Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rwanda On My Mind

My sweet friend Sarah is on mission trip to Rwanda this week and next, so I've been praying for her a lot these past few days (and of course the Pat Green/Texas On My Mind reference is in her honor!). I even made an "Africa" playlist on my Pod to listen to while she's away! I'm especially excited about her time in Rwanda because that's where my Food for the Hungry sponsored child, Nishimwe, lives! (You can find out more about Nishimwe and FH's ministry here.) Look for more of Sarah's stories from the road when she returns...

As if my heart weren't a little bit in Rwanda this week anyway (because of Sarah and Nishimwe), my roommate told me last night about the coolest story I've heard in a long time. A Furman grad she knows from college has made a documentary called As We Forgive that's playing tonight in Nashville and this weekend in Franklin about the aftermath of the Rwanda racial genocide. Apparently, the government has released roughly 50,000 Hutu war criminals because of insufficient funds to continue paying for their incarceration. But where are these men--who are responsible for the brutal rape and murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi citizens-- supposed to live? Among the family members of their victims, in the villages where they lived before the genocide. It is a horrific thing, but in the midst of such terrible circumstances, Tutsis are choosing to forgive. It's an End of the Spear kind of story, except instead of four families, it's many families. Reconcilliation is healing Rwanda. You can learn more about the film and its makers (and the accompanying book by the same title) here.

Immediately after I read the Furman alumni magazine's article on As We Forgive last night, I received an e-mail from my second cousin, Karen. She and her husband are in the process of adopting a precious little girl from China, and she informed me that they are considering a second adoption through a program in Rwanda! This is exciting news because I've never heard of anyone adoptiong from the war ravaged country...I think it has probably been pretty difficult in the past, so I'm encouraged to learn that perhaps God is making a way--and that my family members will be part of the process of Rwandan healing! You can read Karen's blog here.

And here's another cool tidbit: DailyCandy, an e-mail service that alerts subscribers to great deals and fun things to do in various large cities, sent a plug for Blue Marble ice cream. The NY based ice creamery is planning to open a philanthropic shop in Rwanda, of all places! Read more and donate here. (You may have to register your e-mail before you can view the link, but the e-mails are amazing, so it's worth it!)

The way God brings things to our attention is so profound to me. I'm praying for Rwanda, for His Spirit to be made known there more and more, and for eyes to see how I'm called to be a part of what He's doing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Systematic Theology II Final, Part II: Fully God and Fully Man

Here's essay number two:

Pretend you are witnessing to a college graduate. As you move through the gospel presentation they stumble over the fact that you have claimed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. They have no problem believing that Jesus is human like us, but as for the claim that he is God, they find this claim quite unbelievable. In fact they question whether the Scripture even makes such a claim and as such they want you to demonstrate it from Scripture. Write an essay in which you respond to this person. Be sure to respond by not only giving specific biblical data regarding the deity of Christ (and remember be selective for you cannot give it all!), but also discuss the Scriptural presentation of Jesus Christ from within the Bible’s story line.

The writers of the New Testament clearly believed in Jesus’ divinity. They did not teach that He was merely a rabbi or a prophet, but that He was the very Son of God. Many have tried to argue that the apostles fabricated Jesus’ divinity and made up the resurrection story. But this claim doesn’t hold up under the reality that most of those same men were martyred for their faith. Why would someone die for a story he made up? We must conclude that Jesus himself convinced His followers that He was divine.

John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2, 14). John is apparently convinced of two things: 1.) Jesus, the Word of God, is fully God. He has existed with the Father eternally and been party to the creation of the world (v. 3), and even though He and the Father function differently, they are a unified essence because Jesus bears the same glory as the Father. And 2.) Jesus was fully man. He came to earth not exclusively as spirit, but taking on flesh to “dwell among us.”

John is not the only New Testament writer to affirm the duplicity of this claim. The writer of Hebrews denies the claim that Jesus was just another of God’s prophets: “in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). So the writer of Hebrews agrees with John that Jesus was present and active at creation. And He is not only God’s spokesman, but also “the heir of all things.” The writer of Hebrews is also adamant that Jesus is one with the Father: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Thus, Jesus images forth the Father to the world, and His authority over the world is supreme, just as the Father’s is.

Paul argues along the same lines “God…sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). Paul is not claiming that Jesus sinned—in fact, the whole of the New Testament argues emphatically that it was not the case (Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). He does insist with John and the author of Hebrews, however, in Christ’s humanity and divinity, writing that Jesus was “in very nature God…but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). Matthew and Luke’s documentation of the virgin birth is further confirmation of the early church’s belief in Jesus’ divinity. If the accounts they presented were fabricated or exaggerated, wouldn’t later writers, such as John, Paul, or the author of Hebrews, have questioned their credibility?

The reason these Biblical writers espoused Jesus’ pre-existent equality with God is because He Himself proclaimed it. John records his response to the Jewish leaders, “’before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58), an allusion to Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. There, God declared, “I am that I am,” (or “I will be as I will be”), thus deriving the sacred name YHWH. Similarly, when Jesus showed His disciples “the full extent of his love” (John 13:1) by washing their feet, John says that Jesus “knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3). According to John, it was this knowledge that compelled Christ to serve His disciples in the mostly humble way, and to serve the world by dying the most humble death…“so he got up from the meal…” (John 13:4).

Further, Jesus himself claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, Jesus Christ must either be liar, lunatic, or Lord. There is no other option. If Christ knew He was not the Son of God, but claimed to be, then He was a liar. If He was not the Son of God, but believed himself to be, then He was a lunatic. So we must either reject Him as a liar or lunatic, or exalt Him as Lord. He could not have been, as so many claim, just a good teacher or a prophet.

Jesus taught that He was the long awaited Messiah, the one who would usher in an everlasting Kingdom (Matthew 4-7) and the one who would act as the final Passover lamb. In Luke 22, Jesus eats the Passover meal with His disciples, telling them that the bread symbolizes His body broken for them, and the wine His blood spilled on their behalf. In this Seder meal, Jesus is foretelling His own death, just as the prophet Isaiah did: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The Scriptures teach that God is holy and people are sinful, choosing our own way over God’s and stubbornly refusing to give Him the worship He is due. Sin presents an impossible predicament: with sin in the way, people cannot be united to a holy God. Christianity is the only world religion that insists that God came to earth to create a solution for the sin dilemma. Because Jesus died on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God, there is no longer a need for the ritual sacrifice that characterized so much of Jewish life. But as one writer has said, God will not ravish, He can only woo. In other words, God does not force us to come to Him; rather, He allows us the freedom to choose a life of love in the Cross (Ephesians 5:2). Such a life is the only way we can have fellowship with Him and experience true life, both in this world (John 10:10) and in the world to come (John 3:16).

Systematic Theology II Final, Part I: Prophet, Priest, and King

My Systematic Theology II class has been so worshipful this semester. I've loved studying the doctrines of creation, providence, and Christology. I was especially taken aback by how much I loved writing my final exam essays...I didn't think I was THAT big of a nerd :) But truly, the questions Dr. Wellum posed were provocative, and I found myself relishing the task of articulating my understanding of the doctrines we studied throughout the semester. I thought I'd share my responses here. So if you've ever wondered precisely what one studies in seminary, this should give you some idea!

Since ancient times the work of Jesus Christ has been seen in terms of the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Write an essay in which you explain what each of these offices are, how they related to the OT, the biblical basis for each, and their importance for understanding the objective work of Christ.

Understanding the three-fold office of Christ is crucial to understanding His divinity and His final atonement of sin on the Cross. The offices of prophet, priest, and king each disclose telling aspects of Christ’s pre-existent nature and His working in the world. They are not to be seen as separate entities, but as complementary functions in unity with one another in Jesus’ redemptive work.

In the literature of the Tanak, the prophets, or nevi’im, were seen as God’s spokesmen. Hebrew thought contrasts these men with “seers” who foretold the future; a navi was someone who, first and foremost spoke the truth of YHWH’s revelation to the people, often with an emphasis on God’s action still to come. Characteristic of prophetic literature is the “thus sayeth YHWH” that precedes most of the prophetic directives. This phrase reveals that the prophets had authority because of YHWH, who imparted His message and uniquely equipped them to speak it forth. Thus, the people received the Word of the LORD. Jesus follows in this prophetic tradition when He says, “You have heard it said” (Matthew 5-7), referring to the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions. Several times throughout the Sermon on the Mount, He follows these allusions with “But I say to you…” (Matthew 5-7). This repeated phrase reveals that as the Son of God, Jesus’ authority is His own. The writer of Hebrews makes this connection, with an emphasis on Christ’s authority as a member of the Godhead (Hebrews 1:1-2).

In fact, Jesus is not only the authoritative prophet; He is the very Word of God (John 1:1-3). My friends at the messianic synagogue I attend in Richmond, Virginia celebrate that scripture in a beautiful way: each Shabbat as the Torah scrolls are danced through the aisles, and especially on Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday designated specifically for rejoicing over the gift of God’s Word, Messianic Jews touch the scrolls and then kiss their hands out of reverence for the God who speaks powerfully to His people. They praise God for giving them the scrolls, and all the more for writing the Torah on their hearts in the person of Jesus Christ. The man who explained this to me on Simchat Torah (which was also my first Shabbat) said with both tenderness and urgency, “Yeshua has become our Torah! The Torah dwells among us!” So, Jesus is not only the speaker of the Word, He is the Word, the law engraved upon the hearts of the New Covenant recipients (Jeremiah 31:31-33)!

Just as God in the persons of the Trinity appointed prophets to speak to the people in ancient culture, so Jesus does not depart from the earth without appointing New Testament “prophets” [the apostles] who will continue to speak His truth to the people. During His earthly ministry, He appointed these apostles to drive out demons (Mark 3:15) and to heal diseases and sickness (Matthew 10:1). Finally, He commissioned them to “go and make disciples of all nations” upon His own authority (Matthew 28:19). Even more significantly, Jesus imparted the Holy Spirit to the Church and ensured that the New Testament Scriptures would be written.

In the office of priest, Jesus continues another important Jewish tradition established by God in antiquity. The high priest’s primary function was to make atonement for the sins of the people, most notably on the Day of Atonement. The tradition surrounding Yom Kippur is explained in Leviticus 16. Aaron, the first High Priest of the Levitical order, was to enter the sanctuary with “a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering” (v. 3). Then, at the entrance to the Most Holy Place, he was to cast lots for two goats from the Israelite community (vv. 7-8). One goat was to be slaughtered as a sin offering for the people, and one was to be chased into the desert as a scapegoat. Only on this one day each year was this one ambassador for the whole of Israel allowed to enter into the Most Holy Place, the space behind the temple veil (symbolic of God’s presence). This was also the only time the high priest was permitted to utter God’s sacred name, YHWH, another expression of His eternal presence.

The allusions to this passage in the New Testament narratives of Christ’s atoning death on the Cross are numerous. Jesus can be likened to both goats—the one whose blood was spilt for the forgiveness of the masses, and the one who was chased outside of the city. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “the high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:11-13). Just as Aaron was to cast lots for the lives of the goats, so the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus cast lots for his clothes. Most significantly, Matthew records that at the exact moment Jesus gave up His spirit, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). The significance in light of Leviticus 16 is weighty: because of the atoning death of Christ on the Cross, there is no longer a physical place to bring the sin offering, no place to utter HaShem (“the Name”). The Most Holy Place is now located within the hearts of those who are made into a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9); we are now the temple of God, where His Spirit is to dwell (1 Corinthians 3:16). Our great High Priest finished the atonement once and for all. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29).


As King, Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecies and the Jewish expectation for a leader who would vindicate Israel, although He fulfilled these promises quite differently than the Jewish nation would have liked. In Jewish thought, the Day of Judgment was to be both terrible and joyful. On that Day, YHWH would come to fulfill the Torah (Jeremiah 31:31-33) and to right every wrong because of his wrath and justice. Enter Jesus. And this is the significance of Jesus’ entire ministry, but especially of what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount.

On the topic of Kingdom living, Dallas Willard and others have pointed out that while the popular NIV quotes Jesus saying, “the Kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9-11; 21:32), a better translation of the phrase in Greek might be “the Kingdom of God is here.” Taken together, the two translations emphasize the already-not-yet aspect of the Kingdom: Jesus has come and ushered in a new age by His fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:17), calling His followers to a new way of life in the here-and-now; at the same time, we are still awaiting the consummation of the eternal Kingdom when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” (Romans 14:11). This is confirmed by the various Scriptures referring to “the last days.” The prophet Hosea and others mention “the last days,” saying things like, “afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days” (Hosea 3:5). Surely it is not a stretch to say that the reference to David (who by this time had long been dead) is an allusion to the coming descendent of David, the long-awaited Messiah. It is no wonder the writer of Hebrews says, “but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus, a member of the Davidic line, is the King of this already-not-yet Kingdom.

This King is the one who “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Our Servant-King reigns there now, and His Kingdom will finally be consummated when the Saints all shall see Him reigning there and rejoice, “to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Adoption Stories

Hey, friends!

My most recent article is up and ready to be read at You can read it here. I feel so blessed to get PAID to write about things that are close to my heart, and this article is a perfect example. When my editor wrote to offer me the assignment, she said, "please just tell me if you hate this but...I need someone to write about adoption..." I told her that I didn't hate it at all; in fact, I LOVED the topic! And when I asked her how she felt about my interviewing my friends (not exactly kosher in hard-hitting journalism) and she said "Go for it!" I felt especially blessed to be not only writing what I love, but interviewing people I love (and not having to conform to the standards of "good" journalism)!

I'm so excited for you to read the stories of my dear friends, the Tims and the Takamotos. I just know you will be so blessed by their hearts for their kids, their ministries, and adoption in general. Both families are such a beautiful picture of the gospel in my life, and I know you'll be inspired by them, too! (Read more posts about adoption and about a brilliant sermon Rob gave last summer at FHBC here.)

And here's another shameless plug for the site (you knew it was coming!): please let the young women in your life about myMISSIONfulfilled! There are lots of great Bible study and ministry resources, along with stories of missionaries on the field at home and abroad.

Thanks for reading!