The Legacy of Choseness

January 18, 2018

chosen

Romans 9-11 is not easy treading. These chapters represent the core of the apostle Paul’s response to the struggles of integrating both Jew and non-Jews equally into the Roman churches.

In this text Paul reveals his own struggles for his people; expressing his passion for Israel, while also explaining why Israel is now about more than genetics. It is a fascinating section of Scripture, which offers us an incredible glimpse into how a sovereign God operates to accomplish his will, which includes exploring the notion of God’s choseness.

In my faith family–the churches of Christ–the idea of choseness (or election) has not historically been a topic of much consideration. We have tended to dismiss these ideas in opposing Calvinism and/or the doctrine of predestination. Yet when we read Paul in these texts it sounds like God is up to something that seems fairly similar.

All About Context

Just as a reminder—what Paul is teaching flows directly out of the situation in Rome—a situation over which the Jewish Christians there were stumbling. Paul masterfully weaves history, Scripture, and theology to present the case that it was always God’s intent to include non-Jews into his covenant of promise. If the Jews had been paying close attention to the prophets they would have known that God had long planned to take the wild olive branch and graft it onto the cultivated olive tree. He did what he had to do with whom he had to do it for all of that history to play out—so when Jesus arrived to accomplish it, all would be ready. This was no slight to Jewish people however. It was supposed to be an honor—they were actually chosen for this—to be God’s instrument to share his Good News. And even though they did stumble over this, God still has not forgotten them. Those branches that died falling off the olive tree can very well be brought to life again and grafted back. God desires for all Israel to be saved. So it is a win-win situation. God’s grace is extended to all people of every nation with that cultivated olive tree—Jewish nation leading the way. Being chosen has its privileges.

Is God Unfair by Choosing?

This was a question asked of Paul in reply to his teaching by those in the Roman church. After all, from the womb God chose Jacob over Esau. In the Genesis narrative we witness this approach repeated often. On the surface it seems quite unfair. Paul’s answer was startling. God is God and we are not! God is his sovereignty has the right to do what he wants—to show mercy upon whom he desires. None of this redemption story depends upon our efforts anyway (9:16). It is all God-originated. Everything he has and continues to do is for the express purpose of furthering this story. How he has decided to do it is not for us to question—just as the clay does not question the mastery of the potter. It is not unfair at all—it is how we got to where we are. Our call is to not stumble over this, but embrace it; to trust explicitly in God and find our place within The Story. If God has chosen us—what exactly does that mean?

We have Grace to Share

Contextually it meant that the Jewish people had the wonderful privilege of being God’s instrument to share their covenanted blessings with others. How could others hear without the preacher sharing it with them? Who better to share than those most acquainted with faith? Yet some within the Jewish community refused their calling and election—so God rejected them. But as God extended his blessings to others, he still did not forget Israel. He did what he had to do, but continues to hold the door open for their full return. It is called grace—exactly the result of everything God set out to do. Every choice; every action of kindness or sternness; everyone chosen to be involved along the way; all of it for this:

So, too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer works, if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (11:6)

There will always be the remnant chosen by grace or else everything God accomplished is for naught.

Our Choseness

Now consider what Peter says in light of the Romans text:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9; See also Ephesians 1:3-14)

See any similarities?

We are here—a people of faith in the exact same way Israel was—because God chose us. He chose to create us a little lower than the angels; took care of our sin problem when we could not and arranged a way for us to enjoy a full relationship with him through Christ Jesus. He elevated us above our own status based only upon his desire for us—nothing we ever did or could do. Just like he chose Jacob from the womb based upon his sovereign will he chose us. We are now a part of royalty—a people made holy—for God’s special use, that is, to speak his praises into the dark world yet aware that they have been chosen too. (Which by-the-way is exactly what Paul was trying to get the Jews in the Roman context to understand.)

So what can we learn from this:

  • We are now the chosen of God
  • The promised blessings for the chosen will occur, but individual participation in them still requires a faith response
  • Being chosen does not shield from failures and difficulties
  • The chosen still are to answer a missional call
  • All of this is predicated upon the act and will of God. He alone makes it all possible—so that none of us can boast in our choseness. And the NT makes it even more abundantly clear that what motivated him to do so is his deep and abiding love for us (John 3:16; 1 John4: 7-8)
  • Like the Jews–we can reject our choseness, but God will never give up on pursuing us

We do have a legacy of choseness. It should excite and motivate us. We should rejoice in being God’s elect and get on with the serious business that involves. By faithfully living it out and sharing it with others—we give witness to  The Story among those yet aware of the grace they also have access to in Christ Jesus.

 

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Baltic Family Camp 2016

August 5, 2016

BFC 2016

The Baltic Family Camp (BFC) takes place each year in an old Soviet Pioneer Camp now called, Camp Ruta, near Moletai, Lithuania. It grew out of the youth camps held annually at the same site since 1998.

It began in 2012 with two main purposes–to provide rest and renewal for missionaries and their families along with other Christians in the Baltic region and to help foster a connection and network among the small scattered churches in those countries. Those goals have been wonderfully realized, but as with most of our plans, God has gone well beyond what we could “ask or imagine” to create a truly special week of learning, fellowship, reunion, renewal, joy and family.

Since its beginning people from fourteen different countries have attended the BFC. This year twelve nationalities were represented among the 118 participants. The BFC brings us all together, works through our language and cultural barriers to form one body worshipping God with one spirit, heart and voice. It is an incredible God-defined, Spirit-led experience.

The BFC really is about the people who attend. This year I was reunited with Ugne. Ugne now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and son. Back in the late 1990s she was one of my students in Vilnius, Lithuania and attended some of the youth camps at Ruta. She has never forgotten the time she spent in study and at camp. Through social media we were able to reconnect and as a result she attended the BFC for the first time this year with her son. She is not a part of a church of our fellowship since none exist where she lives. She expressed how meaningful the Bible classes at the BFC were to her and her son and how she yearned for such study opportunities in her area.

Ugne is representative of how God has used the BFC to reconnect with friends, former students and campers, who now return to Camp Ruta with their families to enjoy the week of study, praise, and fellowship.

Then there are wonderful people like Sansom and Monica Karumanchi from India. India is not quite in the original geographical footprint imagined with the BFC. Sansom, through friends in Tallinn, Estonia first attended the BFC a few years ago and is now an integral part of our week. This summer he brought his new, beautiful and courageous bride, Monica. The Karumanchis along with a new participant this year, Seth Amofah of Ghana, demonstrate just one way God has expanded the BFC more than we could have ever dreamed.

Our teachers are a huge part of our camp. Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue, who have a Christian counseling center and ministry in North Little Rock, AR are a regular part of our sessions. They provide Christ-based teaching and counseling during the week on family, marriage and parenting. While most of us in the states take these kinds of opportunities for granted, they do not exist in the Baltics.

This year Dr. Earl Lavender of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN and Dr. Joy Rousseau, a retired educator from Tyler, TX served as our primary class teachers for our men and women. Both brought a wealth of mission experience along with their rich teaching expertise to the camp. Digging deeply into God’s Word is at the core of the BFC. We work to provide a richer and fuller learning experience to assist in renewal.

Kids also are a large part of the session. This year we had more babies and toddlers than ever and as someone noted, our own youth group–kids who have grown up attending the camp. We have a great team who lead the kid’s day camp.

The BFC was just a dream for several years, but through God working in hearts and through the generosity of my home church, Levy, along with the commitment of an incredible American and Lithuanian team, this dream has been realized in amazing ways.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 


Baltic Family Camp 2014

June 17, 2014

BFC image 14Christians from all over central Europe will be gathering (God willing) at a former Soviet pioneer camp in southeastern Lithuania on the dates of July 28-August 2. Camp Ruta near the Lithuanian village of Molatai will host the third annual Baltic Family Camp (BFC). Our theme for the session is “10,000 Reasons’ and people from Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia, Germany, Sweden, England, Lithuania and the United States will spend this week in study, praise, fellowship, and fun.

The concept of the BFC is to provide missionaries, Christian families and individuals an opportunity to rest, relax, and refresh together in the Lord. The churches represented by those who attend the BFC are small and separated by hundreds of miles. The BFC has helped to create a sense of brotherhood among them–connecting them with a network of believers who now interact all throughout the year. It has been a joy and a blessing to witness!

The BFC has two separate daily schedules–one for the children who attend with their family and another for the adults. Bible classes and marriage enrichment classes are offered daily for adults while the kids follow a typical camp-type schedule: Bible classes; sports, games, and activities; as well as arts and crafts. The highlight of each evening is our worship together.

God just continues to bless this effort and each year the camp has grown. I solicit your prayers as we journey over very soon. As camps go–this is one of the best in which I have ever been involved.

And just to keep in step with the pattern of this blog–here are five reasons why!

  • I love Lithuania. I have been working in this country since 1996 including two years as a resident missionary in the capital city of Vilnius. It is a lovely little country with great people.
  • The fellowship. It is wonderful to witness the bond that the BFC has created among the diverse people who participate. I rejoice when I hear of the connections that grow between these Christians. They live so far apart and their churches are small and resources limited. The BFC has provided for them a sense of brotherhood that we often take for granted.
  • The people. Of course! I get to renew many older relationships and establish new ones. We may speak different languages but we are one in Christ Jesus!
  • The weather. How about highs in the upper 70s to lower 80s and lows in the 50s at night–in July and August?
  • The food! Yes, I love me some Lithuanian blynai (better known to us as pancakes). I do not lose weight at camp, I usually gain it! 🙂

May God bless our efforts in the BFC in 2014!

 


2013 Baltic Family Camp

July 24, 2013

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Next week (July 29-August 3), Christians from the countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Germany and the USA will gather at Camp Ruta in Moletai, Lithuania for a week of worship, fellowship, study, strengthening, prayer, fun and games. Including kids there is a total of about 90 scheduled to participate in our second such camp.

What a blessing it is to be involved in this ministry which brings together folks from the scattered churches of Christ in this region. This year’s theme is “Here I Am to Worship.”

Join me in praying for a week of God’s blessings!

P.S. For pics from this camp click here.


Baltic Family Camp: “We Are One”

August 8, 2012

July 29 through August 4 was an amazing week to be at Camp Ruta in Moletai, Lithuania. God brought together 71 people ages one to seventy-one from the countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, USA, Canada, Holland, and England for the first Baltic Family Camp. We were there to celebrate being one in Christ Jesus and to become better aware of the ministries of the Churches of Christ in this region.

To say that God worked through this camp ministry to exceed all expectations is an understatement. It was such a joy to witness wonderful fellowship break out among the participants– all coming from different areas but sharing a common bond in Jesus. This camp which had been a dream among a few of us for years helped the Christians in the small churches in this part of Europe realize that they were not alone.

One of the strengths of the camp was the incredible and in-depth teaching done by folks like Mark Abercrombie, a missionary from Leipzig, Germany who taught a class focused on the challenges of mission work; or Alan and Sherry Pogue of North Little Rock who as licensed professional Christian counselors shared with couples what God desires in their family; or from Joey and Melanie Griffin of Dallas who work for Eastern European Missions and taught the younger people at camp about how they could make a difference in their churches and communities.  Other teachers in the daily men’s and women’s class equally challenged their students.

The kid’s day camp led by Scott Jordan of Pensacola, FL and Andy and Lisa Gibson of North Little Rock also offered the children attending a delightful mixture of Bible instruction; fun and games; arts and crafts; and learning activities. What a joy it was for me to have my family there and to see other families enjoying this week together.

Another blessing was our evening worship. Someone from each country had the chance to lead our worship thought each night. Hearing the songs sung in the different languages simultaneously was incredibly powerful and moving.

The churches in this region are all small and scattered. The purpose of this camp ministry was to offer them a place to come together as one; become better acquainted with each other; learn from one another; and find encouragement in that fellowship. By God’s grace, I think this was accomplished.

Please keep your brothers and sisters in the Baltic area in your prayers. They are faithfully serving the Lord and striving to share his message to their cities.

For more info and many photos of the week visit the BFC Facebook page.


I Sat Down (and other news)

May 9, 2012

For almost a year I sat down. I stopped exercising and followed a horrible diet of junk and fatty food. I found ways to justify it- the move and new job; having surgery; the desk-time demands of my master’s program. The consequences have been predictable: some weight gain, huffing and puffing going up the stairs; and a general feeling of sluggishness. Yep, I sat down and it was tough getting back up. But I have. Already I feel better. So don’t neglect exercise. I knew better. I was the exercise guy.

The Baltic Family Camp set for July 30-August 5 in Lithuania is shaping up, praise be to God. Our theme is “We Are One.” It will have a wonderful international flavor with Christians from Estoinia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, and the U.S. coming together at Camp Ruta. We have our schedule set including class topics and daily activities. Excitement is building. All four Dodds are scheduled to be there, God willing. Keep this effort in your prayers.

Well, after all these years I finally earned my master’s degree. In was in ministry through Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. I would recommend the MMIN program for anyone interested in expanding their educational and ministry experience. It is a wonderfully challenging and practical online program.

It is the political season. If you are like me you continue to ask which is the best way for a Christian to engage politics. There are many different viewpoints concerning this. Here is an interesting one.

I continue to appreciate the Levy church. I am enjoying my ministry here. Levy is truly an “organic” church where ministry grows from the grass roots. We recently hosted a Community Day in which nearly 500 guests enjoyed all kinds of activities. It was a blessing for all involved.

And finally, it is no secret that I am a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show. My ten year-old daughter, Taylor, is following in my footsteps and enjoys watching our DVD episodes. In a conversation with her the other day she replied to something I said with, “Well, you  know what Barney would say.” I was so proud! 🙂


Baltic Family Camp

April 2, 2012

God willing, on July 30-August 5 Christians from the countries of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Germany, and the United States will converge on Camp Ruta in Moletai, Lithuania for the first Baltic Family Camp (BFC).  This ministry has long been a dream of many and thanks to God along with the missional focus of the Levy Church of Christ, the dream is about to be realized.

Recently I had he privilege of traveling in the Baltic region. I was warmly welcomed by Christians in Vilnius, Lithuania; Warsaw, Poland; Riga, Latvia; Tartu and Tallinn, Estonia.  Without fail they expressed joy, excitement, and anticipation about the camp. Our goal is to make BFC an annual gathering for Christians in this region.

The Baltic area churches of Christ- while strong and vibrant in most places- remain small, scattered, and isolated. Their hunger for extended fellowship is evident.  BFC– which is scheduled after the youth camp ministry is completed in each country– will hopefully facilitate deeper fellowship and church strengthening. We envision it as a time of refreshing, rest, and renewal.

We have a tremendous team from the U.S. and Europe who plan to facilitate growth discussions for missionaries, men, women, couples, and singles. Planned is also a separate day camp for the children who accompany their parents.

We solicit your prayers for this effort. We still have much to do in order to be fully prepared. Our appropriate theme is “We Are One.”  If you would like to know more about Churches of Christ in the Baltic region here are some links with information about the congregations and the people in them:

Looks for more news about BFC here in the future.