Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Morning Center - Vote in the Giveaway!

The Morning Center--a Christian ministry seeking to provide free maternity care in urban and under-served areas--is one of 30 charitable organizations competing for a grant of $50,000.  The organization with the most votes by October 31 will recieve $50,000, and the next five groups will each receive $10,000.

You can vote up to once a day, using your Facebook account.

Click here to vote!

For more information about the giveaway from the Morning Center, see here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Church: Where the Jew and Gentile Stand Together

When I read Adopted for Life (by Russell Moore) a few months ago, I found his discussion of the significance of God's adoption of the Gentiles insightful.  At the time, I didn't think much about the unity of Jews and Gentiles specifically, but, rather, I was impressed by the unity that we all share as believers, regardless of whatever natural, physical, and earthly attributes have a tendency to separate us.

Below are excerpts from Moore's chapter entitled "Are They Brothers?"

 "As pig-flesh-eating Gentile believers--formerly goddess worshipers and Caesar-magnifiers and all the rest--began confessing Jesus as the Messiah, some Jewish Christians demanded to know, 'Are they circumcised?'  This meant of course, 'Are they really part of us?  Are they our brothers?'  The Gentile believers would respond, 'Yes, with the circumcision made without hands, the circumcision of Christ...'

"This was no peripheral issue.  For the apostle Paul, the unity of the church as a household has everything to do with the gospel itself.  And where the tribal fracturing of the church is most threatening, Paul lays out a key insight into the church's union with Christ--the Spirit of adoption...

"In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul raises the issue of adoption....But before he begins his discussion, he addresses the assembled congregation as 'brothers.' (Rom. 8:12)  That's a word that's lost its meaning in our churches, I fear.  We tend to view it as a mere spiritual metaphor for 'friend' or 'acquaintance...'

"The churches emerging out of Judaism in the first century, however, would have understood precisely how radical this 'brothers' language is.  The 'sons of Israel' started out, after all, not as a government entity but as twelve brothers.  Everywhere in the Old Testament the people of Israel are defined as 'brothers' as opposed to 'strangers' or 'sojourners...'

"Because we share the Spirit with Jesus, we cry out with him to the same Father (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).  And since what unites us to Jesus is his Spirit, not our flesh, we share a common family with all those who also have this Spirit resting upon them.  Since there's one Spirit, there's 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all' (Eph. 4:5-6).

"That's adoption.  We're part of a brand-new family, a new tribe, with a new story, a new identity."

The unity of all believers in Christ across every other dividing line is a true and beautiful thing; the adoption of the Gentiles into the people of God, and their resultant brotherhood with the Jews certainly teaches us that.

I probably wouldn't have thought any more about the subject, but one of my next books was Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas (a fascinating and well-written read, which I highly recommend).  In Germany in the 1930's, the brotherhood of Jew and Gentile was no safely-assumed spiritual metaphor.  Instead, it was a reality for which men were willing to put their reputations, their livelihoods, and possibly their lives on the line.  In the early church, it was the Jews who were reluctant to allow the Gentiles in; now it was the Gentiles who wished to kick out the Jews.

"Bonhoeffer went on to say that to 'confess Christ' meant to do so to Jews as well as to Gentiles.  He declared it vital for the church to attempt to bring the Messiah of the Jews to the Jewish people who did not yet know him.  If Hitler's laws were adopted, this would be impossible.  His dramatic and somewhat shocking conclusion was that not only should the church allow Jews to be a part of the church, but that this was precisely what the church was: it was the place where Jews and Germans stand together.  'What is at stake,' he said, 'is by no means the question whether our German members of congregations can still tolerate church fellowship with the Jews.  It is rather the task of Christian preaching to say: here is the church, where Jew and German stand together under the Word of God; here is the proof whether a church is still the church or not.'

"Many would have remembered Galatians 3:28, declaring that 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for your are all one in Christ Jesus.'  To underscore his point, Bonhoeffer concluded with words from Luther's commentary on Psalm 110:3: 'There is no other rule or test for who is a member of the people of God or the church of Christ than this: where there is a a little band of those who accept this word of the Lord, teach it purely and confess against those who persecute it, and for that reason suffers what is their due.'"

The issue of unity in the church is no small one, for the simple reason that the church is the body of Christ. Woe to the body that is willing to pluck out an eye because it happens to dislike the color!  It is Christ who puts together the body, taking disparate elements and knitting them together according to His perfect design.  Who are we to say who belongs and who does not? 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September Newsletter

From Laura, 13 … For several days after Andrew was born, Mama, Anna, Becca, and I helped the Wades quite a bit.  I enjoyed that a lot.  Because Katie wasn’t permitted to lift Samuel or Peter for the first week, someone else had to be with her all the time.  Sometimes the situation required having Katie sit down and one of the boys set on her lap.  We also helped with housework, like washing dishes, sweeping, or doing laundry.  On occasion, we even got to hold Andrew!  The only problem with helping a mother after she’s had a baby is that all one wants to do is hold the baby which is, of course, the only thing the mother can do!

From Becca, 15 … Laura and I have been cutting up brush and burning it.  There were four large brush piles in the woods from dead trees that we had cut down.  I enjoy the work, especially the burning part.  We are a lot better at starting fires than we were a few months ago.  We can actually do it ourselves now and it doesn't take half an hour! 

From Seth, 19 … For the past couple weeks, I’ve been reading Luke’s history of the life of Jesus.  I’m really enjoying it.  A few days ago I came to the account of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John to follow him.  Before doing so, he had told them to put out their nets for fish, resulting in a catch so large that the boats began to sink.  In response to this display of Jesus’ power, Peter fell down and said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!”  This is really similar to Isaiah’s response upon beholding the absolute holiness of God in Isaiah 6.  When God reveals himself, both men are utterly humbled, seeing how sinful and how unclean they are in the presence of God.  At the end of the account of the disciples being called, Luke says that they left everything and followed Jesus.  It seems that the main point is not the disciples’ great commitment, but rather the great authority of the One who called them. 

From Anna, 22 … Earlier this week I went to Austin for a couple of days to visit a friend.  We went to church together, visited friends new and old, worked on some projects, and enjoyed visiting and spending time with each other.  Whenever I have a chance like this to spend extra time with a good friend, I am reminded what an encouragement and blessing deep friendships are -- friendships that are the graceful flowering of shared faith, shared values, and mutual understanding.  Those friends truly are spiritual family, and I'm so grateful that God has given me such friends.

About John, Megan,and James … (by Becca) John is nearing the completion of a kitchen remodel job that he has been working on for a while.  James has been enjoying rolling onto his side.  Megan will be getting her wisdom teeth extracted on September 7.  She also needs to get glasses.  (That’s what happens when you marry a Pedersen.  Mama had to get glasses about a year after she married Papa, and Ray had to get glasses some time after he married Katie.  We will all have glasses now except John -- because he wears contacts -- and the little ones.)

From Ray, Katie, Peter, Samuel, and Andrew (by Katie) The newest member of the family, Andrew, arrived right on his due date!  It was my shortest labor yet: only about three hours.  Andrew weighed 8 lbs. 6 oz., and is a healthy and adorable baby.  We are definitely in the baby boy business!

From Judith … Our house has an apartment in it which takes up about a fourth of the downstairs.  It’s always been a bit of a scary place to me, second only to our garage, due to neglect over many years.  Well, we’re beginning to dig into it because we want a downstairs guest bedroom/bathroom available.  The apartment has a full bathroom (only the tub is salvageable), a walk-in closet, a kitchenette (currently gutted), and also spaces for a bedroom and a sitting area.  The apartment is one reason we bought this house.  The first priority for its use will be to offer it to our parents should any of them choose to come live with us.  As long as none of them need/want it, we will use it as a guest suite.

At first, when we moved into the house in 2009, we used it for the constantly-flowing inventory of the sharing table ministry we manage for our church family, for extra storage of our own possessions, and for our kitchen, sink, and counter functions while we worked on the main kitchen.  After a year (June, 2010), and with great rejoicing, we moved all our kitchen function to the main kitchen, but the other uses continue.

The first step was to begin sorting, thinning, and relocating all that we have stored in there.  That work is in process.  Next, although we have a general plan for the apartment, we needed to design the bathroom in much greater detail.  (Once the bathroom is functional and the storage situation is under control, we can house guests in there even if the other work isn’t done yet.)  To that end Gerald and I have talked, measured, discussed, decided, researched, shopped, changed our minds (me mostly), talked, measured again, reevaluated, etc.  Honestly, I enjoy designing.  I love letting my imagination go wild in the effort to make a space as functional as possible and be visually pleasing at the same time.

That’s all I’ll say for now.  Stay tuned for an update next month!

From Gerald … We just have one more week in our current small-group study.  We have been reading and discussing together a book that points out how too many American churches have turned away from the true Christian message.  For many churches, the emphasis is on what we need to do rather than on what God has done for us in Christ.  This can result in at least two faulty views of the church.  First, we see many churches that are really not much different than secular organizations that provide an environment where one can hear inspirational, self-help messages and have opportunities to serve in some way.  Secondly, we see people who believe that they do not need the church because of a faulty understanding that Christianity is about having a “relationship” with Christ, which they can have apart from any connection with a church.

Both of these faulty views are a result of not recognizing what the Gospel is and how important it is that the Christian church continues to faithfully proclaim it.  Every person has a relationship with God, either as his enemy or as his adopted child.  The Gospel is not something we say or do, but is the good news of what God has done for all whom he has called to repent and believe.  This Gospel is to be faithfully proclaimed in the churches; all of Scripture makes up God’s redemptive story pointing to Christ and his life, sacrifice, and resurrection in order to reconcile his people to himself. 

With love from the Pedersen clan