In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger
(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.



The Holy Land’s Underbelly

On Wednesday evenings, my friend Bill and I go to Tel Aviv to teach at the Sudanese church, which is located near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. This an area that is heavily populated by foreigners – some legal, some illegal.

One Israeli described the demographics like this: “It’s so crowded with foreigners that it’s hard to find an actual Israeli there. And if you do, they are simply passing through going to or from the bus station.” His observations are pretty accurate. After our meeting with the Sudanese men, we generally get a bite to eat at the nearby pedestrian mall. Besides eating, we also wander around trying to strike up conversations with whomever we can; but mostly we are observing, trying to figure out how things work in this island of foreign workers.

Not only is this the foreign workers’ stomping ground, it is also an area with homeless people who have found themselves on the streets due to drug abuse or mental illness. I’m sure there may be some other reasons, but those seem to be the most prominent.

The homeless guys in the photo above, are sleeping in the shooting gallery. That’s where heroin addicts hide in the shadows and inject themselves  (see the video below). The place is littered with filth, all the things associated with homeless drug addicts: human waste, trash, treasures collected from dumpsters, rats, empty lighters, spoons, and old needles and syringes.

At times it’s overwhelming to see the collection of misery that has settled in that area. And, I’m talking about the majority of those in the area, not just the heroin addicts sleeping in their own waste. My heart aches both for the addicts and for those who have made their way to Tel Aviv – however they did that – to work one level above slave conditions (worse in some cases) in an effort to send some money back home, or to seek a better life for themselves.

What’s astounding is the emptiness and collective hopelessness that permeates the area. Pubs of one ethnic variety or another are the gathering places, the anesthesia that dulls the emptiness that is life for so many of these wanderers.

In contrast to this painful scene, are the men who meet us to study God’s word at the Sudanese church a couple streets over. They, too, have tales of hardship to tell, but they aren’t empty or hopeless. The difference? It isn’t in the hardship of their lives verses the hardship of those we painfully observe on the walkway each week, because their lives are equally challenging. The real difference is the hope of the gospel.

I’m encouraged every Wednesday night to sit with these men and see a real example of the hope and contentment the gospel offers; to see the effects of believing in the supremacy of Christ over all other suitors.

Here’s a video of two guys shooting heroin in the shooting gallery last night.

UPDATE: Here’s the same video with brightness and contrast adjustments:

Confidence and Joy in Prayer

Philippians 1:3-11 NIV

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

This short passage answers at least two questions:

1. Why does Paul pray with confidence and joy for the saints at Philippi?

Because “HE who began a good work in [them] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

In other words, when God starts something, he finishes it.

2. For what does Paul pray?

That [their] love may abound more and more in
A. knowledge, and
B. depth of insight.

So that [they] may:
1. be able to discern what is best, and
2. be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, and
3. be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-

To the glory and praise of God.

Paul’s prayer for the saints at Philippi has one goal in mind: the glory and praise to God.

Our Good Works are to His Credit

Ephesians 2:10 NIV

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Good works are:
1. What Christians are to do as the result of Him working in us.
2. Designated for us in advance.

God has prepared certain good works for us to do and His work in us gives us the ability to do them, which means there is no room for boasting on our part.

That we have nothing to boast about isn’t a new idea introduced in this verse. In fact, it is a followup: In the two verses prior to this (2:8-9), we see that our salvation is a merciful gift from God so that we can’t boast. Interestingly, the good works we do, like our salvation, are to His credit. It’s a package deal. God alone gets the credit for our salvation and our good works.

Predestined for the Praise of His Glory

Ephesians 1:11-12 NIV

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

From this passage I see that Christians are predestined:
1. According to a plan, and
2. For the praise of God’s glory.

Predestination is not a reaction; it has a plan and a purpose. That gives me encouragement and comfort.

Chosen and Predestined

My wife and I have been reading (out loud) through Ephesians together, and my next series of posts will be things that stood out to me during our reading. This is not an attempt to exhaust Ephesians, rather it is intended to highlight one or two things from each chapter.

Ephesians 1:4-6 NIV

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Here are the same verses in an emphasized outline form:
We were chosen before the creation of the world to:
a. be holy
b. be blameless
in His sight.

In love he predestined us to
a. be adopted as his sons
according to
a. his pleasure
b. his will
to the praise of his glorious grace.

Here are the verses in a summarized fashion:
His adopted sons are to be holy and blameless in His sight, and they were chosen before the creation of the world according to HIS pleasure and will. And all that for the praise of His glorious grace.

Unfortunately, many in the body of Christ will not praise God’s glorious grace when they see chosen and predestined. Instead, they will criticize and protest. Many will try to make these verses unsay what they say.

Why can’t we be more like Spurgeon who said the following in a comment on 1 Timothy 2:3-4?

“My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

(Source: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol. 26, 1880, pp. 49, 50)

Isaiah Brings A Welcome Word

According to both biblical and Assyrian accounts, Sennacherib was intent on punishing Hezekiah for not adequately submitting to the Assyrian’s demands. And, according to both sides’ accounts, the prospects for Jerusalem’s survival weren’t very good.

However, one must take a step back, and look at the greater picture. Where is God, the master planner, in this scenario? How is God working here? Those questions serve to introduce the prophet Isaiah.

In my last entry, Hezekiah’s Motivation, I discussed the nature of Hezekiah’s prayer; namely, that it was spoken for God’s glory. God’s response to that prayer was to send a word through Isaiah to Hezekiah against Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:20-34).

A careful reading of the word against Sennacherib reveals some interesting things: First, we see that Sennacherib’s insults weren’t primarily against Hezekiah. Rather, from God’s perspective, they were against, “the Holy One of Israel (vs 19).”

Second, we also see that pride was the cause of this insult and blasphemy (vs 19).

Here is Sennacherib’s list of accomplishments (2 Kings 19:23-24 NIV):

“And you have said,
1) ‘With many Chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
2) I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of it pines.
3) I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests.
4) I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there.
5) With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.”

After examining his list of accomplishments, many might say, “After all he’s done, he deserved to brag a little.” But such an assessment discounts the third thing we see in the word delivered by Isaiah: God’s sovereignty.

“Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone (2 Kings 19:25 NIV).”

God clearly says here that Sennacherib conquered the fortified cities in Judah because God ordained, planned and brought it to pass. Sennacherib was a tool designed by God. Why should that provide encouragement for Hezekiah? Because, the sovereign God who raised up this wrecking machine, knows exactly how to disable it.

And, that’s what Isaiah goes on to say: “But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came (2 Kings 19:27-28 NIV).”

The next day, the Assyrian army awakened to a great surprise: During the night, the angel of the LORD put to death 185,000 of their troops, which resulted in Sennacherib breaking camp and returning to Assyria (2 Kings 19:35-36).

Let’s not forget Isaiah’s previous word regarding Sennacherib’s personal future: “This is what the LORD says, . . . he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword (2 Kings 19:7 NIV).”

Sennacherib’s end was just as Isaiah had said it would be: “One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, . . . (2 Kings 19:37 NIV).” By the way, this occurred after Hezekiah’s death, which means that Hezekiah had to rest securely in the fact that God brings about His will in His own timing.

The LORD knows how to raise up and take down. And He does so to demonstrate His sovereignty and supremecy.

Hezekiah’s Motivation

It is clear that Hezekiah feared for his life and the life of the kingdom of Judah. And like most others would have done, he asked God to rescue him. However, unlike many, his motivation wasn’t self preservation.

Let’s analyze his prayer.

First, he acknowledges the serious physical threat that Assyria poses: “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. (2 Kings 19:17)”

Second, he distinguishes between Yahweh and the gods of those defeated nations: “They [the Assyrians] have thrown their [the defeated nations’] gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. (vs. 18)”

Finally, he begs God to deliver Israel not for his well being, but for God’s glory: “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God. (vs. 19)”

In this case, God chose to answer Hezekiah’s prayer favorably, and Jerusalem was spared.

The False Dilemma

A false dilemma is a logical fallacy in which a limited number of options are offered without consideration to the full range of possible options. Generally, it is seen in “either or” propositions, whereby the options are either “this” or “that.”

We have a good opportunity to see just this fallacy in the story of Hezekiah. Sennacherib is barnstorming through Judah – according to his own annals, he conquered 46 fortified cities – and is demanding that Hezekiah submit or be forced into submission.

Given the clear display of Assyria’s military might, and their obvious ability to put down those who resist them, the threat of defeat appears very real, possibly undeniable.

Now, let’s focus in on the point: Sennacherib sent his military field leaders to Jerusalem to try to secure a peaceful surrender of the capital. A common military tactic is to try to unseat the enemy leadership by creating a local resistance, and the Assyrians employed the false dilemma to do just that.

The way this unfolds is very interesting. The Assyrians show up and begin speaking their threats in Hebrew, in the hearing of all who are nearby, specifically targeting the average “man in the street,” or in this case, the average man on the wall. Hezekiah’s representatives ask the Assyrians to speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. But the Assyrians are clever and suggest that they have been sent not only to speak to the leadership, but also to the men on the wall because they, like the leadership “will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine (2 Kings 18:27).”

This is the first option of the “either or” offer: Resistance will lead only to eating their own filth and drinking their own urine.” In other words, unspeakable hardship and disaster awaits those who don’t submit.

The second option of the “either or” offer is this: If Jerusalem willingly submits everyone will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, UNTIL they are sent to a land similar to Jerusalem. They should “choose life and not death!” the Assyrians implore.

See that? Choose destruction OR surrender! Choose to eat your own filth and drink your own urine OR eat from your own garden and drink from you own well! Choose life OR death!

What is the underlying assumption in the options offered? Clearly, the Assyrians assume they can, without risk of failure, conquer Jerusalem. And, I suppose if one were to do a man to man, or strength to strength comparison, the Assyrians are probably right: the options are rather bleak.

However, Hezekiah isn’t trusting in his might versus the might of the Assyrians. Hezekiah is hoping in the strength of the LORD. And that is exactly what makes the Assyrians’ proposal a false dilemma. They are not considering a third option: the strength and sovereignty of the LORD.

I’ve been in so many counseling situations where the counselees are, because of the dire appearance of their situation, trapped in a false dilemma. They can only see “either or” situations, and so often, both options are bad. It’s just that one option looks less bad than the other. And in many, if not most of those situations the consideration of the LORD’S strength and sovereignty isn’t present.

And to take this a step farther: Often when the issue of “where’s God in all of this” is raised, those who feel so trapped will respond something like, “I don’t know where He fits in, but I can see two options here, and one is better than the other.” But none of us has a magic looking glass through which we can see the actual outcome of choosing either option. And that makes the question of “why not find out how/where God fits into your situation and follow Him” all the more relevant.

This is how the same point is illustrated in the situation of Hezekiah and his people: It is impossible to estimate the actual end result of the exception clause in the second part of the dilemma: “UNTIL I come and take you to a land like your own…” I’m specifically asking: If the residents of Jerusalem accept the “buyout option” and surrender to the Assyrians, what will life actually be like once they are transferred to Assyria or wherever? Will life be like it is currently? Will God see their surrender as a lack of faith and give them greater hardship to build their faith? Clearly, we can’t offer definitive answers, but these are things that should be considered when facing a dilemma such as the Assyrians were offering. Why not simply trust the LORD from the outset?

Hezekiah offers us an example of how to respond when we find ourselves in delimmas that appear to only offer disaster or defeat. How did he respond? We’ll find out as we continue to look at the life of Hezekiah.

Bible Memorization Isn’t Enough

The pastor in the first video clip below shames me when it comes to Bible memorization. To date, he has memorized more than 100 chapters of the Bible, which is commendable – even convicting.

However, after seeing how he handles the Bible, I realize that memorizing large portions of the Bible isn’t enough. And, I’m not talking about his pulpit panache, or lack thereof. That doesn’t matter much to me, unless, of course, the lack of panache is exacerbated by putrid, soulless drivel.

I’ve watched that video several times, but only because it’s a multi-car pile up. You’ve driven by a bad auto accident and you know you shouldn’t slow down to gawk, and you feel bad for doing so. But you can’t help yourself. That’s me and this video.

Another video that I have watched several times is this advertisement for a Don’t Waste Your Life conference.

This second video, also by a Baptist pastor, is different. Much different. The way the Bible is presented in a “gives life meaning” kind of way draws me back time and time again. I feel guilty. But not because I’m watching a train wreck, rather because it challenges my soul. It challenges my value system. It goes to the core of my being.

One is man-centered. The other is God-centered. And that makes a big difference.