Hervorgehoben

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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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:

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 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.

hitman-pose-under-maple

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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.

hitman-pose-under-maple

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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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Germans, Faith and the Recent Crisis

Crucifix from Ottmaring near Augsburg

It was only about six weeks after we had arrived in Bavaria back in 2015 that the Syrian Refugee Crisis began. Right here and right now, I have no intention of going into the politics of the decision to admit a shade over a million unvetted persons who claimed to be fleeing the Assad regime (hint- not a decision of unalloyed wisdom) in any depth. What I will write about here is what I observed in the attitudes of Germans- including my neighbors and friends- to the situation. They wanted to help.

The Germans, you see, having played the part of villain in the two great conflicts we call the World Wars, subsequently spent decades caught between an unhealthy self-flagellation and a healthy repentance and, where possible, penance for the monstrous deeds of the Nazi regime. They dearly want to be the good guys today. In some capacity. Their country’s role in the Cold War does not seem to have made much of an impression. Yes, there are now 75+ years of history between the end of the Second World War and the current day, but it is most definitely impossible to overestimate the weight of the guilt, shame, trauma, pain and other associated psychological and spiritual evils upon the souls of Germans still. The world is only now seeing a generation of Germans who feel something akin to healthy national pride about some of their history- with four generations having passed since the last major war on west European soil. The Sebis and the Claudias on the street? They really want to be the good guys. So, when the chance came for them to rush to the aid of refugee families fleeing and internecine civil war in the Middle East, they flocked en masse to train stations to receive the new arrivals with bags of groceries, clothes, toys for children…and found that they were not greeting families, for the most part, but mostly greeting men between the ages of 18 and 35.

I won’t delve into the politics and morality of the decision to set the Schengen Agreement on fire by admitting all those unvetted refugees of often unknown origin and uncertain intent into the country. The negative effects have been discussed at length elsewhere. Here and now, I want instead to point out something of the character of the people who responded: They truly believed they were going to be ministers of mercy, coming to the aid of those in need, and they acted on that belief. Christians of all denominational backgrounds were keen to help those they perceived as being in need: Pentecostals, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and various other denominations practically queued up around the block to help the refugees from Syria and North Africa. Secular Europe where churches are invisible? Hardly.

Then came the Great COVID Panic of 2020-21. Again, I’m not going to go into the ham-handed overreaction of the German (and other) governments to this admittedly potentially dangerous disease (to certain fractions of the population), but point out the reaction of the faith community in Germany. In spite of government-imposed restrictions on church services and other public meetings, the Christian community of Germany (and Austria, and Switzerland) held public prayer events online to pray for relief from the COVID outbreak. You can view (and listen to) the recording of the livestream from April of 2020 here: Deutschland betet gemeinsam.

As the weeks and months passed, and it became clear that the national and state governments were continuing the COVID restrictions, another online prayer event was held on the Wednesday before Pentecost in 2020, an event called Deutschland betet. It was followed a year later by the event Gemeinsam vor Pfingsten. The response of the secular, increasingly non-Christian Germany to the ongoing series of lock-downs, masking, social restrictions, illnesses and deaths from the Wuhan Flu, and the socio-economic dislocations caused by it, was prayer. And compassion. Here, in the last two years, I have seen how my neighbors, friends, total strangers, have gone out of their various ways to help each other, to support family and friends as much as they were able. And that all seems to have been a warm-up to the massive flooding we have seen this summer.

Summer? Well, 2021 is really looking and feeling like another “year without summer”, in the mold of 1815. Since May, the daytime high temperature has not exceeded 30 Celsius more than five times, and then only briefly. And the rains have hardly paused for more than a day or two. You have probably seen some of the photos and footage of the destruction in the Eifel region of Germany, in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. The response of the German community has been overwhelmingly good. The prayer movement assembled another nation-wide event, this time something of a telethon and prayer event called Hoffnungsschimmer 2021 (Shimmer of Hope 2021), which also included several testimonies both from people who had suffered material and personal losses in the flood, and from those who had gone to help them in the wake of the disaster. The Real Life Guys, whom I have mentioned on my blog before, have also been a visible presence among the scores of faith-based aid and relief efforts that have poured into the afflicted region. Those who read German can find a brief article on their work here.

Another high-visibility testimony amid this destruction and loss is that of Hubert Schilles. He is an excavator operator working in civil engineering, and has been celebrated as “The Hero of Steinbachtal” for his actions during the worst of the flooding :

The Testimony of Hubert Schilles

The translation of the above reads:

“The Lord God put me in that place. I blessed myself, then drove right in. I was not afraid for even one second. And with God’s help, it worked.”

Risking his life, Hubert Schillers dug out the drainage channel for the Steinbach Valley Dam with an excavator.

And note, if you will, the sources: ARD, one of Germany’s largest television networks, and FAZ– Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung– which is one of the largest and best-respected newspapers in the country. Speaking of which, the FAZ published this story today, detailing the import role that clergy are playing in the restoring the spiritual and emotional well-being of those in the flood-ravaged region. Even if you can’t read German, click through to the FAZ article so that the photos can give you a better picture of the destruction the inhabitants of the Ahrtal and surrounding regions are dealing with. But not alone. There has been a largely faith-driven outpouring- and that is both right word and my point- of material aid and compassion for the afflicted. Samaritan’s Purse has a good video of that organization’s response teams here (in English).. Between testimonies like those above and the actions that have accompanied them, you might get the correct impression that the Body of Christ in Germany has been very active in responding to the crises of recent years. From that you should draw the correct inference that an ethical system very much guided by the principle of „love your neighbor as yourself“, „when I was hungry, you fed me, when I sick, you visited me“.

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The Chosen Controversies (Season 2 spoilers abound, be warned)

Promo photo from the Chosen, Season 2, Left to Right: Noah James as Andrew, Elizabeth Tabish as Mary of Magdala, Jonathan Roumie as Jesus, Shahar Isaac as Peter, Paras Patel as Matthew

The streaming series The Chosen has taken the internet–at least the Christian corners of the internet– by storm, though it has remained largely unnoticed by the non-Christian media audience. It raised the funding for its first and now second seasons entirely through crowdfunding and overwhelmingly online. The results produced from that funding have been extraordinarily good. The director and co-writer, Dallas Jenkins, has created the world’s first work of serial filmed entertainment that draws its material directly from the Gospels (with excurses from the Tanakh). The series has enjoyed, if that is the word, some controversy since the very beginning. Some people object to the idea of presenting such “unbiblical” elements as -surprise- the presentation of real, believable biographies and “backstories” for characters from the New Testament. In the first season, there were multiple online dust-ups about the series’ presentation of Peter’s reasons for saying “I am a sinful man” when he first meets Jesus, the depiction of Jesus’ mortality, and the treatment of Mary, mother of Jesus. When the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints offered to and did provide land and materials for building some of the sets for the second season? News that this was happening set off a vociferous and sometimes invidious exchange of opinions about Mormon involvement in the series. None of these controversies, though, were quite as loud or elicited as much a response online as a single plot thread which began in the fifth episode of the second season.

Mary Magdalene in a scene from the controversial plot line in episodes 5 and 6

Those who watch the series likely know about and may have even participated in the social media furor. For those who don’t and didn’t, here is a brief summary of the casus belli: After a frightening encounter with a Roman soldier and an even more frightening encounter with a demon-possessed man who addresses her as ‘Lilith’, using the false name she had used when living her previous life of debauchery, Mary Magdalene leaves Jesus and the disciples in shame and doubt. She returns to her former life briefly, getting stone drunk and gambling with money she stole from the group treasury (at least that is the apparent origin of the bag of coins she takes with her to the bar in Caesarea Philippi). For some tender if inexperienced souls, this development proved to be far too awful to watch. The comments and responses on the social media pages for The Chosen quickly escalated into proper flame wars, to a degree that Jenkins decided to respond to the controversy in a video which he posted on YouTube. The focus of his own anger was the inability of some vocal members of his audience to cope with the dramatic representation of a believer who had recently come to faith falling back into sin. In his reaction, he put his finger directly on one of the most wretched and lamentable failings among Christians in this generation: We eagerly and gleefully shoot our wounded, spiritually or morally speaking. We are very quick to decide which of the wounded most rightly ought to get the final shot that spells expulsion from the Christian community. Or at least from our own personal Christian bubble.

Peter and Matthew go in Search of the errant Mary Magdalene

What I am speaking about here- and what was dramatized in Episode 5 of Season 2 of The Chosen– is not cases of clear, unequivocal deviance from orthodox Christian doctrine and ethical teaching, but instead how Christians themselves deal with each other when they fail morally. The issue raised by the dramatic situation in Episodes 5 and into Episode 6 this season was precisely that: How Christians deal with their siblings in Christ when those siblings are on the verge of despairing of God’s mercy, and have definitely despaired of the mercy of fellow Christians.

Now, of the latter the struggling believer is well-justified in despairing, unfortunately. There is a strain of spiritual perfectionism at work among Christians in the States in particular that is ready not to help the brother who stumbles get back on his feet, but to condemn at him for falling in the first place. The Mary Magdalene sub-plot this season exposed that strain for all so see in real time on social media. The explosion of criticism and vituperation directed at Dallas Jenkins and his writing team was breathtaking in its harshness. Some Christian viewers of the series were appalled by the moral stumbling of Mary Magdalene, and ready to pillory both the writers and directors who originated this depiction and those fellow viewers who thought it psychologically and spiritually realistic.

Mary after gambling and getting tanked.

The fact is, though, that the only unrealistic note in The Chosen’s depiction of Mary Magdalene’s backsliding and return to the fold of Jesus followers was the speed with which it was resolved. Of course, this quick resolution is driven mainly by the limitations of the filmed entertainment format- that Shakespearian compression of time so eloquently explained in the prologue to Henry V. The landscape of para-church ministries is full of organizations devoted to helping those struggling with temptations of pornography, heavy drinking, gambling, and drug abuse. These ministries– such as Free!ndeed (a ministry aimed at porn users), XXXChurch, Alcoholics Anonymous, CADAM(Christ Against Drug Addiction Ministries), and numerous others–all offer programs lead believers or seekers for last weeks, months, or years into lives no longer dominated by a particular moral and behavioral failing. And yet, to judge by social media discussion groups (and not just those following The Chosen), the very existence of the struggling believer seems to be a topic that too many Christians are unwilling the deal with honestly. Hang out with sinners who aren’t yet believers? Sure, we’ll do that. Admit that said sinner might be one of us? That is less palatable, apparently. Better to avoid it. Better to shoot the wounded brother, so to speak, before he draws too much attention to the fact that believing in Jesus does automatically make you perfect.

The controversy followed the series through most of this summer, finding an echo in the conversation between Jesus and Matthew in the final episode of the season. That episode focuses on the Sermon on the Mount, and as Jesus (played by Jonathan Roumie) reads through the Beatitudes with Matthew (played by Paresh Patel), the camera takes to flashbacks matching specific characters with specific Beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek” is matched with a quick flashback to Thaddeus and James the Lesser in conversation; “Blessed are the merciful” pairs the women in the group, Mother Mary (Vanessa Benavente), Ramah (Yasmin Al-Bustami), welcoming Mary Magdalene (Elizabeth Tabish) back to the camp after her relapse. “Blessed are you when men revile you and say all kinds of false things against you because of the Son of Man”? That Beatitude is spoken directly to Matthew, and the astute viewer cannot help but realize exactly who it has been who has been reviling Matthew all season: It has been his fellow disciples, not outsiders. This is a regrettable case of art mirroring life, though it is quite unlikely that the summer controversy following Episode 5 was anticipated during the writing, filming, and editing of that scene. Nevertheless, it could not have been a better message to the series’ viewing public: Believers should be ready to deal with the past and current failings of their fellows in the spirit of Jesus’ mercy and patience.

If you have not watched The Chosen yet, do. The spoilers here leave much untouched. It’s easily the best Biblical drama in over a decade and maybe the best in the last half-century.

Thanks for reading!

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Not on the Edge of Forever

A Song of Joy by Caroline Furlong

Nevertheless, the design certainly makes one think of one the most famous Star Trek* episodes in the original series! Click the link to learn more about these earthly portals, readers.

Now, if we could just add some chevrons* to these things, we would be in business….

portal statues vilnius lublin lithuania poland 1 Portals Erected in Lithuania and Poland Let People See Each Other in Real TimePortals Erected in Lithuania and Poland Let People See Each Other in Real Time

PORTAL statues have been erected in the city centres of Vilnius, Lithuania and Lublin, Poland, allowing residents of each to see each other in real time.

Installed on May 26th outside of the Vilnius Train Station and Lublin’s Central Square, the project was created by GoVilnius, the development agency of the Lithuanian capital.

According to its organizers, the PORTAL is supposed to serve as a visual bridge and new wave community accelerator that brings people of different cultures together and encourages them to rethink the meaning of unity.

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Departures V: From Austin to the Alpenvorraum

Austin, Texas back before those huge towers went up.

„Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.„  Acts 16:17

In a previous post, I wrote that, practically from the moment that I had learned that there was a 24/7 house of prayer in Germany, I had wanted to go there . Really wanted to go there. I found myself asking „where has this place been all my life?“ That’s how much I wanted to go there, to live out a life of intercession and worship in a country whose language and culture had fascinated me so much that I had devoted my professional life to studying both. The first meeting of the Wittenberg 2017 meeting, held in Ottmaring, near Augsburg, in 2012, had given me a good first impression of the Gebetshaus and intensified my desire to be part of it.

That was the problem. I needed and wanted to be certain that the motivation to go to Augsburg came from the Lord and not from me. There was an overabundance of enthusiasm for German, the language, and the German-speaking lands of central Europe in my person, and it would be easy to mistake those impulses of my own soul for the will of God, and I wanted to be certain that I was acting on the latter, not the former. Among the factors tempering my impulses and encouraging me in patience was a dream that I had sometime in the first quarter of 2013.

The dream began in our kitchen, where I was sitting at the table with my laptop in front of me, typing away on some text (probably a contract) when suddenly, I say „Time to go to Germany!“, shut the laptop, and stood up. I put my things in my backpack, stepped out the front door and BANG! I was in Augsburg, right in front of the Gebetshaus. I walked in …

…and no one knew who I was. No one had any idea why I was there. After a few fragmentary and embarrassing dream conversations, I left the building again, aiming to walk downtown where I hoped to find a hotel. As I walked along the pedestrian trail following the Wertach river through town, a small, elderly woman, laden with a backpack that was larger than she was, came walking toward me, in the middle of the river, going in the opposite direction. In spite of the almost comically large burden she was carrying on her back, she was moving with speed and determination. When she was close enough, I recognized her as Hannah Miley, an acquaintance of ours through the ministry of Austin House of Prayer. Now in the interpretation of dream semiotics, the burden a person bears-luggage, a yoke, what have you- is symbolic of the person’s past, and Hannah’s past has been one of tragedy and joy and long, faithful discipleship to Jesus. She had this huge Rucksack, and I had a much smaller backpack, containing, as far as my dream was concerned, just my laptop and some office supply oddments. She appeared to know where she was going, and I…did not. Not yet, in that dream. That dream was all the warning I needed to wait for a clear direction from God before departing to Augsburg.

And once that came? There were practical considerations to deal with. Like selling our house, booking flights, and arranging for accommodations in Augsburg once we got there. I looked on the ads for apartments on the website of the Augsburger Allgemeine and came up empty repeatedly, so as a supplemental strategy I emailed contacts in the Gebetshaus Augsburg asking for assistance in finding a place to live in the greater Augsburg area. It was an e-mail from Johannes Hartl that introduced us to Stefan Karrer who did offer us a place to stay. For two weeks while we looked for something more permanent. That would have to do. We were ready to embark on our European adventure.

The Bavarian Alps. On a clear day, we can see them from the hill about 400 meters from where I sit. Not the huts, though.

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way- 1 Thessalonians 2:18

Ever had that experience where the Adversary was trying his damnedest to stop you from doing something? Something really significant, like…moving your family to another continent?

With a suddenness that should not have seemed sudden, the middle of June 2015 arrived, and we were standing in line at the security counter in Austin-Bergstrom Airport, waiting for the desk agent to check us in so we could proceed through the actual security screening. When the desk agent took our e-tickets, though, she fixed me with a disapproving gaze.

“You have no return trip listed,” she said.

“No, we don’t because we don’t know when we will be coming back. We’re missionaries.”

“Then I can’t let you fly. You have to have a continuing destination.”

“What? Since when?”, I probably said this louder and more vehemently than called for. Susan put her hand on my arm and Felicia looked up at me, keying into the alarm in my voice.

“Since a few months after 9-11,” the agent answered. “Unless you have a continuing flight or a return booked, I can’t let you board.”

“Oh, you can’t…”, I began. Susan squeezed my arm. “Well, then, we’ll just book our flight to Rome. We have a meeting in Rome in October.”

That was true. We were going to attend the next meeting of Wittenberg 2017 to be held at Casa del Maestro in Rome in October, and we had not yet booked a flight there. So, while Susan and Felicia prayed and played Monument Valley, I got on my laptop and booked us a flight from Munich to Rome in October. And had our e-tickets sent to my smartphone so I could show them to the desk agent. All this took fewer than 15 minutes. Ain’t life in the internet age grand?

Then, having propitiated the wrath of the Gate Agent Demigoddess, we got in line for the security check. And…the security agent pulled me aside.

“Sir, we’ve detected traces of explosives on your backpack.”

“What are you talking about? What traces?”

“Ions. This test picks up ions from substances that are only used in making explosives.”

I must have fixed the security agent with a completely baffled expression because he shrugged and said, “False positives are rare but possible. But I have to examine all the contents of your pack now. It’s procedure.”

So, we stood there for a half an hour while the security agent meticulously removed my laptop, power supply, pens, books, earbuds, box of Altoids, and everything else, even battered, crumpled old receipts from the Star Café in Round Rock, from the backpack and did the ion test on them. Finally, with a sheepish mien, he returned all my stuff.

“Sorry for the delay Mr. Martin. There’s nothing here. I just wasted your time.”

“Thanks for saying that,” I said, and closed my backpack, casting a relieved and encouraging glance toward Susan and Felicia.

Yeah, watching your plane just sit at the gate for no known reason, can be nerve-wracking.

You might be thinking at this point, “And things got better when you got past the gate, right?”

Wrong. When we got past the gate, we discovered that our flight from Austin to New York was delayed by 25 minutes. That should have been no problem. I always buy tickets that give us longer lay-overs, if possible. Generally, this practice means cheaper flights, which is one point in its favor, but the other is that it gives us a time buffer in the event of delays. Our time buffer on that day was about 90 minutes. Which was now 55 …then 45…then 30…then we were finally boarding. We still barely made it to New York in time and had to run through the halls of La Guardia to ge to the Malaysian Air flight that was taking us to Frankfurt. We only relaxed at last when we were sitting down.

Coming soon: Arrivals I

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