Saturday, August 29, 2015

133 Years of Marriage: One Family's Story

Today is the 133rd anniversary of the marriage of my great grandparents, Johan August Jonasson and Maria Bengtsdottir in Chicago, IL.   Theirs began a love story filled with hope that extends even to today.

Johan and Maria were both born in Sweden and emigrated to America, like so many Swedes of their day, hoping to find a better life.  The situation was tough in those days in Sweden, and many, many Swedes came to America -- more than a million from 1821 to 1930 -- a huge number from such a small country.

Francis Marie Dahlstrom Johnson, the daughter-in-
law of Johan and Maria, and my grandmother
My father remembers that his grandfather, Johan, had been married once before, but lost both his wife and their child in childbirth.  Sometime later, he met Maria, and they married and moved to the Door County peninsula of Wisconsin.  Among their children was my grandfather, Joseph Nathaniel Johnson, who married another Swedish girl, Francis Marie Dahlstrom.  Joseph, Francis and my father and his siblings were born in Wisconsin.  

Johan (who became known as John Johnson as it rolls more easily off American tongues) and his son Joseph were farmers who earned a hard living from the land, and from manual labor around the mid-west.  Joseph moved his family to Florida during the depression, partly because he was unable to make enough money to continue the payments on the farm, and partly for his health.  My father, Glen, was raised in Orlando and went to college in Ohio.

In Ohio, my father met Mary Ilene Davidson, and they married in 1949.  I arrived in 1950.  As an aside, my father and mother have visited Sweden several times, and my wife Linda and I also went to Sweden....for what became an almost three-year stay.  In that time, I visited the areas where my great grandparents lived and even Johan's small country church, the 800+ year old Church Kungslena.  The great apostle Paul speaks of the "great cloud of witnesses" who look upon us now from glory.....and I like to think our return to Sweden gives them pleasure.

Today, our daughter Katie has been married to Steve for almost six years.  They have a three year-old daughter.  And just two days ago, the most recent descendant of Johan and Maria arrived, the son of my brother's son and his wife.

This is the hope-filled part: in the 133 years since Johan and Maria exchanged vows, all but two of the marriages of their descendants continues today, or a parting has come with death.  

Was it luck that nearly all of these marriages survived?  Was it something transmitted down the family line of how Johan and Maria lived their lives together?  Was it their faith in God, a faith that has also been largely adopted by their descendants?  Was it a combination of these and other factors?

I suspect the answer to that is unknowable.  But with these eyes I have seen how the love and faithfulness of long-married couples impacts the generations that follow.....and even others around them.  And I have seen how shared faith in the Maker of marriage invisibly cements the bonds of life together.

And so I believe that the example of the marriage of Johan and Maria lives today in my marriage and the marriages of my kin because of what was passed down to us.  And I pray and believe that hope will live on in my children and their children.

This I also believe: all of us who marry can transmit a powerful legacy of family faithfulness.  If our forebears had good marriages, we can transmit that through our own marriages.  Even if they didn't, or even if our first or even second marriages ended in pain and divorce,  we can still begin a legacy -- or support a legacy in others still running the race -- a legacy that will last a century or more.  

Like Johan and Maria....married on this day 133 years ago.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Selling Body Parts from Aborted Children: A "Humanitarian Undertaking"?

I am so pleased that Planned Parenthood's public relations people have clarified that selling body parts from aborted children is actually a "humanitarian undertaking". And me thinking that selling children’s body parts is just one more evidence that Planned Parenthood is a heartless organization that kills 300,000+ unborn American children a year.

Silly me thinking that the dismemberment of unborn children represents depths of barbarity unplumbed since Hitler’s concentration camp doctors. In actual fact, slicing children apart and selling their heads, internal organs and other less-useful parts has, their PR people say, the "potential to cure disease, save lives, and ameliorate suffering."

Thanks for getting me straightened out, Planned Parenthood. You're awesome.

As an aside, I do not condemn any woman who has had an abortion. I do not know the individual stories and issues that led to that decision. If that is you….I have only love in my heart for you…..and honor for a fellow traveler through life….and compassion for the difficult places along the way. My contempt is focused entirely on Planned Parenthood and other organizations that profit from abortion.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't PunishYour Kids...

"Don't punish your kids."

As a dad, my reaction to this one-liner I heard recently was a thoughtful, "Umm .....what???" But days later, I find I am still fascinated by this concept....and the significant counterpoint that followed "don't".

As I have meditated on this, I have come to believe that punishment of anyone is a poor idea, and it is especially bad for children.

The point of this concept is that we should never punish, but instead we should always discipline.  Merriam-Webster's online dictionary makes the distinction more clear:
Punishment: "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution"
Discipline: "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character".

When put that way, the differences are obvious:
Punishment looks to the past.
Discipline looks to the future. 
Punishment is about settling a wrong.
Discipline is about keeping wrongs from settling in.  
The heart of punishment is to scare people out of bad behavior.
The heart of discipline is to love people into good behavior. 
It's easy to think of children when we think of punishment and discipline, but we do well to consider how we relate to others.  Do I punish my friends, my employees, people I interact with at the wife?   If I do, how can I use the heart motive of discipline to change how I interact?

Punishment of self is the worst. Maybe you have you have spoken words of punishment to yourself, "I always act stupid like that."  Or,  "I'm a no good dirty, rotten worm."

The reality is we cannot improve our lives by punishing ourselves.

Jesus told us to "love your neighbor as yourself".  If my self love is really more self loathing, or self can I rise above that level in the loving of my neighbor?

But if I love myself as God loves me.....and if I lovingly discipline me instead of punishing me.....THAT love propels me on the pathways of Heaven to do the deeds of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Revolutionary Treatment of Women in Early Christian Communities

"Husbands have the obligation of loving and caring for their wives the same way they love and care for their own bodies, for to love your wife is to love your own self." 

In the West of the 21st century, those words have lost much of the punch the original audience must have felt. This sentence does not feel very revolutionary to me and probably not to you either. But not so for the AD 60 readers of this letter from Paul (Ephesians 5:28) to the growing church in Ephesus in present day Turkey. Paul's words would have offended many of the men.....and felt like the dawning of a new day for many of the women. 

In those days, in that part of the world, the value of women was low, as just two examples illustrate: One rabbinical prayer went this way, “Blessed are you, O God…that I’m not a brute creature, nor a Gentile, nor a woman.” And in Jewish society of the day, men could divorce their wives....but not the other way around. 

Paul's words were revolutionary, and helped bring about the more equitable treatment women enjoy today in the West. And the Gospel will do the same for women as it permeates cultures that still today hold women behind the veil and in low esteem. 

Today, his words are good medicine for me and all who are husbands. He is giving us a yardstick to measure how we treat and love our wives: as well as we treat our own selves.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Did Paul Mean When He Wrote "The Head of a Wife is Her Husband"?

We all use metaphors to abbreviate communication, or to make it more interesting or meaningful.  For example, if my friend asks me if I am going to the meeting this afternoon, and I respond, "no, I'm going to save my bullets for the game tonight", he'll know right away that I'm going to miss the afternoon meeting so I can save my energy for more exertion later.  My answer has nothing to do with storing up ammunition for the game.  That's a metaphor: we say or write something, but use it to refer to something else.

Metaphors are common in languages other than our own, and they have a long history around the world.  Biblical writing is sometimes metaphoric.  How Biblical metaphors are interpreted makes a LOT of difference in the meaning of the passage.

Here, for example, is 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  How are we to interpret the word "head" in this passage?

Clearly, Paul (author of this letter to the Corinthian church) is not talking about a literal head with hair, a mouth, ears, eyes, nose and teeth.  That makes no sense.  Therefore, he must be using the word head as a metaphor.  So, what is the metaphoric meaning of "head" in this case?

Meanings of words and metaphors change over time. Before we assume that today's use of "head" as a metaphor is correct, we need to understand what Paul meant with his metaphor, and what his original audience would have understood him to be communicating to them. More on this in a minute.

In 21st century English usage, the obvious interpretation of Paul's metaphor is "leader."  We use it all the time.  For example, if I write,  "Sue is the head of the purchasing department" it is clear to us that Sue is the leader of that department.

That is our understanding today, and it is easy to project our understanding of that metaphor onto Paul's words.  I know I have.  It is easy to assume that he meant something like this: ".....the leader of every man is Christ, the leader of a wife is her husband, and the leader of Christ is God."  And from that interpretation of "head" as "leader," we might chart our interpretation in a hierarchy something like this:

God is leader over
Christ, who is leader over
Man, who is leader over

But there is an interesting problem with at least the first half of this graphic interpretation:  it is heresy!

Arius, an Egyptian Christian leader and theologian of the 4th century, had been teaching that Christ was subservient to God; a teaching that the Council of Nicea deemed heretical in AD 325.  Since then, the Church has taught that the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal, and that any other teaching is dangerously wrong.

If the hierarchical interpretation of "the leader of Christ is God" is probably not what Paul intended, then what about the rest of the passage?  Note that the same Greek word, "kephale", is used throughout this verse.

Here's where understanding what the metaphor meant to Paul and the original readers in the church at Corinth will help.  We can't ask them, so anything we come up with will be informed speculation at best.  Nevertheless, there are clues.

Some commentators (examples appended below) write that a common understanding of the metaphoric usage of the word "head" to 1st century Greeks was "source".  Actually, we still use that meaning today; for example, the headwaters of the Sacramento River are the source of that river.

Perhaps what Paul was telling the Corinthians -- and us today -- is this: ....the source of every man is Christ, and the source of woman is man, and the source of Christ is the Godhead.  (Suggested by Phillip B Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ).  That perspective might make our chart look like this now:

The Godhead is the source of 
Christ, who is the source of
Man, who is the source of 
(God took Eve from Adam's side)

If that is a more accurate interpretation of Paul's metaphor, it opens the door to a different view of the order of men and women in the Kingdom than perhaps most of us have understood.  

Maybe Paul wasn't commenting at all on who should lead in a marriage.

Thanks to Rich Schmidt for showing us this for the first time.

See, for examples:

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Serve Your Employers Wholeheartedly and with Love

Never saw it quite this way before....

"Serve your employers wholeheartedly and with love, as though you were serving Christ and not men. Be assured that anything you do that is beautiful and excellent will be repaid by our Lord, whether you are an employee or an employer."

This is Ephesians 6:7&8 from a recent translation of the earliest and best Greek and Aramaic texts of this letter from the Apostle Paul. As I read that this morning it spoke directly to me more clearly than ever before.

What I found as I compared it to a more familiar English version of the Bible is the words "slave" and "master". I have read this passage many times over the years, and I have always understood the point and tried to follow this instruction.

But I never felt it so directly pointed at me as I did today. Then it hit me: always in the past I have, at some level, seen this instruction as written to slaves. And while "slave" is the actual translation of the Greek word that Paul used, this instruction really applies to anyone working for someone else, as this translation points out.

Chalk up one more reason for reading the Bible in various translations!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is Your Papa the God of the Universe?

Is God also your papa? 
Is your papa also God? 

Our friend and Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry classmate David Jackson posed this question recently. It's an important question, because it impacts how that relationship works in our hearts.

When I was a boy, all I knew was that my dad went to work and did things at a desk. I found out as I grew up that at the peak of his career he supervised worldwide exploration for one of the biggest oil companies in the world. But even then, I related to him as a father who was good to me and my family, not as an important man who found oil for the use of millions of people.

Here's the point: if I see God first as my daddy, a good father, then I expect one kind of relationship. If I see Him first as the creator of the universe, the King of kings....and then as a Father, then it has a different relational feel.

I choose to see Him first as my abba, my Father who gives good gifts and loves me beyond what I deserve or hope. He is also the King, but I am His son, his prince. When I talk to Him, I choose to talk to Him as my father....who is also Him who flung stars into space.

How does it work for you?

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Greatest of these is Love

An older gentleman hobbled into the gym this morning.  He was using crutches to slowly make his way between the rows of exercise machines to the dressing room.  I could see he was in pain.

Nearly finished with my own exercise routine, I continued on the treadmill, reading my book.  

A few minutes later, he emerged from the dressing room wearing simple exercise gear.  He slowly worked his way to one of the exercise cycles, painfully mounted up, and slowly began to pedal.

"Encourage him," I heard inside me.  
"No...don't do that; he might take it badly," another thought insisted.

But as I walked out of the dressing room, I knew that I would speak to him.  Love had won out over fear.  I have learned much in the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and one of the greatest lessons has been an even deeper understanding the supernatural power of love.

I walked up to him on the cycle.  His face wondered at the intrusion into his space.

"You have great courage to press on when it is so hard, " I said to his thirsty heart.  "You are an inspiration," I continued.  "An inspiration."

"It's so hard," he said as my love entered his soul.  "I don't want to keep going."

"Keep going!" I said encouragingly.  "You are an inspiration."

I turned to leave....our conversation lasting perhaps 10 seconds.  But I could see the simple act of love had given him fresh hope.

"Thanks," he said with a small smile.  "Have a great day."

I waved.  

For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love. I Corinthians 13:13

Monday, November 25, 2013

Humanity Groans for a Mother

Mothers -- of today or tomorrow -- if you have at times felt as if child rearing was some eddy aside the main stream of what is important in life, be encouraged by these powerful words.

Fathers -- of today or tomorrow -- be awed. Let your hearts take in the gravity of it.

My willingness to carry life is the revenge, the antidote, the great rebuttal of every murder, every abortion, and every genocide. 

I sustain humanity. Deep inside of me, life grows. I am death's opposition. 

I have pushed back the hand of darkness today. I have caused there to be a weakening tremor among the ranks of those set on earth's destruction. Today a vibration that calls angels to attention echoed throughout time. 

Our laughter threatened hell today. I dined with the greats of God's army. I made their meals, and tied their shoes. Today, I walked with greatness, and when they were tired I carried them. I have poured myself out for the cause today. 

It is finally quiet, but life stirs inside of me. Gaining strength, the pulse of life sends a constant reminder to both good and evil that I have yielded myself to Heaven and now carry its dream. No angel has ever had such a privilege, nor any man. I am humbled by the honor. I am great with destiny. I birth the freedom fighters. 

In the great war, I am a leader of underground resistance. I smile at the disguise of my troops, surrounded by a host of warriors, destiny swirling, invisible yet tangible, and the anointing to alter history. Our footsteps marking land for conquest, we move undetected through the common places. 

Today I was the barrier between evil and innocence. I was the gate keeper, watching over the hope of mankind, and no intruder trespassed. There is not an hour of day or night when I turn from my post. 

The fierceness of my love is unmatched on earth. And because I smiled instead of frowned the world will know the power of grace. Hope has feet, and it will run to the corners of earth, because I stood up against destruction. 

I am a woman. I am a mother. I am the keeper and sustainer of life here on earth. Heaven stands in honor of my mission. No one else can carry my call. 

I am the daughter of Eve. Eve has been redeemed. I am the opposition of death. 

I am a woman.

--- Poem by Christianna Reed Maas 2010

To catch a greater sense of the meaning of this poem, watch Tiffany Williams recite and move with the passion of Christianna's words ($3 download from

Friday, October 04, 2013

John G. Lake: The Power of God Displayed

The evangelistic and healing ministry of John G. Lake was like a bright meteor that burned across the sky of the early 20th century, leaving a lasting impression and impact in the lives of people of the day. But just as importantly, Lake’s pioneering healing ministry left in its wake rediscovered foundation stones of the Gospel, on some of which now rest healing ministries and revival in our day.  The red threads that pass through Lake’s and other healing ministries of the modern era lead back to Jesus, of course, and it is fascinating to see them passing now through the ministry of Bethel and other revivals rising around the earth.

John G. Lake: His Life, His Sermons, His
Boldness of Faith
Reading this book (John G. Lake: His Life, His Sermons, His Boldness of Faith, 548 pp) has had a much more profound impact on me than I expected as I began to read. It was initially a difficult read, as it is largely the product of transcribed sermons. Sermons delivered over the podium do not always translate effectively into an easy-to-use text form. And, the century-old cadence, style and language of the book take some getting used to.  But it is most definitely worth the read.

I think I was most profoundly affected by Lake’s authority and power. I often wondered in the reading of the book what must one do to wield that level of authority and power for God’s glory. I believe he possessed an unusual level of healing gifts (1 Corinthians 12:9), but even so, the text implies that throughout his ministry he directed the ministry of others whom the Lord used powerfully as well. And that suggests that I am a candidate for more authority and power than I now use. And that confronts me with the question of what separates me from it, and how I break through to the next level. 

In that connection, I am most confronted by Lake’s sermon “Sin in the Flesh” (pp 384-398). I am confronted as I compare myself and my spiritual maturity with Lake and those around him. Fortunately, He loves me just as I am, even while gently encouraging me to seek more of His Kingdom and of love. 

Two seeming lacks in this powerful ministry were longevity and Kingdom extension in America.  While the ministry continues revitalized today, with others following Lake’s example even now, the fire kindled by God through Lake and his ministry in America seems never to have spread broadly here. The situation in Africa seems to be different, with tens of thousands of new Jesus followers of the early 20th century contributing over this century past to the vast shift of the center of mass of Christianity to the global south (i.e. Africa, India, China, Latin America, etc

Finally, I will say that the way God used Lake speak powerfully to me across the ten decades since he lived. If I and a legion of others of our day will pursue his Godly path, using gifts of the Spirit, like healings and miracles, to display God’s real power and glory to an ever-more-cynical world, hundreds of millions can be swept into the joy of the Kingdom and eternity with the King. And if we can use our gifts to steward this and other revivals that are now growing around the world, the greatest harvest and transformation of the souls of men in the history of the earth may well be upon us!

An earlier version of this was originally written as a book report as part of the requirements for the 2nd year Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.