What Lies Behind Dotted Lines

#GeorgeFloyd sparked this post, but by the time you read it, it could be another.

Or another.

Or another.

The video popped up on my Twitter timeline yesterday, and before I even watched, I could see what was about to take place from the posture of the policeman.

Oh, Dear God, no.

A sinking feeling. A sense of powerlessness. Despair.

I want to look away, but what I have to see, others have to live.

Worse is the realization that these murders of black men and women have not simply proliferated in our modern age. Camera phones have just given black communities the ability to put these images in front of willfully ignorant white folks like me. People who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. People who really would just rather not know.

The whole situation reminds me of Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), a missionary to India white evangelicals love to champion. When Carmichael arrived in India, her ministry began simply enough: going house to house, village to village, with a group of ladies seeking to spread the gospel with whomever would listen.

Carmichael quickly began to realize that there was a system of oppression that served as a stumbling block to evangelism. She writes, “Caste is a thing with an iron hand: it grips, and it grips to death.” Whenever a woman expressed interest in the gospel—for the men had absolutely no interest whatsoever—it was the same story. The brothers of one young lady said, “Baptized! [That is always the crux, because it involves loss of caste]. She shall burn in ashes first. She may go out dead if she likes. She shall go out living—never!

Amy’s heart was drawn to those most oppressed by the caste system: widows and children. Young girls were often auctioned like chattel to whomever offered the highest caste, wealth, and position. Missionary nurses who frequently cared for these child-brides witnessed heartbreaking atrocities first hand. Carmichael’s publishers censored the grizzliest tales from her books:

“Where the dotted lines come, there was written what cannot be printed…It cannot be written or published or read, but oh, it has to be lived! And what you may not even hear, must be endured by little girls. There are child-wives in India to-day, of twelve, ten, nine, and even eight years old.”

Carmichael continued to write feverishly about the plight of young women and children in India, pleading with evangelicals back home to care. She began to unfold for her Western audience in books like Things As They Are and From the Fight the way innocent children were been systemically polluted through the practice of temple prostitution:

 “This custom of…child marriage, whether to gods or men, is an infamous custom…it holds possibilities of wrong, such unutterable wrong, that descriptive words concerning it can only ‘skirt the abyss,’ and…in the name of all that is just and all that is merciful it should be swept out of the land without a day’s delay.”

In response to this system of oppression, the Dohnavur Fellowship was born—almost by accident. On March 6, 1901, a seven year-old girl named Preena was rescued from temple prostitution and brought to Amy. Word spread of Amma’s compassion (Amma means “Mother”). Three years later, she had care of 17 children. In 1911, she wrote: “We began the nursery work in a little, long, low mud-room, which was kitchen, food-room, night and day nursery, all in one. Now we have spread into nine nurseries and a kindergarten… and are in the throes of building several new cottage nurseries.”

My point is not about orphanages or India. Carmichael’s publishers were worried about offending the sensibilities of their Western readers: They don’t really want to know.

Carmichael’s words will haunt me forever:

“Where the dotted lines come, there was written what cannot be printed…It cannot be written or published or read, but oh, it has to be lived! And what you may not even hear, must be endured by little girls.” 

In this era of camera phones, we are being forced to reckon with what lies behind the dotted lines.

In our clean Sunday best and our pristine church programs, we were never forced to look at what was taking place in the neighborhood on the other side of town. We never had to look into the face of a man pressed into the pavement. We never had to witness the truth. But the truth has found us out.

The legacy of Amy Carmichael confronts us. It will not be enough to shake our heads and say, “Well, we just have to convert the lost one sinner at a time.” What Carmichael realized in India was a satanic system of oppression that served as an effective shield against salvation. What is worse, she saw a system that degraded an entire people made in the image of God.

The system had to be dismantled. Holes had to be punched. Tunnels had to be burrowed through the wall. And as they did, masses of women and children came pouring through the breaches to experience the healing and safety of Christ’s embrace in the arms of Amy.

 In The Continuation of the Story, Carmichael writes about an eight year-old whose widowed mother passed away in the hospital. A nurse rescued the girl before temple priests could get their hands on her, and brought her to the Dohnavur Fellowship. At first the child was aloof and cautious. However, Carmichael writes:

“On the third day she suddenly woke to the sense of being loved. I was sitting on the floor in the midst of a ring of children when I felt a new little hand slipped into mine, and then suddenly the child’s arms were round my neck, and she hugged and kissed me as if she had never hugged or kissed any one in all her life—which probably she hadn’t…”

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look away.




To use the words of Amy Carmichael, what we are witnessing on our Twitter feeds does not even begin to “skirt the abyss” of the wickedness and evil we willingly ignore.

“In the name of all that is just and all that is merciful it should be swept out of the land without a day’s delay!”

Sweeping change requires evangelism. Amy knew that. So do we. Sweeping change also requires the courage to actively dismantle the system. Amy knew that, too. Do we?

Ignorance is one thing. But once we have seen what lies behind the dotted lines, we are accountable.

Will you feel sad again?

And again?

And again?

When will feeling sad finally prove an empty gesture?

Wherever we have been scattered as elect exiles, God has put us there to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). We are the in breaking of the kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world fall and Christ’s Kingdom rises as the Spirit works in us to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)

What will you do about what is happening behind the dotted lines?

I have no doubt that the Amy Carmichaels of America will rise from the ranks of our dark-skinned brothers and sisters. To my white brothers and sisters: Listen to their earnest pleading! Join them! Follow their lead! We must become the breaches in the wall–a wall we have intentionally or unwittingly help build. Only then will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

God have mercy on us.

“For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;

he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.”

Psalm 9:12

Jeremiah 29: Encouragment for COVID-19 Exiles

If you are an American Christian, chances are you have at least three verses memorized: John 3:16, Philippians 4:13, and Jeremiah 29:11–

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This beloved verse actually comes from a letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah 29 is like an Old Testament epistle—like 1 Corinthians or Ephesians or 1 Peter. Daniel and his friends, the king and his officials, the craftsmen and artisans had been captured by King Nebuchadnezzar in Jerusalem and dragged off to Babylon. Jeremiah sent them instructions by mail on how they should live while in exile for 70 years in Babylon.

As encouraging as a reflection on Jeremiah 29:11 in the era of COVID-1 might be, I’d actually like us to look at just the first 7 verses of Jeremiah’s epistle. As we slowly emerge from COVID-19 quarantine and survey the life that lies before us, we have many of the same questions the Babylonian exiles did:

Where are we? Why has this happened? What should we do?

Jeremiah’s answers are as true for us today as they were 2500 years ago.

Where Are We?

In the opening address of his first New Testament epistle, Peter writes, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…” Peter’s point is clear. When we read Jeremiah 29, we should think: This is us. We are the surviving exiles.

“These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

Jeremiah 29:1

Where am I? This is the most orienting question we can ask in our lives. And if we fail to ask it or we fail to answer it correctly, it will lead to disaster.

The first summer Mindy and I lived in Louisville, we had to make several trips back to Western PA, where her parents and a lot of our friends lived. We would hop on I-71 to drive east up to Cincinnati and across Ohio. But on one of our early trips, I missed a vital junction in Columbus. We were supposed to get off I-71 and get onto I-70. So, here we are, humming along for hundreds of miles thinking we are on the highway headed for Pittsburgh. All of the sudden, I see Lake Erie. We’re in Cleveland.

The exiles had to realizes where they were. They weren’t in Jerusalem anymore. They weren’t in God’s country and the people around them weren’t God’s people. They were in a foreign land among foreign people in a city destined for destruction.

Brothers and sisters, we’re living in Babylon.

Just because you drive in the same direction at the same speed as everyone else around you does not mean you’re headed to Pittsburgh. When it’s too late, you may find yourself staring at Lake Erie.

The true danger when you are living in Babylon is not that the king might throw you into a fiery furnace. The true danger is that you forget where you are, and when the music begins to play and everyone else around you starts bowing down to the king’s golden idol, you bow down and worship the golden idol, too.

What Babylon needs is not Christians who join in doing or believing what other Americans do and believe, or what other conservatives do and believe, or what other liberals do and believe, or what other social media personalities do and believe, but Christians who join in doing and believing what God’s people in exile have done and believed for thousands of years.

Our imagination and our manner of life must be shaped by the story of the gospel. People who know where they live are a people “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). And when we live this way, the Babylonians begin to realize where they are living, too. Paul writes: “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” (Philippians 1:28).

The Lord God has done amazing things through his people living in exile:

  • Joseph saved the entire world from starvation while living in Egypt.
  • Moses’s entire career–the Exodus, the Red Sea, Mt. Sinai, all of it–took place outside the land of Israel.
  • Esther and Mordecai conquered Haman while living in Persia.
  • Daniel triumphed over the Lion’s Den in Babylon.
  • Jesus did most of his ministry and miracles in Galilee of the Gentiles–not in Jerusalem.

But all of these people knew where they were. They knew they were exiles. Do you?.

Why Has This Happened?

The temptation for the exiles from Jerusalem—after King Nebuchadnezzar trounced Jerusalem and looted the Lord’s Temple and took the best and brightest into captivity in Babylon—including the heir to David’s throne—is to think that someone else had seized control of the narrative: Someone else—other than God—is writing the story now! This is why the first words of Jeremiah’s letter are these:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…”

Jeremiah 29:4

I have sent you into exile. I have.

This is a matter of sovereignty. King Nebuchadnezzar looks across his vast empire and declares to the world, “I have done this!” (Daniel 4:28-30). The Lord tells his people, Do not buy the propaganda coming out of Babylon. I have done this. I am still your Sovereign Lord and King–whether in Jerusalem or Babylon. I am in control.

The Exile in Babylon is the worst thing to happen to God’s people in the entire Old Testament. But what the exiles didn’t realize at the time was that God was saving them. A few years later, Nebuchadnezzar would return to Jerusalem and burn, kill, and demolish everything left in the city.

A lot could be said about propaganda in this age of COVID-19, and people are searching for answers. Why has this happened? Why are we here? What the people of God need to know is that this is the Lord’s doing. We can be confident wherever we find ourselves, “for God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Whatever is taking place today is absolutely necessary for sparing you and I from an eternal destiny of wrath. There is no extraneous, unplanned part of God’s plan. What is happening must take place to ensure that “all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.”

What Shall We Do?

If we are in Babylon, and it is the Lord who has exiled us here, this poses a final question: What shall we do? Jeremiah provides several practical instructions, but he sums up the heart of the matter in verse 7:

 “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:7

Seek the welfare of the city. Seek its shalom, its wholeness, its peace, its prosperity, its wellness. Honestly, this is the opposite of the instructions the exiles want to hear. They didn’t love Babylon. They longed for Jerusalem. They longed for the dwelling of God with men. They longed for the end of injustice and the restoration of righteousness. They longed for the return of the King.

Additionally, this seems nonsensical. What was the point of seeking the welfare of a city doomed for destruction? And yet, may I remind you of one of the three Bible verses you have memorized: “For God so loved the world—a world doomed for destruction—that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Brothers and sisters, if God has loved the world in this way, so should we.

When the welfare of the city becomes the driving, overarching motive in our lives as elect exiles, it reshapes the way we read the commands before it:

“Build houses and dwell in them” (Jeremiah 29:5). How do we build houses for the welfare of the city? All of the sudden we realize, the home I am building is not a compound with walls to keep Babylon out. My home is to bring the citizens of Babylon in. My couch is a place for broken sinners to experience love and forgiveness. My table is a place for lost college students to eat and be fed. My yard is a place for children from broken homes to play and feel safe.

“Plant gardens and eat their produce” (Jeremiah 29:5). Be fruitful. Build businesses. Invest. Watch your seeds grow and prosper. Be creative. Produce art and music and architecture and letters and videos and photos. But plant your gardens for the welfare of the city.

The purpose of your business is not simply to turn a profit. The purpose of your work is not merely to feed your family. Christians in exile build businesses that bless the city. Christians in exile do work that benefits others. Christians in exile produce art and videos and literature and online content–fruitful in a thousands different ways–because they are seeking the welfare of the city. Whatever work you do, wherever you garden, that patch of soil has been given to you to produce fruit that brings welfare to your city and beyond. Are you being a faithful gardener?

Marry and have children (Jeremiah 29:6). Do we envision our marriages and our families as gifts to the city? Your relationship with your spouse is meant to bring God’s peace, his shalom, there. The way you love and relate to your wife is either filling your community with gentleness, love, sacrifice, and respect, or filling it with vitriol, belittling, indifference, and harshness. If God has blessed you with a healthy marriage, you need to share that marriage with others. Your marriage does not exist just for you and your spouse. It exists for the welfare of Babylon.

And children are our chance as parents to bless the future. Our families are incubators for the city’s next policemen, husbands, businessmen, mothers, school-teachers, governors, statesmen, entrepreneurs, doctors, and blue-collar workers.  A case is currently unfolding in Georgia–a father and son hopped in a truck together, chased down a black man jogging through the neighborhood and ended his life. Fathers, how are you going to be a part of putting an end to that era of Southern life once and for all? Are we parenting for the welfare of the city?

“Multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jeremiah 29:6). The people of God ought to multiply not for their own sake but for the sake of the city. Your city needs churches overflowing with believers consumed with a passion and zeal for Christ. They need men and women whose hearts and minds are not captured by the idolatry of Babylon but by the truth of the gospel. They need Christians flooding their streets and filling their neighborhoods and workplaces and classrooms with kindness and mercy and justice and peace. I was listening to one of Mark Dever’s recent sermons, and he was making the point that your neighbors need you to be committed church members for their sake. Your lost neighbors need you to know God’s Word for their sake. Multiply, brothers and sisters, and do not decrease!

“Pray” (Jeremiah 29:7). Jeremiah writes, “Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” If you want to find young men and young women who took Jeremiah’s letter to heart, go read Esther or Daniel.

There’s an irony to the famous story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. The high officials in Babylon were jealous of Daniel, and they wanted to destroy him. But the problem was, they couldn’t find any dirt on him. He never broke the law. He was always seeking the good of the city. He was wiser than all of them by ten times and advised the king well in every matter. There was only one complaint they could find against him: Daniel prayed.

They tricked the king into making an edict against prayer. Daniel kept praying. They came to his house, found him in his prayer closet and arrested him.

Here’s the irony: Who do you think Daniel was praying for day after day? Daniel had read Jeremiah’s letter. He was praying for them. Praying for the very people seeking to destroy him. Daniel was praying the same prayer Jesus himself would pray from the cross: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Jesus Christ, the exile of heaven, came down to this world destined for destruction to seek your welfare. To rescue you from a city about to be engulfed in flames. Can you do the same for your city?

(photo credit)

Quarantine Family Worship Resource, Vol. 2! (Download)

Brothers and Sisters,

Volume II. Who would have imagined? Perhaps two or three weeks, but who would have dreamed this quarantine would last for two or three months…or longer? Churches have dealt with their inability to gather in various ways. There are many faithful ways to make the most of this sad time apart, and this guide is just one of a myriad of resources available.

As I mentioned in the first volume, these are intentionally short. I could provide you with liturgies filled with responsive readings, long prayers, recitations from creeds, multiple songs, and a long-form sermon, but would you really do it? Be honest.

Besides, the point of this guide is not to recreate “church” but to show you that family worship is more intuitive than you could ever imagine. You really can do it. Without help. Without a guide. It takes five basic elements:

  • Pick up the Bible and read a passage.
  • Ask simple questions of the text and of those gathered.
  • Pray over the truths you have read.
  • Sing a hymn or worship song everyone has memorized.
  • Take prayer requests, and pray over them.

These can all be done with zero preparation. Feel free to add your own elements and tailor these to fit your household’s needs. Just make sure to keep your expectations low—especially if this is your first time!

If you are intimidated by teaching the Bible, here is a tip: Be humble. Approach the Scriptures with questions, pleading with the Lord to answer. Some he will; some he may not. Ask questions of those you are leading. Allow them to help you digest and understand God’s Word. Lean on the Spirit. Here are four profitable questions to ask no matter the passage:

  • What does this teach us about God?
  • What does this teach us about ourselves?
  • How does this point us to Jesus?
  • How shall we then live?

In Volume 1, the Bible lessons were drawn from Luke’s Gospel. In Volume 2, we will read selections from Ezekiel. May these inspire prayers of hope as we look toward the day we can gather once more in worship as the people of God—indeed, to the Day when we will gather around the throne of Christ forever!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Chad Ashby

College Street Baptist Church

Newberry, SC

2.10 — Jim and Elizabeth Elliot & Martyrdom and Mission

On January 8, 1956, on a sandy beach along the Cararay River in the rainforest of Ecuador, Jim Elliot and four other young missionaries met the end of their lives on spear-tips carried by the very people they had spent years preparing to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. Only days before, they had had their first contact with these primitive Auca Indians (today called the Huaorani). It had gone so well. After months of airlifting gifts and shouting Huaorani greetings from a small plane, a young man accompanied by two women emerged from the tree line. They’d spend an exhilarating day together. Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, had even taken “George” up in the plane and flown over his village at his request!

Two days later, Saint spotted a party of Aucas headed back to the beach and radioed to his wife the exciting news from his plane at 12:30pm. By 3:00pm, all five missionaries had perished. What had gone wrong? And what had led Jim and these four young men (three in their twenties and two barely thirty) to pay the ultimate sacrifice on a remote beach in Ecuador?

Bare Hearts on a Good Friday

“And they all left him and fled.”

-Mark 14:50

This has always been the most heartbreaking line of the entire Passion narrative for me. I don’t know whether it’s too much to think what Jesus had to suffer and that he had to suffer it alone. Or perhaps it’s imagining the devastation of being abandoned by your closest friends in your darkest hour. But, if I’m honest, I suspect it’s really because in the disciples, I see myself.

In his poem “The Hour of the Angel,” Rudyard Kipling writes of those moments in our lives that come upon us suddenly like a judgment day–a moment of truth. In those moments we do not develop character; rather, character is revealed:

“…But here we have

Prepared long since our garland or our grave…

Meeting, astounded, victory at the last,

Or, first and last, our own unworthiness.”

For Jesus’s disciples, Good Friday sprung upon them like Ithuriel’s Hour. The time of witnessing miracle after miracle was past. The days of walking with Jesus were abruptly brought to an end. The three years of preparation and training were behind them. When Good Friday came, all was laid bare. In the moment of truth, what was revealed?

A lack of devotion, a cowardice, their own faithless…unworthiness.

This Good Friday, we too find ourselves at Ithuriel’s Hour, a moment of truth of sorts. Who could have imagined on New Year’s Eve that a few months later we wouldn’t even be allowed to gather for Easter services? Who would have guessed that we would be kept apart from our beloved church members, our jobs, our schools, our communities, and friends for weeks–months?

I wonder, this Good Friday, what has been revealed in you? A garland or a grave? Victory at last? Or, first and last, your own unworthiness?

Have you found your time away from Sunday gatherings to be easier by the week? Have you found yourself sliding back into old patterns of sin? Have you breathed a sigh of relief that at least you won’t feel pressure to give to church for a while? Have you made excuses for why you haven’t communicated with any fellow church members? When was the last time you picked up a Bible?

I wonder whether the words of Mark confront you this Good Friday?

“And they all left him and fled.”

How easy it is to follow Jesus…until it isn’t.

Jesus’s utter faithfulness was only further highlighted by the utter faithlessness of his disciples. He was bleeding out every last drop of blood for their sins while they were cowering in the shadows. He was giving everything for them while they were proclaiming, “I don’t know this man!” (Mark 14:71). He was the Good Shepherd while they were proving once more to be wayward sheep.

This Good Friday, our hearts are laid bare.

This Good Friday, our hearts are laid bare. If you do not feel hungry for the Word of God, why? If you do not feel a strong urge to pray for your brothers and sisters, why? If you do not long to sing and pray and listen and give and feast with God’s people, why?

The good in Good Friday is that Jesus Christ did not need faithful disciples to save the world. Not only does he alone save, but he saves alone. No amount of faith from the disciples–or from us–was necessary to accomplish absolute and total salvation. Our justification does not arise from the ability to say, “When things got tough, I stuck with Jesus! I didn’t abandon him! I didn’t flee!”

Our good God gives us Good Friday to chide us to tell the truth: “You were straying like sheep…” Perhaps that you today. I know it is me.

Our good God gives us Good Friday to comfort us with the truth: “..but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25) Our Good Shepherd was faithful even to faithless, wayward disciples. The Overseer of our souls will not let one soul be lost.

Do not flee this Good Friday. Return. Return to the Shepherd.

(photo credit)

2.9 — David George & Persistence in Evangelism

How large must a church be to send church planters? How large of a budget does it before a church can raise up and send full-time missionaries? What if I told you that from Silver Bluff Baptist Church in Aiken County, SC, not one but two international church planters emerged from a small congregation of a few dozen slaves in its first few years of existence? We’ve already heard the name of the first on the Functional Theology Podcast: George Liele. But there was another: David George.

Easter & Holy Week Scripture Memory Guide

This seven-day guide will help you celebrate Easter wherever you find yourself. Each day of Holy Week is paired with a verse from Romans 8. Over the course of the week, you will memorize one additional verse, totaling 7 verses. As you will see, each verse connects with events from the life of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection.

Romans 8:31-37 is a passage every Christian ought to have memorized. Challenge your family or some friends to learn these seven verses together, one for each day:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Romans 8:31-37

Write the verses down on a notecard. Turn them into a calligraphy or watercolor. Do an art project, write a song, or make a craft inspired by each verse. Be creative!

In addition to the verse, you will find in this guide a brief meditation, a passage from the Gospels to read, and a song (attached).

There is also a very minimal activity involving a candle—something you probably already have handy at home—that can add some significance to your Easter celebrations. May this guide help you as we celebrate the finished work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Easter!