Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading Rainbow: May

I have read 5-- yeah, that's right 5!-- books in the month of May. Three of them I'm going to advertise here. The other two I'll mention, but not necessarily advertise. The two: "Prey" by Michael Crichton (may he rest in peace), and "Daisy Miller" by Henry James. I've been reading Crichton for 12 years now, and he's never failed to steal my attention from just about anything else when I'm reading him. James' novella was alright, but not anything really spectacular. Okay, that covers the honorable mentions. Now down to the meat (in order of reading).

Book 1: "Let the Nations be Glad" by John Piper (by the way, if anyone knows how to underline on blogger, let me know... my inner English teacher is screaming that I can't properly underline a book title here...) Subtitled "The Supremacy of God in Missions," this book took me a long time to really get rolling in, because it feels like nearly every sentence is another thesis. However, it was VERY good in that it very clearly outlines the remaining need for missions throughout the world. Mr. Piper lays out the case for pioneering missions, citing manifold verses from throughout Scripture which say that every nation, tribe, people and language will be represented before the throne of God in the new heaven and new earth. If every nation, tribe, people, and language are to be represented in heaven, then our primary task in missions is to reach every nation, tribe, people and language. As each of these different types of groups is reached, then the newly established churches ought to work to reach all the individuals in their purview.

Some might assume that the task of pioneering missions isn't that great, thinking, "What's the big deal? The whole world knows about Jesus." Wrong. According to the Lutheran Bible Translators webpage, of the 6,912 languages spoken on planet Earth, only 429 have a complete Bible in the language. This means that 6,483 languages have only partial access to the Bible. In fact, there are 4,486 languages with NO TRANSLATED PART of the Bible! And in English we have more than 20 different translations. Of course Bible translation isn't the only point of pioneering missions, but if they have no access to Scripture, it is quite difficult to know Jesus and His saving work. How many of those nearly 4,500 languages without Scripture are also languages where our Savior's name remains unspoken?

Book 2: "Peace Child" by Don Richardson. Mr. Richardson was a missionary to Netherlands New Guinea (today Papua New Guinea) in the 1960s. He went to tell about Jesus to a tribe of "stone age" people. These people, the Sawi, were cannibals in whose society, the highest virtue was treachery and "fattening with friendship." This refers to the high honor given to those who were able to deceive their enemies into trusting a friendship, and then, when the victim's guard was down, to strike, killing and cannibalizing the victim. Because of their vengefulness and deceit, this people was broken into many small villages which had long standing feuds between them. The only way to stop the warring and treachery was for a "peace child" to be given. This meant that one man from each village had to give his son in exchange for a son of the other village. The fathers would exchange names and this peace child would be protected more fiercely than the biological children of the village, because maintenance of peace depended entirely on the life of the peace child. If the child died, his parental village had the right of vengance.

The incredible way which God prepared even such a barbaric people for the Good News of the ultimate Peace Child, Jesus Christ gripped me as I read. WE were at war with God, and He gave us His Peace Child, His ONLY Son. And we even killed the peace child, an offense which, for the Sawi, would mean retribution. But with God, it meant the guarantee of peace. Because He had given us His Peace Child, the war would NEVER start again-- He kept His word, even when justified in taking His retribution on His enemies: us. INCREDIBLE book. How many other unreached peoples are out there, into whose cultures God has already woven the material needed to clearly point to His Son and His salvation?

Book 3: "Shadow of the Almighty" by Elisabeth Elliot. Mrs. Elliot compiled journal entries and letters of Jim Elliot with letters written to him in order to give the reader a fuller picture of her husband who gave "what he [could] not keep to gain what he [could] not lose" (the most famous quotation from Mr. Elliot, quite possibly the most famous missionary of the 20th century). The passion which Jim exhibited throughout his life for the Lord, for obedience to His will, and for Gospel proclamation to those who had never heard of his Savior is simply overwhelming. I pray that I might have even a fraction of Elliot's passion and single-mindedness in following his Lord where He led.

I am currently reading yet another missions book, "Chasing the Dragon" by Jackie Pullinger. I'm only a few pages into it, but I have a feeling that it's going to be another story in which God's power for saving people is put on display. I'm sure that it will make my jaw drop and my heart beat faster for the cause of those who don't know my incredible Savior. I sure hope so.

Please pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send out laborers into His fields! They are, after all, ripe for the harvest! Pray that Christ will continue to do His work of saving for Himself an inheritance from all the nations, tribes, peoples and languages of the earth. Pray that He will continue to make peace with His enemies and snatch lost and dying sinners from the clutches of sin, death, and Satan.

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three that testify

On Friday night last week, we had quite possibly the best mládež group (the word means "youth", but the demographic translates culturally as "college group") meeting that we've had since I've been here (a whole year). Our topic for the evening was "Assurance of Salvation" and our speaker was Pastor Taska from the congregation in neighboring Oldřichovice. Pr. Taska had chosen for his text 1 John 5:5-12:
"Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
Pastor Taska began his talk by assuring us that it isn't arrogance, as some assume, to be sure that we are saved. He gave examples of people he's been to visit who, though being believers, say they aren't sure-- and possibly don't feel that they should be sure (the arrogance thing)-- if they're saved, if they'll go to heaven when they die. He said, rather, that God our Father wants us to be sure. He also said, that because we have faith in Christ, that we have eternal life right now, that we don't have to wait till we die to have eternal life. He told (something like) the following story as an illustration.

There was a little girl who thought her grandmother's vase was very beautiful and asked her grandma if she could please have it, because she liked it so much. The grandmother replied that the little girl could not have it right now, but that it was hers; that when she would be a little older, she could keep it herself. Every time the little girl came to visit Grandma and see the vase, she would ask her grandma if the vase was really her own. The grandma would always reply, "Of course it's yours." The little girl brought a friend of hers one day, pointed to the vase and said, "You see that vase? That's mine!"

We are like the little girl: Eternal life (the vase) IS ours, right now, though it may not look like it. The Lord (like the grandmother) wants us to know that it's ours, and we can ask Him over and over again, the answer is still the same: "It IS yours!" Likewise, we can point to eternal life and tell others: "You see that eternal life? That's mine!"

After this illustration, Pastor Taska posed and answered the question: How do we know that salvation-- eternal life in Christ-- is ours? The answer was verses 7 and 8: "There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree." How do we know that we have salvation? The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Word tells us that we are the children of God. The water of baptism delivers to us our salvation by applying to us the water and the words of baptism in the Name of our Triune God, giving us faith and naming us "Christian"; God claiming us for His own. The blood of Christ, which we receive through the cup in the Lord's Supper, with His body in the bread, truly delivers our Lord to us, and where our Lord Jesus is, there is forgiveness, life and salvation. So, as God comes to us in His gifts of the Word and the sacraments, these things testify that we indeed belong to Christ, and therefore have assurance of salvation.

When Pastor Taska had finished his formal presentation, in the discussion, one of the young people present said that after a long day of ups and downs-- starting the day with the Lord, then going to school and doing other things of "normal life," not thinking about God, and then, trying to end the day again with the Lord, but assaulted by the memories of his various sins throughout the course of the day-- he often wondered if he really was Christ's if he had lived in this faltering way. Someone said that he ought, in those times, to remember the time when he first believed and was saved. Pastor Taska, brilliantly, interjected something so important at that point. He cautioned us not to look to the moment we first believed for the assurance that we are saved, because the moment we believed took place after we had been saved.

He said that he himself had been saved on a Friday afternoon around 3:00, around the year 33 (at this point I was a little confused, because I thought he was referring to 1933-- I was listening to the whole evening without translation-- and Pr. Taska definitely isn't that old). He said that he was saved, and we were too, not when we believed, or "accepted Jesus into our hearts," but when Jesus cried out "It is finished" and died. He told us not to look to our own decisions or lives for assurance of our salvation, but to look to Christ.

When all the discussion about the topic was finished, I broke into spontaneous applause (yeah, it was that good). I couldn't help myself. I had been nodding, smiling, crying, and whispering amens throughout the talk. It was so good because it was ALL JESUS, all the real Gospel for Christ's true people; pure gold! I wanted so much to express my deep appreciation to Pr. Taska, but couldn't fully. Though I listened without translation (and honestly understood probably 90% of the words, not just 90% of the thoughts, but words!), I certainly am not capable of expressing myself adequately-- yet-- in Czech.

May we all remember that we can know we're saved because of the testimony of the three which agree: the Spirit and the water and the blood. Let us not give up remembering this and seeking Christ in these three, where He delivers Himself and His salvation to even sinners like us!

Please pray for Pavla, that she would read through John and send me her questions, as she promised. Though she's gone to youth group for a long time, she has never believed, and says that it's impossible to believe, and yet is willing to hear about Jesus and to read the Word herself. May the Holy Spirit give her faith through the life-giving Word!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my arrival in the Czech Republic for my service here as a missionary and English teacher.

Looking back, I can't believe it's been so long, because it feels like it has just flown by. I imagine I'll feel that way this time next year, as I finish my second and final year here, to return to the United States and the Lord knows what else.

Heavenly Father, our times are in Your hands. Look with favor on me as I celebrate this anniversary. Grant that I may continue to grow in wisdom and grace. Strengthen my trust in Your goodness and bless me with Your abiding love all the days of my life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Easy(er) to Find

Since establishing my new blog address and title, I've learned that it's actually LESS convenient for people, since you can't find my blog any more by typing my name into a google search. This is my attempt to give google searchers a hand:

Ashley Effken