from ten years in Texas. And it was not flooding…as it had been in the Austin/Bastrop/Elgin area when we left.

And not 36 hours after we arrived, Stefan came up to me and said (translated from German): „John, you won’t believe it, but we got two calls today offering apartments. This never happens.“

I smiled because, in the economy of answered prayer, „this“ is exactly what one should expect.


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Adoption Means Forever

The Cross in the Alcove at Austin House of Prayer, where my family was born, in a manner of speaking

My daughter’s birthday was this month. She just turned fourteen, and all those songs, poems, stories and visual dramas treating the pathos of the passage of time in the lives of our children, they are all true. The day before yesterday, she would fit on my forearm. Yesterday she started school in Germany. Three seconds ago, she turned 14. And as soon as I blink my eyes twice, she will be driving…maybe going to university, maybe going into ministry, maybe getting married….

Our daughter not that long ago.

Those who know us in real life know that we adopted her in 2008. She was born in 2007, and we had received her as a foster child when she was three days old. Her arrival into our house was an answer to years of prayer, some of it prayed in front of that cross in the image above. Those prayers in turn came at the end of three years of seeking adoption, paying out thousands of dollars, sending letters, getting stacks of documents approved by state and federal authorities, and being disappointed over and over again until we were graced with Felicia.

It is often said, especially in Christian circles, that adoption is the act of finding a child who does not otherwise have a stable, safe and even sane, family situation a „forever family“. That is certainly the desire of all adopting parents. Adoption must be forever, the affections and love of adopting parents as real and enduring as those of the best biological parents. It is the profound and beautiful responsibility of all adopting parents to make that proposition real in the lives of the children they adopt. For believers, this is to be thought of as another expression of the parental love of God on Earth.

There have been scores of books written exploring the nature of adoption, its reality as a picture of our relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. One of the best, I think is this one by Gilbert Meilaender:

An insightful meditation on adoption and life in Jesus

I won’t go into a detailed summary of the book’s core thoughts here except for one: The love of adoptive parents for adopted children absolutely must be as real, as deep, as strong as the love of parents for their children conceived and born naturally because your salvation, if you have placed your trust in the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus, is predicated completely on that equation. God the father loves you as He loves Jesus the son.

Well, it had better. Our eternal salvation depends on it. Paul gets on this point twice Romans Chapter Eight, first here:

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

And here:

23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

And these are just two of several verses in the Pauline epistles which use adoption as a metaphor for our new life in Christ. Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5  also use this image of God’s love and acceptance of those who put their faith in Jesus as being the kind of love seen in adoption. This places before adoptive parents both a challenge and the responsibility to live as best they can in accord with this supernatural reality. We adoptive parents are all of us imperfect in living out this beautiful responsiblity with the adoptive children the Lord and the birth parents have entrusted to us. Over the years, I’ve heard the question from persons either curious or unwise, „Can you love a child who is not your blood?“ Yes, you can, and if you doubt it, you must perforce doubt the veracity of the Biblical promises that God loves and accepts you as His child. With precisely one exception, God has only adopted children.

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