One Less Orphan

Hey TD,

On Friday, I read you Isaiah 1, a passage that makes me cringe, as God reveals how He feels about people tantamount to “good Christians” that we mistaken for actually being true Christians.   He gives His solution for how to get out of that false Christianity that so often passes for real Christianity.  It’s not complicated, but it needs to be acted on.  Here it is:

“… Cease to do evil,17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:16-17

As you all know, my family is in the final stages of our adoption process.  But adoption isn’t the only way to defend the orphan.  As you are in the final preparation stage before you reach adulthood, you NEED to heed the Lord and build into your life a regular and consistent ministry to the “least of these,” especially the orphaned and the widowed.  That is written all over Scripture.

At TD, we want to help you cultivate that heart and extend opportunities to obey – through your monthly contributions to our 7 sponsored orphans, participating in our monthly orphanage visits and convalescent home visits (full of widows), caring for orphans in China in the summer, becoming an orphan advocate intern (we have 4 this year, participating in V4V, etc.

” … you NEED to heed the Lord and build into your life a regular and consistent ministry to the “least of these,” especially the orphaned and the widowed. “

I found the following article interesting and helpful in cultivating  a broader perspective in this regard and hope you’ll read and glean from it. – Arthur

One Less Orphan

How Do We Keep Families Together?

Orphan care has been the topic of many conversations within the local church over the last decade. By God’s grace, many families and churches have stepped into ministries of foster care and adoption. Foster care and adoption captured our own hearts as we prayed about how we might grow our family.

Of course, like many Christians, when we thought about orphan care, we immediately thought of James 1:27, the command for Christians “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” Often when the topic of orphan care comes up in Christian circles, it’s not too long before this verse is on the table. Praise God that many people today are aware of, and passionate about, orphan care. But in recent years, we began to learn of situations that challenged how we had grown to apply James’s familiar command.

Bigger Than Adopting

We were foster parents to a three-month-old baby girl, excited to welcome this little one into our home and shower her with love. We changed diapers, did middle-of-the-night feedings, and adjusted our other three children around the schedule of this new addition.

“Christian orphan care is more than middle-class families welcoming children into their own homes.”

When we began to consider adopting this baby girl, however, we discovered that she had a biological grandmother living a few states away who was interested in adopting her, despite some significant financial and bureaucratic hurdles. As we began what became a yearlong process of trying to support our foster daughter moving to her grandmother’s house, we started to realize that foster care and adoption were not the only needed ministries for orphan care.

For many, the practical application of James 1:27 is to call individual couples and families to foster and adopt individual children. This is good, but it doesn’t meet every need. If James 1:27 is calling us to look after the vulnerable children suffering in our midst, it requires thinking not only about the children, but also the families and communities these children come from. It challenges us to consider not just the adopting of children, but also the reconciling of children to their original biological families when possible.

For this to happen, orphan care needs to grow in a theology that encompasses the entire gospel story. Christian orphan care reflects the major beats of this gospel — creation, sin, redemption, restoration — and the major themes of the gospel story: themes like grace, justice, reconciliation, and adoption. These major beats and themes then influence our priorities as we consider how best to care for the vulnerable children in our communities.

Mercy Upstream

A theology that includes the full biblical story will recognize that sin — and the brokenness that results from sin — operates not only at the individual level, but also at family, social, institutional, and cultural levels. If we are to be faithful in the battle against sin, it will mean making it more than just a personal fight. It will also mean marshaling our resources to confront sin at every level.

In the case of orphan care, this will mean looking upstream to the sources of sin and brokenness that lead to a child needing to be fostered or adopted. In our own situation, we found systemic challenges to getting our little girl to her grandma within a reasonable time frame.

“As much as we need to foster and adopt, we can do even more to promote biological families staying together.”

Since then we have worked with other mothers who have fulfilled all the steps necessary to have their children returned to them, only to see the courts cancel appointments due to backlogged cases. Their children languish in the system months (even years) longer than necessary. We have seen mothers handcuffed by immigration status, at risk of losing their children permanently due to the extra challenges of finding work.

Orphan care requires more than middle-class families welcoming children into our own homes. Foster care and adoption are relief work — good and beautiful relief for a child from the brokenness of this world. But orphan care will involve more than just relief. It also includes seeking restoration and equity. It involves engaging in broken child-welfare systems and looking to prevent child abuse by walking with those who are isolated and battling poverty and addictions.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the good news of the gospel — in particular reconciliation between God and the people he created. In Christ, God moves toward us in grace so that ultimately he might bring us into fellowship with him.

The fact that reconciliation is a major theme of the gospel storyline will soon make us realize that as much as we still need to foster and adopt, we can do even more to promote biological families staying together. Families reconciling and reuniting is one of the ways we “echo” the gospel and thus bear witness to the God who is reconciling an entire people to himself.

The Savior We Really Need

This side of heaven, we will always have need to foster and adopt children. But the message of the gospel also motivates the wider community of believers to go to the most broken and isolated family units and share the good news that, in Jesus, all things can be made new. It also inspires members to leverage their vocations, legal skills, and political advocacy to shed light on systems and structures within the child-welfare system that are suffering from the decay of sin, and in ways that perpetuate injustice and harm biological families.

As we built a relationship with the grandmother of our foster girl, we began to see and grieve the brokenness that came from generations of both systemic and individual sin: brokenness that led to the mess that this girl and her grandmother found themselves in, and brokenness within the government system that added unnecessary burdens to an already painful situation.

“This side of heaven, we will always have need to foster and adopt children.”

But we were also able to step into their mess and be present with them in their suffering. By God’s grace, we were able to walk with them over the course of a year, to the point where this grandmother, at long last, was able to adopt her granddaughter. One less orphan.

It can be easy to welcome foster children into our homes as though we are their saviors. But that’s not what God calls us to when he tells us to care for orphans. Instead, God calls us to point the vulnerable, the suffering, and the broken to the only Lord and Savior everyone in our world needs.

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(@PastorVP) are longtime foster parents and are involved in promoting adoption and foster care initiatives. They are parents of four children. Vermon is the lead pastor of Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Dennae (@dennaepierre) is Executive Director of the Surge Network in Arizona.
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“An Act of Pure Evil” – Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

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Hi TD,

With heavy heart over what’s transpired, I urge you to read Dr. Al Mohler’s response to the massacre in Las Vegas.  The truth of the matter is this, if God does not exist, then there’s nothing truly wrong with what happened in Las Vegas.  We cannot, as a nation, straddle both sides of the fence, wanting our cake and eating it too.  And we cannot as Christians either … and too many of us are.  Let us pray and then let us live hard the life God wants us to live, being who God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to do; and put the world be on notice that there is a real God who will provide real salvation, and grant real victory. – Arthur

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15

“An Act of Pure Evil” — Searching for Meaning in Las Vegas

by R. Albert Mohler

Evil points to a necessary moral judgment made by a moral authority greater than we are — a transcendent and supernatural moral authority: God.

Today, most Americans awoke to news from Las Vegas that is nothing less than horrific. For so many in Las Vegas, Sunday night must have seemed like the night that would never end.

In the face of such overwhelming news, we naturally seek after facts. We want to know what happened, and when. We want to know who did it. By mid-morning the facts were staggering. More than fifty people are dead and hundreds wounded after a lone gunman opened fire on a music festival from a perch in a hotel room 32 floors above. The attack was deadly, diabolical, and premeditated.

The shooting is already described as the worst in American history. The gunman, believed to be Stephen Paddock, killed himself as police prepared to storm his hotel room, from which he had aimed his deadly gunfire. The facts emerged slowly, and are still emerging. Paddock had no notable criminal record. He had worked for a defense contractor, owned two private aircraft, and was known to own guns. He was reported to like Las Vegas for its gambling and entertainment. No one seems to have considered him a threat. His brother, contacted after the massacre, said that the family was beyond shock, as if “crushed by an asteroid.”

In Las Vegas and beyond, hundreds of families are crushed by grief and concern. More than fifty human beings, very much alive just hours ago, are now dead, seemingly murdered by random order.

The facts will continue to come as investigations continue. We need facts in order to steady our minds and grapple with understanding. We must have facts, and yet we can be easily overwhelmed by them. Some “facts” will not be facts at all. National Public Radio helpfully and honestly ended its news coverage of the massacre with these words: “This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities. We will update as the situation develops.” I count that as both helpful and honest.

But the facts of who and what and where and how, still unfolding, point to the even more difficult question — why?

Why would anyone kill a fellow human being? Why launch an ambush massacre upon concertgoers listening to country music? Why premeditate a mass killing?

Was he driven by some obsession, fueled by some grievance? Was he sending a signal or political message as an act of terrorism? Is the answer psychiatric or pharmacological? Our minds crave an answer.

Why do we ask why?

We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories. We are moral creatures inhabiting a moral universe and our moral sense of meaning is the faculty most perplexed when overwhelmed by horror and grief.

The terror group known as ISIS or the Islamic State claimed that Stephen Paddock was a “lone wolf” attacker who had recently converted to Islam. Law enforcement authorities said there is no evidence of anything related to ISIS or Islam.

Clark County (NV) Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters that he was not sure if the massacre was sending a message as a terror attack: “We have to establish what his motivation is first. And there’s motivating factors associated with terrorism other than a distraught person just intending to cause mass casualties.”

So far as we now know, Paddock left no note and communicated no clear message. The gunfire tells some story, but we do not yet know what the story is. We may never know.

That troubles us, and so it should. Knowing the story and determining the motivation would add rationality to our understanding, but we will never really understand.

A massacre by a lone gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Another killed 27, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Yet another killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. We really do not fully understand any of these attacks, nor countless other outbreaks of evil around the world.

One of the main theological insights about evil is that it is so often absurd. It is ultimately inexplicable, unfathomable, and cannot be resolved by human means.

President Trump has demonstrated little interest in academic disputes over moral philosophy so he probably did not intend to wade into deep theoretical waters when he called the massacre “an act of pure evil.” But he called it right, and he expanded on his judgment. “In times such as these I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness.” He went on to say: “The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.”

That is exactly how a president should speak, and underlining the “act of pure evil” as evil is exactly how a morally sane person should think. The judgment of evil here, real evil, should be beyond dispute.

Evil is a fact, too. And evil is a theological category. The secular worldview cannot use the word with coherence or sense. The acknowledgement of evil requires the affirmation of a moral judgment and a moral reality above human judgment. If we are just accidental beings in an accidental universe, nothing can really be evil. Evil points to a necessary moral judgment made by a moral authority greater than we are — a transcendent and supernatural moral authority: God.

College professors tell us that moral relativism has produced a generation of Americans who resist calling anything evil, and even deny the existence of moral facts. Justin P. McBrayer, who teaches at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, wrote in The New York Times that “many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts.”

That’s truly frightening, but McBrayer argues that by the time students arrive at college, they have already been told over and over again that there are no moral facts — that nothing is objectively right or wrong.

Only the Christian worldview, based in the Bible, can explain why moral facts exist, and how we can know them. Only the biblical worldview explains why sinful humanity commits such horrible moral wrongs. The Christian worldview also promises that God will bring about a final act of moral judgment that will be the final word on right and wrong — as facts, not merely speculation. The Gospel of Christ points us to the only way of rescue from the fact of our own evil and guilt.

Our hearts break for the families and communities now grieving, and we pray for them and for those even now fighting for life.

It is both telling and reassuring that secular people, faced with moral horror as we see now in Las Vegas, can still speak of evil as a moral fact — even if they continue to deny moral facts in the classrooms and courtrooms. No one can deny that the horror in Las Vegas came about by an act that was evil, pure evil, and evil as a fact.

I think of the Prophet Isaiah’s words: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” [Isaiah 5:20, ESV]

 

 

 

 

How Are You at Keeping Confidences?

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Hey TD,
As we continue to work out our faith during the summer, here is a convicting and challenging reminder by the legendary Chuck Swindoll about an essential part of Christian maturity. There are lots of Christians who are expert in giving a good “Christian” show to people and to the public, but are loose on the inside in matters of personal honesty and integrity; and yet this is exactly where the Lord’s pulse is with respect to evaluating how we’re really doing (on the inside, where no one else but God is watching).
There are lots of apropos applications and self-confrontations for us to make after reading this – and probably with other people – but let’s start with ourselves and work it, ok? – Arthur
Keeping Confidences

“3 Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. 4 Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness. Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do wrong.” Psalm 141:3-4

Can you keep a secret?

Can you? Be honest, now. When privileged information passes through one of the gates of your senses, does it remain within the walls of your mind? Or is it only a matter of time before a leak occurs? When the grapevine requests your attention from time to time, do you refuse to help it climb higher, or do you encourage its rapid growth, fertilizing it by your wagging, unguarded tongue? When someone says, “Now this is confidential,” do you respect their trust or ignore it . . . either instantly or ultimately?

The longer I live, the more I realize the scarcity of people who can be fully trusted with confidential information. The longer I live, the more I value those rare souls who fall into that category! As a matter of fact, if I were asked to list the essential characteristics that should be found in any member of a church staff or officer on a church board . . . the ability to maintain confidences would rank very near the top. No leader deserves the respect of the people if he or she cannot restrain information that is shared in private.

Our minds might be compared to a cemetery, filled with graves that refuse to be opened. The information, no matter how juicy or dry, must rest in peace in its coffin, sealed in silence beneath the epitaph “Shared in confidence—Kept in confidence.”

You and I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for a doctor who ran off at the mouth. The same applies to a minister or an attorney or a counselor or a judge or a teacher or a secretary . . . or a close, trusted friend for that matter. No business ever grows and remains strong unless those in leadership are people of confidence. No school maintains public respect without an administration and faculty committed to the mutual guarding of one another’s worlds. When leaks occur, it is often a sign of character weakness, and action is usually taken to discover the person who has allowed his or her mental coffin to be exhumed and examined.

Information is powerful. The person who receives it and dispenses it bit by bit often does it so that others might be impressed because he or she is “in the know.” Few things are more satisfying to the old ego than having others stare wide-eyed, drop open the jaw, and say, “My, I didn’t know that!” or “Why, that’s hard to believe!” or “How in the world did you find that out?”

Solomon writes strong and wise words concerning this subject in Proverbs. Listen to his counsel:

Wise men store up knowledge,
But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand. (10:14)

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (10:19)

He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter. (11:13)

The one who guards his mouth preserves his life;
The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (13:3)

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip. (20:19)

Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot
Is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble.

Like a city that is broken into and without walls
Is a man who has no control over his spirit. (25:28)

From now on, let’s establish four practical ground rules:

  1. Whatever you’re told in confidence, do not repeat.
  2. Whenever you’re tempted to talk, do not yield.
  3. Whenever you’re discussing people, do not gossip.
  4. However you’re prone to disagree, do not slander.

Honestly now, can you keep a secret? Prove it.

What you’re told in confidence, don’t repeat. When discussing people, don’t gossip.

— Charles R. Swindoll

Excerpt taken from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. For additional information and resources visit us at www.insight.org.

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The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

The Gospel in Asia

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Hey TD,

In light of TD’ers heading to love and serve orphaned children, typical children, and college students in China and Taiwan this summer in Jesus’ Name, I’d like for us to pray for these trips and get an overview of what God is doing in Asia.

I read the following article a few weeks ago in Tabletalk magazine and would like to share it with you.  Pray about it and ask the Lord what He wants you to do in response.  Your response can come in many forms, big and small.  But there should be some response of some sort, even if it’s to pray. – Arthur

The Gospel in Asia

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The advance of the gospel in Asia over the last century has been extraordinary. Christian churches are growing and thriving in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and of course South Korea, which boasts some of the largest churches in the entire world. Yet the gospel is also taking root in countries where we might not expect it to. For example, a movement of Reformed churches is growing in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Moreover, the exponential growth of the house church movement in China is remarkable considering that the Communist government places strict restrictions on the activities of Christian churches. Clearly, the work of the gospel in Asia is something we rejoice over, continue to pray for, and look for opportunities to support.

PLANTING THE SEEDS

The roots of the modern evangelical movement are often traced back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in North America. These revivals have a mixed legacy, but we can be thankful for their emphasis on conversion and evangelism, which sparked a global missionary movement that ultimately marked the nineteenth century as the great century of Protestant mission work. Protestant missionaries traveled to Africa, South America, and Asia spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While we cannot ignore or fully disentangle the Protestant mission movement from the often-brutal historical context of Western imperialism, which led to many European countries’ annexing territories around the world and the subjection of indigenous people groups, missionaries did plant the seeds of the gospel throughout the world—including Asia.

A good example of planting seeds was the missionary work of Robert Morrison, who was sent by the London Mission Society to China in 1807. He was one of the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and bring the gospel to southern China. James Hudson Taylor followed Morrison, arriving in China in 1853. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, with a focus on reaching the interior of China, away from the more popular and lucrative port cities. Unique for his time, Taylor and his colleagues chose to dress and eat like the local Chinese as a way of identifying more closely with those to whom they were trying to minister. The work of Morrison and Taylor introduced the gospel to China, and their legacy lives on today.

Another example of gospel seeds being planted in Asia and bearing amazing fruit occurred in Korea, where the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Protestantism grew during the early twentieth century with the famous revival (1907–10) in the northern city of Pyongyang. As a result of the revival, Christianity was firmly established and would play a crucial role during the period of Japanese colonial rule. Christianity served as a point of resistance against Japanese occupation, and especially against the imposition of Shintoism. After Korea gained independence, Protestant Christianity continued to grow, and today South Korea’s population has the highest percentage of Christians in East Asia.

THE GOSPEL IN ASIA TODAY

Asia is a vast region, and each country has a distinct story about the gospel’s spread. No country is the same, but the Holy Spirit is working to bring the same gospel to each country. Here are three examples that will give us a glimpse into the work of the gospel in Asia today.

THE GOSPEL IN KOREA

After the Korean War, South Korea continued to see tremendous growth in churches and ministries. The fervency for evangelism and discipleship gripped Korean Christians, resulting in tremendous growth for the church in Korea. The numbers today are astounding. The largest church in the world is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than three hundred thousand congregants. Yoido Church is a Pentecostal church, but many Korean Presbyterian churches have membership numbers in the tens of thousands. The Hapdong denomination which is a conservative Reformed Presbyterian denomination similar to the Presbyterian Church in America, has a membership of more than three million. In comparison, in 2015 the PCA reported a total membership of slightly more than 370,000. The largest Presbyterian church in the Hapdong denomination has a membership of more than 75,000.

The astounding growth of the church in South Korea has led to estimations that Christians make up nearly 29 percent of the population. This is one of the highest percentages of Christians in any country besides the United States. But the Korean church is not content to see the gospel impact only their country. Korean missionaries are now going out to the entire world in the same way their nineteenth-century Western predecessors did. Korea is often listed as the nation sending the second-highest number of missionaries, with the United States still sending the most missionaries of any country in the world.

THE GOSPEL IN CHINA

It is notoriously difficult to assess the growth and state of the church in China. In 1949, when the Communists defeated the Nationalists for control of the country, it is estimated that there were five hundred thousand Christians. With the Communist government’s restrictions on religion, many Christians gathered together in unregistered churches, avoiding public activities and gatherings that would draw scrutiny from officials. Yet all accounts point to the fact that the church in China, even under these hostile circumstances, grew and continues to grow. Chinese Christians are not deterred in their desire to spread the gospel even in the face of severe government opposition. Many scholars estimate that there are close to sixty million Christians in China. One scholar projects the growth to reach two hundred million by 2035. In comparison, there are 159 million Christians in the United States, and that number has been declining each year in recent decades. Consequently, China could eclipse the United States in total number of Christians in the next two decades. If the growth in China continues, Communist China will have one of the largest Christian populations in the entire world. The potential for the Chinese church is great. Not only is there an enormous opportunity for evangelism and church planting in China, but also for missionaries to be sent from China, especially to regions such as the Middle East where it may be more difficult for Westerners to gain entry.

THE GOSPEL IN INDONESIA

One last example is found in Indonesia. The country comprises a series of islands and is the largest Muslim country in the world. In the midst of this Islamic stronghold, the evangelist Stephen Tong started a growing Reformed evangelical church movement. Tong’s church in the capital city of Jakarta averages four thousand attendees each week. He has also founded a seminary and a Christian school, and he has planted multiple churches throughout Indonesia. Tong holds gospel rallies throughout Indonesia, where he preaches to thousands in stadiums and other open-air settings.

As his ministry has grown, Tong’s impact has extended beyond Indonesia to other Asian countries. He has established a regular preaching tour every week to Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Hong Kong; and Taipei, Taiwan; in addition to his Sunday preaching in Jakarta. Recordings of many of his sermons and lectures have circulated throughout the Chinese-speaking communities, earning him the reputation as one of the most influential preachers in Asia. Tong is likewise committed to Reformed theology and has introduced many in Asia to this rich biblical tradition.

THE GOSPEL MOVING FORWARD

The gospel is moving forward in Asia in unprecedented ways. Borrowing the words of Jonathan Edwards, who ministered during the First Great Awakening, this too is the “surprising work of God.” The gospel seeds that were planted more than two centuries ago have produced great spiritual fruit. What can we as Christians in the West do to support this movement of the gospel? Let me close by making a few suggestions.

1. Pray for the work of the gospel in Asia. 
Many brothers and sisters are serving in countries where there are enormous challenges and significant dangers.

2. Participate by reaching out to and sharing the gospel with foreign students and workers in your community from Asia
In this age of globalization, there are many students and workers from Asia coming to the United States for short periods of time. As they hear and receive the gospel in America, they will return to their home countries with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

3. Finally, if you have the opportunity, go and travel to Asia and see for yourself what the Lord is doing
Contact missionaries and churches and ask what their needs are and how you can go and help. I am certain it will be a life-changing experience.

© Tabletalk magazine

Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is provost, executive vice president, and Stephen Tong Chair of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a teaching elder in the PCA.

What is Shaping You?

Image result for subconscious

Hi TD!

As a follow-up to Sandra’s insightful lesson last week, The Power of Sub-Conscious Liturgies, here is an article by author Nancy Guthrie that explores what it is that actually gives us our true inner-man shape.  It’s an important read for us as so many of us are being trained on how to portray and show a certain spiritual shape that is quite different from the shape we’re actually in.  We’ve got to go to the 90% of us that is below the surface and work on the shape down there.  It will eventually and inevitably show up in the 10% above the surface.  Please read and take action. – Arthur

What Is Shaping You?

by

There’s a section in department stores these days called “shapewear.” It’s in both women’s and men’s clothing. These stores are banking on our concern with the shape of our bodies and our willingness to invest in garments that promise to give us the shape we’re looking for.

But when we read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we discover it’s not what is shaping our bodies that he is most concerned about. He’s concerned about what is shaping our perspective, our priorities, our pursuits, and our opinions. He writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

His words force us to ask ourselves: What external forces are shaping my internal dialogue about what matters? What pressures me to make the choices I am making about how I spend my money, my time, and my energies? Am I self-aware enough to know?

Ever since we were born into this world, it has been working to press us into its mold.

Of course, we don’t like to think of ourselves as this impressionable. We like to think we are independent in our thinking. But the truth is, we are such products of the environment we live in that we often don’t recognize what is pressing in on us. Or perhaps we don’t feel the pressure because we simply give in to it. It makes no sense to Paul, however, for the lives of those who have been called and foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son instead to be conformed to this world.

Instead of being conformed, Paul instructs us to be transformed. There’s a contrast here between something pressing in on us from the outside that causes us to be conformed and something taking place on the inside that causes us to be transformed. Where inside is this taking place? In our minds. And what is happening in our minds? They are being renewed. There’s a renovation project going on.

Have you ever renovated anything? The word used by Paul for the “renewal” of our minds literally means “to renovate”—to rip out the old and put in the new. The one doing the renovation work is the Holy Spirit. But there is something here for us to do. The tool the Holy Spirit uses is the Word. This means we must bring ourselves under the influence of the Word.

In his book Growing Your Faith, the late Jerry Bridges explains this process as similar to what we tell our son when he comes in from playing on the dirt pile: “Go take a shower.” It is the soap and water that will wash away the sweat and the dirt. But Tommy must bring himself under their cleansing action to become clean. So we say to him, “Go take a shower.”

Likewise, when Paul says to us: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he’s instructing us to bring ourselves under the transforming influence of the Word of God. As the Word of God pours over us, the Spirit will use it to accomplish its cleansing, renewing, renovating work in our minds. Our minds will begin to work correctly. Our thoughts will align more closely to God’s thoughts. Our way of valuing things will align more closely to the way God values things. In this way, we will grow in our ability to know what God wants.

We won’t need to wait for some extrabiblical, supernatural word from God to be spoken into our subconscious thoughts to know what to do. We’ll be able to discern the wise course of action. God doesn’t decide for us and then transmit His decisions to us. Like a good father, He is teaching us to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. How? He is renewing our minds as we come under His Word. He is giving us the mind of Christ.

The world around us is trying to press us into its highly individualistic mold. But the Word is transforming us into people whose identity flows out of being a bondservant to Jesus Christ and no longer a slave to our own independence or self-fulfillment.

The world around us is trying to press us into its consumer mold. Its advertising seeks to convince us that we cannot be content without whatever it’s selling. But the Word is transforming us into people who can say, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The world around us is trying to press us into its mold of thinking the goal of this life is comfort and security. But the Word of God is renewing our minds so that we have very different aspirations from simply a comfortable life with a comfortable retirement. We want to expend ourselves for the gospel until the day we die. We so deeply believe that our heavenly Father is taking care of us and has secured a future for us in which we will gain everything, we just aren’t so concerned about losing out here. We are pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The world around us seeks to press us into its mold. And we can simply relent. We can be shaped by the world around us. But we don’t have to be. We can resist. We can be shaped by the Word of God. As we take it in, think it through, and live it out, it is going to change us in profound and pleasant ways. We’re going to increasingly know how to live in the world around us.

Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie is an author, conference speaker, and Bible teacher. She is author of The One Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids, What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), and the Bible study series The Promised One.

A Way in a Manger

the manger

Hi TD,

Let’s be honest. In the midst of this busy and commercialized season, we can easily lose sight of the true meaning and weight of Christmas. Perhaps we know the Christmas story so well that it has grown somewhat stale to us, or we think that the miraculous birth of Jesus has very little to do with our present life and troubles. After all, the event happened thousands of years ago in a land far, far away.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I hope that reading this blog post by Vaneetha Rendall Risner can help us come to the Christmas story in Scripture with fresh eyes and enlarge our hearts to adore the Child born King who meets us in our trials and troubles today.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to DesiringGod.org, who is well acquainted with suffering, having experienced 21 surgeries by age 13, multiple miscarriages, the death of a child, unwanted divorce, just to name a few. The pain and disappointment she writes about in this particular post is about her diagnosis with post-polio syndrome, which involves increasing pain, weakness, and limitations in her body.

– Kathy

A WAY IN A MANGER

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt He was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses.  It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying His precious Son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away.  With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed.  The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation?As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along.She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

We all need that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger? 

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where He can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Vaneetha Rendall Risner