Saturday, April 25, 2009

Calling God "Daddy"- Part 1

The last time my family and I were in the States I was able to preach at a number of churches. The message that I spoke was "What Uganda Has Taught Me", which is a bit unusual for a missionary to speak on. After all, haven't I been sent to Uganda to teach others? Well, I guess that is partly true, but I am not afraid to readily admit that Uganda has taught me FAR more than I have had to offer myself. It is in this place (New Hope Uganda) and in this community of believers that I have learned family, fatherhood, manhood, and a much greater vision and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. One of the greatest truths to radically penetrate my heart has been the doctrine of adoption and all that is held out for us in relationship to our Daddy God. Yes, Daddy God, I know that is a bit "personal" for a reference to God, at least by most people's standards. Yet it was here that I first began comfortably referring to God as Daddy.

I can remember the first time I heard someone call God "Daddy". I was at Bible College and my good friend Drew Kelly prayed and addressed God as "Daddy". I was stunned. "Did he just say THAT". I thought he was weird (after all, God is too big and mighty to be called Daddy), yet deep down I knew that I longed for that kind of freedom in my relationship with my heavenly Father. I just didn't understand that that was what the Gospel truly frees me to do. I have found that is true of most Christians. When I was preaching in those churches about what Uganda has taught me, I focused on the doctrine of adoption. I asked the congregations how many of them have ever called God "Daddy". Do you think it was the majority of people? Of course not. In fact, in a crowd of around 200, I found that if 10 people raised their hands that was pretty good. It was typically around 5. Why?

For most of us it is much easier to relate to God as King and Master (which He is!), yet often I think we are naive as to just why that is. I think it comes back to our reductionist Gospel and the way we have been "taught" to read the storyline. Our emphasis on justification alone tends to bend us that way. For example, when we read Genesis 1-3 we naturally read it through the lens of God as King, though that term is not there. If you read commentaries on creation in Genesis, God is pictured as a King issuing forth his commands. My favorite kids' Bible (The Big Picture Story Bible put out by Crossway) does an amazing job of presenting the consistent development of the theme of God's rule, God's people, God's king and God's place throughout the Old Testament, and the grounding for the Kingship of God is of course in Genesis 1-3. Yet why do we naturally read it through the lens of Kingship when the motif of God's Fatherhood is just as clearly unfolded there?

Why do we naturally read the text this way? Well, part of the reason is that God IS KING over the world, there is no question of that, so it is quite a natural reading of the text to see God as the King and us as his subjects, those who will be shown to break his commands and therefore come under his judgment. This is the clearest way we present the Gospel looking back on the OT to introduce the concept of sin and our need of a Savior for violating our Just King God's commands. But remember, our reductionist Gospel simply emphasizes our need for JUSTIFICATION and presents the Gospel only in that context. What is lost?

Here is what is lost- the reality that God is the true Father of all of humanity (see Acts 17:28-29 as well as Luke 3:38 where Adam is called the son of God) and at creation our amazing and loving and perfect Father provided us with everything we need (identity, security, provision and protection) all found in Himself and in the security of the garden. At the fall we rebelled against our Father (and King) and began life "outside the family". But the Father was not done with His children. He had a plan that was set from eternity to send the PERFECT and UNIQUE Son of God to die for our sins and to undo what was done at the fall, and to bring His children back into His family through adopting us back (wouldn't that make a great kid's Bible!).

You can then read through the entire OT and see how God unfolds the fact that He is Israel's Father (as well as King), all culminating in Jesus' coming (the true King) who came to reveal the Father (read John 14) and how to be in relationship with the Father. Because we don't tend to read the storyline this way, we naturally lose what it means at salvation to be brought into the family of God (a HUGE NT theme) and to be able to call God "Father" and even "Daddy" (more on this later) through our spiritual adoption by God.

That is why most of us simply assume that we have been "born again" into the family of God and never think much about what it means that God is truly our Father. We have little foundation for walking in relationship with this true and perfect Father as the one who IS our identity, security, provision and protection. Eph. 3:14 says that it is in God that every family (or literally every fatherhood) in heaven and on earth is NAMED, yet we have very little understanding of what Paul is talking about here because we don't understand the storyline in terms of family. We also so often fail to grasp just what is held out to us in relationship with this amazing God and Father.

May we as God's people begin to be confronted by who God has revealed Himself to be and who we truly are IN Him as His children and as the bride of our Lord Jesus. And wouldn't it be awesome to find a kids' Bible that traced the themes of Kingship and Fatherhood throughout the Bible as well. Who knows, maybe someday...

(the pic is of me, Isaiah and my "son" John around a growing Jackfruit- which is the most unique fruit in the world! I chose this pic simply because it pictures the natural intimacy of my sons and I. They don't hesitate to call me "Papa")

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reductionist Gospel and the Doctrine of Adoption

My friend Godfrey typifies exactly what this post is about- how many Christians know that they are saved from their sin, yet in their hearts they remain detached from day to day genuine joy in God. Godfrey grew up in western Uganda and never knew his father. Rooted in this not-knowing was a desperate longing for identity, something he never gained. After leaving home and moving deeply into the things of the world, God amazingly brought him out to New Hope where he met Jesus and found forgiveness and new life in God. Though now saved, he lacked day to day joy in God and could never understand how the Christians in church could worship God with such obvious joy. Godfrey, though saved, was still an orphan in his heart. His relationship with God became one of slavery, doing this and this (and not doing this and this) in order to please God. He knew that New Hope's ministry was "bringing the Fatherhood of God to the fatherless", but in his mind he had a father, he just didn't know who he was. His heart was restless and he was spinning downward quickly. It was at this point that he one day read the words of Psalm 68:5 painted on the side of a New Hope vehicle, "A father to the fatherless is God..." Suddenly, his whole life's search was over. He saw clearly that God is his father, that he is NOT fatherless, but has a clear identity IN God. Since that time, Godfrey has continued growing in his relationship with God as his Father, and he as a son. The doctrine of adoption is the sweetest of all biblical teachings for him, the truth that he is an adopted son in the family of God.

It is a proclamation of the Gospel that those who put faith in Jesus are justified sinners now called saints. It is assumed that God is father, after all, we are born again, but the depth of that relationship typically goes unexplored. In fact, if you ask most Americans to define "the Gospel" they will say something like this: Jesus Christ, the unique eternal Son of God, was born, lived, and died on the cross so that those who put their faith in Him can be forgiven of their sins and live forever with God. Of course, you can add or take away various parts, but the essence is the same: we are justified- finished. YET, the glory of the Gospel is that it goes far beyond most of our simplified versions and includes many other glorious truths, including the fact that after we are justified, God literally ADOPTS us into His family.

The fact that the early church clearly saw this relationship between salvation and our new standing in God is seen not only in amazing passages like Romans 8:12-17 and Galatians 4:1-7, but early church fathers like Origin who expounded quite a lot on the amazing adoptive relationship that we believers now have with God. It is a reductionist Gospel that fails to bring believers into the depth of glorious truth contained in all that is held out for us as adopted believers into the family of God. Many Christians in our day (especially as fatherlessness grows) have no earthly concept of God as Father (or if he is father, then he's distant and far away) and find it easier to relate to Jesus then to God the Father. We desperately need to recapture who God has revealed Himself to be as the TRUE Father, as the source of all redeemed fatherhood, and as the one who frees us to enter His presence proclaiming, "Abba! Father! Daddy!" as sons and daughter who are accepted not on the basis of what we do to please Him, but simply because He has chosen us, loves us and has adopted us, all because of the perfect son, Jesus.

This all becomes quite clear when sharing the Gospel with fatherless children (orphans). It is wonderful to see children responding to the call of the Gospel, to find forgiveness and true life in Jesus, yet it is equally exciting to see children set free from their lifelong wandering and search for both identity and fatherhood through coming to know the perfect Father, God. May we all be among those who point others (and especially those who are fatherless in our midst) to the true Father, that we might truly come to know and walk in what is called "the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21)."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Feeling the Effects of a Reductionistic Gospel that in Uganda has led to TWO Gospels- one of Salvation and one of Deliverance

When I was a teenager, wrestling with thoughts of heaven and hell, feeling the pull between going to church and doing what I wanted to do, I really just wanted to know one thing: WHAT DID I REALLY NEED TO KNOW and DO TO GO TO HEAVEN WHEN I DIED. I didn't know it at the time, but I (like many people out there) simply wanted the Gospel reduced down to its lowest common denominator so that I could be sure to go to heaven and yet continue on living as I wanted to live. The answer I received, of course, was that I needed to pray, confess my sin and need of a Savior, and ask Jesus to forgive my sin. Saved. I liked being saved, knowing I was saved, but not living like I was saved- that was the tough part- and after a while I fell into the common "backslider" category and had stopped going to church, entranced by the things of the world.

Unfortunately, this is a common story for many, and while many wouldn't like to admit it, the truth is that much of Western Christianity has bought into a reductionist Gospel that flows out of the very question posed above- what is the base line for being a Christian. This is a question that the early church would NEVER have asked, and if they had, there would not have been a short answer. Our reductionism, however, flows from the church's defense against liberal Christianity that with the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought began to call into question the heart of Protestant Christianity- the doctrine of justification by faith alone. While it has been a much needed defense, the sad reality is that with that defense, much of the church simplified the Gospel down to a formula for getting to heaven, for forgiveness of sins, for living for the "pie in the sky", and that has become THE GOSPEL.

If you had to boil down the early church's understanding of the Gospel, it would have encompassed at least three components. There was an understanding that Jesus, in His death AND resurrection, defeated the three great enemies: sin, death, and Satan. There was an understanding of what this meant for believers for their lives HERE and NOW, and great doctrines (like the doctrine of adoption) were enjoyed and expounded. Interestingly, in a secular society dominated by science and the dispelling of the supernatural, the understanding of Jesus' victory over Satan and freedom from bondage to demons and spirits was lost, after all, what good westerner actually lives in fear of Satan or demons?

The truth of what I wrote above is seen quite clearly in the efforts of the western missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Take for example one of China's pioneer missionaries, James Fraser. He was 22 years old when he set out from England to China where he would spend the rest of his life working among a tribespeople known as the Lisu. Fraser would journey on horseback or on foot across rugged mountains for days and weeks on end to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to people who had never heard that name before. Entrenched in demon-worship (spirit-worship/ancestor worship) Fraser was disheartened when an entire family that had professed faith in Christ (and an influential family at that) had been attacked by the spirits and out of fear had gone back to their old ways. His daughter writes, "In spite of the convictions growing upon him James was still slow to believe that demon-possession can be as real today as when our Lord was upon earth." And again she writes, "It was during this survey that the hold demonism had over these people came home to James. This was not a childish belief in something non-existent. The demons were real: their power was demonstrable. The fear the villagers lived in amounted to total slavery."

James Fraser had not been prepared for what he would meet in terms of the spiritual war that would be waged among the Lisu turning to God. He had proclaimed the Gospel, many had accepted the message of Jesus and wanted to follow God, but the hold of demonism was too strong and because their core beliefs (their core worldview) was not touched with the message of the Gospel, they naturally went back to what they knew and to what had controlled their way of life for years on end.

Interestingly, the same could be said about many Christians in Uganda today. Fraser was wise enough to come to see what the Gospel proclaimed about Jesus' victory and authority over Satan, and so he was able to lead the new Christians out of slavery and fear of Satan. Sadly, it seems that many of the early missionaries in Uganda were not able to present the Gospel in the fullness of its message concerning Satan and demons. It seems that when the Gospel was proclaimed and people were "saved", for most the "high" Christianity proclaimed by the missionaries (high meaning how to get to heaven) had little to offer the reality "down here" of dealing with Satan and demons.

Early on in my time here I noticed how controlled people are when it comes to fear of Satan. I found church services unable to begin until Satan was bound and removed, along with the "spirit of dozing" or any other spirit of something. I found people still paralyzed by the shrill of an owl at night, as culturally it is proclaiming the looming death of a family member. I found people up in the night binding and casting demons because they heard a noise on their roof, along with many other practices born out of fear. In reality, the more I got into the "Christian" culture, what I found was that because of the lack of understanding the Gospel's message concerning Satan, here there is in reality many who proclaim TWO different Gospels.

The first Gospel is the Gospel of salvation. This is what a person needs to know in order to be saved. But that Gospel doesn't deal with Satan and demons, so there is a second Gospel, a Gospel of deliverance. I have even heard some of these teachers try to scare people with the reality of demons and their power, telling them that they first need to get saved, "and then we can deal with the demons and your family curses". What I am speaking about is not a small "part" of Ugandan Christianity, but it is very active under the surface of almost every major denomination because it is under the surface of most Christians (it is entrenched in the worldview). Once, during my first year of ministry here and after doing a teaching on Jesus' authority over Satan, one of my students discussed the issue with me until finally he admitted that (to him) "Jesus has the authority, but Satan has the power." This is the reality regardless of what the Bible says. That is the mindset of many Christians.

Galatians 1 is very poignant in its proclamation about the guarding of THE Gospel, to the point where even if an angel comes and preaching another Gospel, he is to be accursed. The centrality of THE Gospel is seen as the motivator and the empowerment of Paul's ministry throughout the Epistles. There are not two different Gospels, but ONE Gospel that proclaims Jesus' victory of sin, death and Satan, the same Gospel that is inexhaustible in its scope and depth of both mystery and blessing for those who believe its message. I am thankful that my eyes have been opened up to this reality and my lips have been privileged to proclaim its message- and I love seeing my Ugandan brothers and sisters SET FREE from fear and bondage to Satan by simply coming face to face with Jesus' victory and authority over Satan.

May we as God's people not promote a reductionistic Gospel any longer, but may we begin to see the centrality of the Gospel to all areas of our lives and the freedom that it brings in all areas. I want to use my next post to dialogue about this a bit more, but specifically in relationship to the doctrine of adoption and the healing of the orphan heart.