Friday, December 31, 2010

Electricity is worldly, Doritos aren’t?

A quick update....

So I went shopping at our new nearby Wal-Mart yesterday and it was a little odd because there were a bunch of Amish folks shopping there too. At least my wife won’t stand out for covering her head while shopping there! Anyway, when I was checking out I noticed an Amish lady buying like 8 bags of Doritos. It was kind of disappointing. I assumed that all of the Amish made all of their own stuff. Maybe we have a particularly liberal strain of Amish near us.

We are slowly getting our stuff settled in. We have a bunch of outbuildings so there is no hurry to get everything unpacked but certain items needed to come in like our box springs for my bed (we had the mattress on the floor which wasn’t working for me) and our dining room table. It is slowly starting to feel like home as we add our stuff to the house. I am enjoying the more spartan feel in the house without so much stuff, lots of room to move around for us and for the kids.

It is nice being in the country again, I was glad to see that the gorgeous star fields we used to enjoy in Northern Michigan are right where we left them and just as beautiful when viewed a little to the south. Once we get settled in we can go ahead and order up some baby chicks and get our animal menagerie started!

We have also discovered that Indiana has some of the most Byzantine motor vehicle/driver registration laws in the country. Seriously it is a major pain to get things transferred over. They make you take the written driving test. Like I remember what all of those road signs that I routinely ignore mean.

Looking forward to having tomorrow off. We will spend most of the day unpacking but not having to get up and get ready for work will be nice. It was really warm today, in the low 50’s, but it is supposed to get chilly again starting tomorrow. At some point our internet should be up and running. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with AT&T internet service. I call them, they assure me we are all set, then they cancel my installation the day it was supposed to happen. The whole thing is very unhealthy.

Planning on doing absolutely nothing special to ring in the new year except going to be early!

In Praise of Calvinism and Calvinists

I have been pretty critical of my fellow Reformed Christians of late. From the large number of Reformed Christians, especially among the newly converted, who see everything through the lens of “But is it Reformed” to the irritating assumptions of the church that leaves the church “un-Reformed”, the clergy overworked and the laity mute and apathetic, there are lots of places I have taken shots at the Reformed. I also am deeply troubled by the tendency among some in Reformed circles to attack and devour those who dare espouse doctrines other than Reformed theology and when they run out of Arminians to attack, turn on one another for not being sufficiently Reformed. Finally there is a deep running tendency toward hero worship of men, whether those men are long dead saints like Calvin or Spurgeon or living leaders like Sproul, Horton or Piper.

Having said that, the reason I am so hard on the Reformed is not that my fellow Reformed believers are bad people. Quite the contrary, some of the finest Christians I know hold to the Doctrines of Grace. Nor is it because Reformed theology proper (the Five Solas and the Five Points of Calvinism) is wrong or weak. Again, the opposite is true. My study of the Bible has led me to a deeper conviction on these issues although I reject much of the culture of “being Reformed” that goes hand in hand with the Five Points/Solas. I am still greatly concerned when I hear people declare Calvinism to be a heresy and then proceed to demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of what Calvinism teaches. So I am in no way rejecting the core theological underpinnings of Calvinism/Reformed theology even as I question the cultural traditions that surround Reformed theology.

I am so hard on my fellow Reformed believers because I see among them fertile ground for continued Reformation in the church and because of that I take pains to poke at the sacred cows of Reformed culture whenever possible. I think that among the serious students of Scripture in the Reformed camp are many future leaders of the church in ways unimaginable and unacceptable to the giants of that tradition. I am not saying that most non-Calvinists don’t take Scripture as seriously but I do think that among the Reformed study of the Scripture takes on a fever pitch and it is through studying the Scriptures that I and many others have found the weakness of the traditional church model. I am greatly encouraged by the numbers of people who see Reformed theology as correct and proper and also see it as a door opener to a Reformation or more properly put a Restoration of a Biblical church model in terms of how and why we gather, how we see our responsibilities to the least of these all around us.

So here are some of the things that I most appreciate about my fellow Reformed believers…

• A recovery of a proper view of the sovereignty of God in all matters, including and especially the salvation of elect individuals. Calvinism is NOT the Gospel but it does provide a faithful framework for understanding the process of salvation.

• A renewal of a high view of the Triune God, seeing God as both loving and holy, merciful and just and seeing Jesus Christ as more than good buddy or a galactic concierge on call to meet our every whim and need. The doctrine of God and especially Jesus Christ have fallen on hard times in much of the church but among Calvinists I often find a proper balance in viewing God as He has revealed Himself.

• A resurgence of zeal among some important demographics that are in short supply in most of evangelicalism: men in general and young men especially. Look around most evangelical churches and what you are likely to find are lots of women, often by themselves, and lots of elderly. Adult men are typically a minority. Show up at a Reformed theology conference and the place will be packed out with dudes. The danger is that young men leap into Reformed theology with the same zeal they do fantasy football and video games, so older men who can mentor and temper them is vital but having buckets of overly enthusiastic young men is a problem any evangelical church would love to have.

• A stalwart defense of the functions, roles and restrictions regarding men and women in the church. I am all for removing the cultural traditions that impede church life but in doing so I am concerned that we don't ignore or explain away clear teachings of Scripture in areas like gender. I appreciate the stand against the prevailing winds of the culture and that many of these brothers cherish and encourage the calling of women instead of degrading that calling and encouraging sisters to function in the Body in a way that is prohibited. I believe that abandonment of Biblical authority on these matters is the theological equivalent of a gateway drug that leads in many cases to an abandonment of Biblical orthodoxy (see: Protestantism, Mainline)

So as you can hopefully see, far from abandoning Calvinism, I fully embrace that theological school. It is my great desire to see more and more Christians glorifying the sovereignty of God in salvation while meeting in a more Biblically faithful model and purpose. Neither Calvinism nor simple church are ends in and of themselves but rather tools to advance our understanding of who God has revealed Himself to be and in carrying out our tasks of mutual edification and equipping so that we can minister to those in need and fulfilling the Great Commission, proclaiming the Goods News of Jesus Christ to every creature on earth.

So three cheers for Calvinists! May our tribe increase (and may that tribe meet in a simpler, more Biblical manner)!

The political question in 2011

The Arsenal of Liberty: Winning the war is more important than fighting individual battles

Up for some political thought? I always am and posted some thoughts on the very real uphill battle facing Republicans in 2011 and beyond.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Yours? Mine? His?

Just a quick thought. When you start to see a ministry in terms of "my ministry" or "your ministry" you have stopped thinking about it in terms of "His ministry". When you think of it as "my church", "our church" or "your church", it stops being "His church". How we view what we are doing is reflected in the language we use to describe it. Words have meaning, even subconsciously.

Pleading the cause of the widow and the orphan

Christian conservatives are often accused of only caring about people until they are born, that we care more for the fetus in the womb than the hungry child or the elderly. That is of course disingenuous because at least until the “death panels” are put into place under Obamacare, it is not common place to murder small children or the elderly. It is commonplace to murder children in the womb, so we can be forgiven to some extent if we seem singularly focused on the unborn.

There is a sense in which that accusation from the Left is at least partially and unintentionally accurate. The Bible speaks a lot about caring for orphans and widows (i.e. the elderly) but it doesn’t get as much play in the church. I think part of that has to do with our culture with a social safety net that provides health and financial benefits to the elderly and young children. At least with orphans there seems to be a movement afoot in the church to revisit our efforts to care for and even adopt them but what about the elderly? It is interesting how often Scripture links the fatherless and the widow…

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. (Exodus 22:22)

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (Deu 10:18)

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. (Psalm 68: 4-5)

The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Psalm 16:9)

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jeremiah 7: 5-7)

Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:5)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

One very interesting passage comes in Deuteronomy 24…

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deu 24: 17-22)

So under the Law, the leftovers from your harvest were to be saved for the widows, the orphans and the sojourners in the land. Notice that this is not a government program of wealth redistribution, this is a call by God to His people to remember those in need when harvesting. I recognize that the laws of Israel are not the laws of America, and I have no interest in trying to put them into force here, but the concern that God commands His people to have for justice and mercy toward the fatherless and the widow and the sojourner are every bit as forceful now as they were under the Old Covenant administration.

That brings me to the crux of this post. How do we reflect God’s concern here? I think the question about the fatherless is a little easier, there are lots of books and ministries that focus on orphan care and adoption. But what about the elderly? I am speaking here of our own parents as they age, those parents we are commanded to honor, as well as the elderly in the Body of Christ. I don’t think having a really nice, comfortable building for the elderly to come to a couple of hours a week is really what God has in mind. The early church had a daily distribution for widows (Acts 6:1) that was important enough for the church to call seven men to oversee it and not just seven guys who had nothing better to do but men who were “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), the most famous of whom was Stephen who was a remarkable preacher and a model for us all as the first recorded martyr for Christ. Clearly caring for the widows among the Body (and by implication all of the elderly) was a major priority for the early church. So how do we reflect that concern? Here are a few ideas:

Role Reversal

I think it starts, as so many things do, in the home. Being prepared to care for aging parents to whatever extent they will allow means being prepared for a whole bunch of inconvenience but is that beyond what we should be willing to do? I understand that there are some circumstances that make home care for elderly parents difficult (or just difficult parents in general!) but I certainly don’t see that caring for our elderly parents, which is certainly a ministry, is different from anything else. No one said the life of a disciple was going to be easy!

Home Alone

That is well and good for our biological parents but what about other elderly saints in our church without children or lacking children willing to take them in? If a family is open to foster care for a child, why not make their home open to an elderly brother or sister? Perhaps not someone who requires serious medical care but certainly an older Christian who has outlived their spouse and who’s life is marked by loneliness. I have to imagine that many middle-class Christians have kids who have moved out and have empty bedrooms. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that your kids are gone and now you have space for a den or a craft room, make that room in your house a ministry to a brother or sister.


We spend untold millions each year on Sunday school lessons, conferences, books, etc. all in a quest to become wiser. How ironic that the best resource outside of Scripture is probably sitting alone in a pew next to you. An incredible amount of wisdom dies each day, lost because so many Christians are seeking what is new, what is flashy, what helps them feel as though they are living the American dream. Rather than dividing “senior saints” into homogenous groups kept apart from other homogenous groups (young singles, married with kids, etc.), integrate them so that they can pass their wisdom onto the next generation. I have gained more wisdom in a weekly visit with an older Christian man than I have in years of listening to talks and sermons. Match up young men with older men and young women with older women. The new generation of overindulged young adults are woefully unprepared for being in a Christian marriage and need someone to mentor them. A partnering of young and old will be beneficial for the individuals involved as well as the church itself.

I truly think this is a topic that gets short shrift in the church but there is no excuse for that to be the case. It is truly troubling that instead of being ministered to and cared for by the church, the elderly are often the big givers or at least the consistent givers. Our elder brothers and sisters are not a piggy bank to be shaken upside down when the giving is down, they are a vast resource of wisdom and a compelling object of ministry.

What do you think, how can the church minister to the elderly among us?

Almost there....

We are so close to being moved out/in. The last little bit of stuff is coming down today and the then there is the clean-up and that is all she wrote. Getting out by the 31st was a big deal for us so it will be great to have that out of the way. Of course we still are looking forward to a weekend of moving stuff into the house, minor stuff like bed frames, dressers and our dining room table. Plus I need to get my internet access squared away, AT&T is starting to make me quite irate.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A question for the day

So Paul wrote to Timothy...

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3: 12)

So if we are not being persecuted, and frankly not many American Christians have ever been persecuted, does that mean we are not really desiring to live a godly life? If so, doesn't that raise more troubling questions?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Great service from Amazon

I ordered a couple of books last week from Amazon and had them sent to our new house, thinking we would be moved in before it shipped with the free super saver shipping. Well they actually shipped right away and weren't delivered because we weren't moved in yet. So I put in a note to Amazon late last night. By 8:25 AM today I had a response back from them that they were reshipping the books and sending them overnight delivery. Pretty awesome service since it wasn't even their fault!

Poking the hornets nest. Again.

I was directed to a post on why pastors need four weeks of vacation, a week of “study time”, fringe benefits, conference allowances and a sabbatical every seven years. You know, just like Paul got. I wanted to direct your attention to the post at the Gospel Coalition, Some Friendly Advice for Church Boards: Give Your Pastor a Break, and encourage you to read and perhaps comment. I think all of this concern about pastoral burnout and stress could be easily alleviated if all of the men in a local gathering of the church were equipped, permitted and encouraged to minister instead of restricting ministry to one or a couple of professionals.

Take a gander at the link and let me know whatcha think!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Descended from monkeys or from parrots?

I saw this quote referenced today in the Wall Street Journal:

We desperately need to retain a large chunk of the population who will adamantly refuse to believe anything that they don't understand for themselves. Far better for children to reject Darwin's theory of evolution because they can't believe we came from monkeys than to teach them to repeat the theory by rote as if we were descended from parrots.

Lee Harris "The Next American Civil War"

I haven’t read the book, I don’t know the context or the author’s position and I can’t confirm the quote but I absolutely can confirm the sentiment. The farcical notion that America will be more enlightened because we teach our kids to accept evolution on faith instead of accepting Creation on faith is ridiculous and if it were on a non-religiously charged topic would be laughed out of existence. I have met few people who are inclined toward evolution that can explain the major gaps in the theory or give me more than a rudimentary explanation of the process (and copying and pasting something some “scientist” wrote doesn’t count). Most people who are “evolutionists” are simply people who believe a guy in a labcoat instead of a guy behind a pulpit and it speaks more to their personal preference than it does some deeply thought out position.

(HT: Best of the Web)

Transition Update - Reloaded

We are supposed to be closing on our new home tomorrow and we spent the whole weekend packing, loading a truck, driving that truck or unloading it. Needless to say we are all pretty tired, physically and mentally. The truck was huge, 26’ long and sat almost as high as a semi, so I really needed to have the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack playing while driving at a max speed of 63 MPH (there are governors on the truck that keep it from going any faster). I had to settle for humming East Bound and down, loaded up and truckin’, a’we gonna do what they say can’t be done. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there, I’m East Bound just watch ol’ Bandit run. Really, country music hasn’t been the same since Jerry Reed died. They just don’t make songs like She got the gold mine (I got the shaft) anymore.

We took a short break on Christmas Day and I went to see the remake of True Grit with my wife. It was the rare remake that, in my opinion and nostalgia for John Wayne notwithstanding, was better than the original. A little darker and a lot better acting. We pretty much had the entire movie theater to ourselves and it was a matinee so it only set us back $8 total. Other than that, it was a working weekend. We are hoping to get the last odds and ends (and critters) out of the house by mid-week and then we begin the process of settling into our new home. The unpacking is a lot easier without the time crunch, very few things have to be unpacked right away (like the literally dozens and dozens of boxes of books) . This whole move, at least the actual moving part itself, it going to run us somewhere in the vicinity of $600 which is not bad. If you are willing to put in a) the time and b) the effort, you can move yourself on the cheap and that was our goal. With any luck the phone and internet will be up and running by Wednesday because heaven forbid I have to go a day without the internet!

One thing I have decided, as if I needed any prompting, is that I am getting too old for this.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where should we direct our allegiance?

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Break out the torches and pitchforks, the Pledge of Allegiance is under attack by the godless commies in Massachusetts!

This is the sort of stuff that used to get me all wound up. From Fox News:

Massachusetts School Issues Permission Slips for Pledge of Allegiance

The principal of a public school in Brookline, Mass., is asking parents to fill out permission slips before their children can participate in a weekly recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Gerardo Martinez, the principal of The Devotion School, informed parents that the school would begin reciting the pledge in January over the public address system.

Attached to the letter was a form that asked parents to check either: "Yes, my child will participate in the weekly Pledge of Allegiance" or "No, my child will not participate in the weekly Pledge of Allegiance."

"I urge you to have a conversation as a family to help your children understand why I will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and to support them in feeling comfortable and confident in the decision on whether or not to participate," Martinez wrote in the letter.

The school also sent parents a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance along with a note that defined the words "under God" as meaning "there is one Supreme entity for every citizen."

Of course this is happening in Massachusetts. I read this and wonder what the point is, why is this newsworthy? One public school in Massachusetts sends home a note and it makes the news in multiple outlets. On the one hand, it is a symptom of 24 hour news cycle where almost anything is newsworthy just to fill up space. More importantly, this is the sort of news story that gets people riled up because of the misplaced sense of outrage people feel when our civic religion is challenged. This kerfuffle raises a number of questions for believers living in America…

First, should Christian parents want their children swearing allegiance to the flag of any secular nation?

Second, should our children be invoking some sort of vague deity that represents the civil religion of America?

Third, is there anything less meaningful than small children being taught to repeat a brief pledge that ultimately doesn’t mean anything?

I am sure these sorts of news stories are run to get a rise out of people in the same way that stories about businesses taking down Christmas trees or instructing employees to say “Happy Holidays” are designed to get people upset.

What do you think about this news story and the Pledge of Allegiance in general? Is this an issue to take a stand on? Should Christian children be pledging allegiance to a flag and a secular nation or should our allegiance be restricted to Jesus Christ alone?

Abolish the laity

I like what Dave Black said this morning (8:53 AM) :

I do not wish to abolish the clergy. I wish to abolish the laity. All of us are to be ministers.

I think that is the right perspective. It is not a desire to drag down the pastors that motivates many of us, some sort of anti-authority rebelliousness that we are often accused of. It is a desire to see all of us minister in a real and meaningful fashion, a desire to see the whole Body equipped for the work of ministry. So many of the issues that concern me like the professionalization of ministry and the full-time, paid status of clergy we see is a result of a laity that is neither inclined nor equipped to fulfill what we have all been called to do. That is why ministry is subcontracted out to "professionals" instead of a burden shared by all. The great need in the church is for the people of God to wake from our comfortable, traditional religious slumber and to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. All of us, without exception and without distinction.

For this to happen, two things need to occur. First, the "laity" needs to be unleashed and challenged to serve. Second, the "clergy" needs to let go and let things get a little messy. I truly believe that every regenerate believer in Jesus Christ desires to do the work of evangelism, do the work of ministry, serve God by serving one another. They just need to be given the opportunity, the tools and perhaps even a gentle push to get them going.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I think I need to change the name of my blog

Considering that our new house is in the country and not in what anyone would consider a suburb, I think I need to change the name to something more fitting. The Voice of One Crying Out In A Cornfield perhaps?

If I was in charge of the seminary system

Which of course I am not and my picture is probably prominently displayed in the security offices of most seminaries. I am just having a little fun spurred on by a post at Eric Carpenter’s blog and because I am sure someone will read this and get offended. What can I say, I am feeling a bit puckish. Having said that, here is what I would do if I were given the keys to every seminary in America:

Shut many of them down:

o My opinion? There are too many seminaries as it is. According to a quick search, there are over 140 Protestant seminaries in America alone. Does the cost of maintaining that many seminaries make sense when the core function of them is to pump out vocational ministers? I can’t even begin to hazard a guess as to the cost of running a mid-sized seminary but I am sure it is in the millions. Most of that is offset with donations and tuition but that is money that could be better used on a whole variety of efforts. We need a certain number of seminaries but maybe that number is 50?

Change their focus away from vocational training

o The focus of evangelical seminaries today is vocational training, giving men the requisite education to become a paid minister, full-time evangelist or a certified church planter. Men graduating from seminary are intensively trained to prepare and deliver sermons, lead local churches and deal with people in the context of a local church. I would say they are poorly trained to do what they are called to do, i.e. equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4: 11-16) This model of vocational training for ministers is culturally acceptable and noble but it is foreign to Scripture. Considering how much we emphasize the Bible and simultaneously invest so much of church life into a system that doesn’t even appear as a hint in the Bible we claim to revere, it seems contradictory. If seminaries remain primarily a vocational training school for professional ministers, we ought to scrap the whole system.

Focus on equipping the local church

o To truly serve the local church, seminaries need to engage the local church. Merely training men to send out to serve is not good enough. How many faithful Southern Baptists will never set foot in a single building of one of their seminaries and never so much as meet one of the faculty? The only connection they will have with their seminaries is the pastor in the pulpit. It is not hard to see the impact of a disconnect between the local church and the seminary system, you only need look back at the state of SBC seminaries before the “Conservative Resurgence”. If seminaries are committed to serving the local church, they need to meet the local church. I suggested over at Eric’s post that instead of sending a few men for three years to seminary, why not have week long intensive seminars all year, at a reasonable cost, to train regular men with jobs to lead in the church? Have the academics get out of their dusty offices and out from behind their books to come and teach in local churches around the country. I know some men do this but we need more of it.

Maintain the academic core

o There is a real need and place for higher level academics in the church. It is not the highest priority or even near the top but it is there. We need academics who are experts in the original languages to continue to refine our translations. We need intellectuals to combat heresy and error that creeps into the church. I appreciate the work of theologians and academics like D.A. Carson, Andreas Kostenberger and David Alan Black and I am not saying they should become ditch diggers. I am saying that the academic community should always focus on serving the local church instead of serving their fellow academics. Theology needs to be deep but it also needs to be practical. Printing books that only PhD’s can read and comprehend might get you academic acclaim but it is not terribly helpful to the church (Turretin? Owens? Yeah, I am talking about you).

Those are just some thoughts I thunk. What do you think? What would you change about the seminary system or do you think it is fine the way it is? It is nigh impossible to overstate the incredible impact that seminaries have on local churches, on how ministers are trained, about the assumptions they bring with them to the local church, how Christians understand all sorts of doctrines. I think that the system is in dire need of an overhaul. The problem is that those who would need to lead that overhaul are the ones who benefit the most from the status quo.

Book Review: Adopted For Life

Dr. Moore has done a wonderful service for orphans and the church alike with Adopted For Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christians Families & Churches.

The church has so many competing priorities clamoring for attention (and money) and many of them are only superficially Kingdom work. Adoption can be lost in the shuffle but we lose sight of adoption at our peril. There is a consistent theme of God’s concern for the orphan and the fatherless throughout the Scriptures and adoption of an orphan into a loving family is the single greatest picture of the grace of God we can be involved in. We can talk and talk about theology all day long and quote our favorite Puritan to impress people at a party but when we adopt a child we show people the Gospel instead of just talking about it. There are of course other ways to care for orphans, such as supporting groups like The Haiti Orphan project, but adoption is one of the clearest pictures of the Gospel a Christian family can engage in.

Adopted for Life is a comprehensive survey of adoption and it attempts (and for the most part succeeds) in covering the gamut when it comes to adoption, looking at the theological underpinnings of adoption, examining practical considerations, offering helpful advice, hammering those who oppose “cross-racial” adoption and providing advice for the Body of Christ on ways to support adopting parents and foster a culture of adoption in the church. Because Dr. Moore covers so much ground, none of the sections gets a truly thorough treatment but this book is clearly aimed at introducing people to adoption and has to cover a lot of ground. As far as an introductory survey to the topic, I can’t imagine there is a better treatment out there.

I liked the way he dealt with our usual view of adoption, which is often seen as something to be considered as a last resort when a couple is unable to have children. After trying everything you can ethically to have a child, when you finally give up, then consider adoption. I would love to see families that have children “naturally” and are adopting children at the same time. What a wonderful blessing that would be for that family, for the children being adopted and for the witness of the church! I also appreciate that Dr. Moore has no use for those who question cross-racial adoptions. There are a ton of children who are not Caucasian who need families and a lot of Caucasian families who are in a position to adopt. Should we deny these children a home because they have different color skin or differently shaped eyes?

The weakest chapter dealt with adoption and the local church. While I think Dr. Moore’s advice would be great in a traditional church setting, I think it also is held captive by our traditional understanding of what the local church is, how it should function and where its priorities should be. Dr. Moore calls on the local church to financially aid couples seeking adoption but suggests restricting aid to “members” and he reassures readers that the local church can financially support couples without interfering with the general budget. Given the very real call to care for the orphan in Scripture and the silence in the same for most of what local churches spend their “general fund” money on, i.e. buildings and staff, I would rather he call on local churches to make adoption a priority over hiring another pastor or buying the latest, greatest VBS curriculum. If you don’t have room for adoption in your general fund, your general fund priorities are out of whack.

In some places, especially early on, Dr. Moore gets a little scattered. His thoughts sort of meander a bit which can make it difficult to follow his reasoning but he also is often putting down his own personal experiences and the emotionalism of those events makes it hard to write cogently. He also tends to force Scripture into his ideas, I found some of the parenthetical Scriptural references to be a bit of a stretch. I am always a bit nervous when you toss a parenthetical Scripture reference at the end of a sentence with no context.

Overall though, this as an excellent book, a great resource for those who are thinking about adopting and those who are personally familiar with adoption or even people who have no prior interest in adoption. I would hope it spurs people to action and not be a read, think “That’s nice” and return to the shelf kind of book. Dr. Moore’s bold and passionate plea for the fatherless should move Christians to respond. We already have eight kids of our own so we seem like unlikely candidates for adoption but the call of the fatherless is an insistent one. There is no lack of orphans waiting for adoption and if we can find a way to overcome the financial barrier and regulatory hoops, we would love to welcome a child into our home and family. It is what God has done for us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back to double honor

A reader pointed me toward a four part series on “Ministerial Compensation” by Doug Wilson. Doug Wilson gets a lot of attention with his blogging so I wanted to see what he had to say. It is a well written series as most of Doug’s stuff is. I read the four articles eagerly looking to engage Doug’s arguments on why we should pay pastors, expecting the typical arguments but in a more reasoned and forcefully portrayed manner. Here is what I found in the lead article, Double Honor.

That said, the Bible says that we are to pay ministers, and pay them well. The text does not expressly say what it is that is to be doubled, but it is likely in the extreme that it will at least be double what some people think appropriate.

Wilson then quotes 1 Timothy 5: 17-18, an old standby for those who support paying clergy:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5: 17-18)

That is pretty much it. That is the whole argument in favor of paying ministers. Doug states that the Bible says we are to pay “ministers” and that is that. I guess that notion is so entrenched as to be above question in spite of the very real problem that the Bible says nothing of the sort, at least not in the sense we assume. I was hoping for a cogent argument but you just don’t get one, leaving us with the brief assumption in the above paragraph to deal with.

The “worthy of double honor” idea is a tricky one. It certainly seems to imply that elders should be compensated. What is problematic is what it actually says and likewise what it does not say. This passage is not nearly as clear as those who throw it out as a defense of paying ministers might think. These are issues I have addressed before but just briefly….

First and foremost, “worthy of double honor” is not synonymous with “permanent salary and benefits including a retirement plan”. The misuse of 1 Tim 5: 17-18 in this respect is a case of taking our cultural understanding of the clerical system and forcing it onto the text. We culturally expect that ministers will have a certain minimum level of education, have a certain skill set and will work full-time for a local church and be compensated for it. Because that tradition is so entrenched, with over 1500 years of history, it is easy to read that expectation into 1 Timothy 5: 17-18.

It is interesting that Wilson points out that Paul is referencing Luke 10:7 and he presumes that in doing so he is supporting his assumption that we of course should pay ministers. As Lee Corso might say: Not so fast my friend. What is the context of Paul’s quote of Luke 10:7? Well, what does the passage say? Let me show ya something:

And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. (Luke 10:7)

What are the wages these laborers expect? To stay in a home and eat and drink what is provided. Um. Where is the salary and benefits package here? This is something that any Christian traveling about and preaching the Gospel should expect, the hospitality of the home of fellow believers. Our assembly in East Lansing typically welcomed visiting teachers with a meal at the chapel or in someone’s home, something perfectly understandable and acceptable. I assume we also gave them a financial gift to help defray the cost of traveling. Also perfectly understandable and Biblical. The men who live and gather with this assembly week after week? They don’t get paid because they don’t need to be, we all have jobs. We serve and teach out of love for our Savior, not an expectation of pay.

Second, Paul is the author here and in many places takes great pains to point out that he did not typically receive financial support from the church and certainly he never received support in the form of a permanent salary. It seems odd to turn to Paul to support the paying of clergy when Paul himself eschewed that support and wrote multiple times and in multiple places to point out that he worked a “real” job for a living.

Third, being an elder in a first century church when this was written is not equivalent to the professional clergy we traditionally understand. Paul was not a pastor of a local church, he was an apostle and an itinerant minister. Timothy was the same, an assistant to Paul and someone who traveled all over the place. It is disingenuous to use Paul and Timothy as support for our traditional clerical system.

So the first article doesn’t even try to defend the system beyond a perfunctory assumed statement and the rest of the series assumes that you bought into this assumption. In the second and third articles, Shepherds Who Feed Only Themselves and Shortchanging for Jesus, Wilson deals with the problem of men who are looking for an easy way out, becoming a pastor so they can spend most of their week hiding in their offices and reading books & blogs. I didn’t actually think this is as big a problem as Wilson makes it seem although he does make a strong point that the Bible warns about there being many men who are merely hirelings (referencing 2 Cor 2:17):

Paul says here that many are gospel-mongers, and we have no reason to believe that the number has diminished since Paul’s day.

That is a valid point. Why should I assume that something that was problematic in Paul’s day, i.e. Gospel peddlers, wouldn’t be actually worse today when Gospel peddling hirelings who are in it for the money can actually get a nice salary and be culturally respected, a world of difference from the difficult days of the first century. If there were many gospel-mongers back then, there are certainly many today. I have only met a few but they are clearly out there.

In the fourth article, Actually Count the Shekels,Wilson tackles the question of how much is enough and the numbers he bandies about are stunning. Here is one example:

Say that you are looking to call a minister with an M.Div. He is 30-years-old, and has 4 kids. That’s not an unusual set-up. His level of responsibility is that he being called to be an assistant pastor. His wife is a homemaker. Suppose you are not in a place like California, where housing prices are ridiculous. Within just a couple years, all his kids will be in school. If he were given a base line salary of 65K, just the private school tuition alone will have his family living on 49K. His wife is not working outside the home, and they are living in a community where husbands and wives making an average of 35K each create a household bringing in 70K. Those are the households which shape the cost of living in that community.

Wow. Apparently $70,000 for a thirty year old minister is what he is hinting at. Really? To make that sort of money in the private sector requires either a superstar worker or a professional advanced degree, something like accounting or law or actuarial science. I wasn’t making $70,000 when I was thirty and I work in the exciting world of finance. I don’t know of many 30 year olds who do make that sort of money. Keep in mind a couple of assumptions here. The first is that he is an assistant pastor. If the 30 year old assistant pastor is being discussed with a salary of $70,000, what is the 55 year old “senior” pastor making? $100,000? $150,000? Second, Wilson assumes that this young man should make the equivalent of two individual salaries at $35,000 each. Well, I work outside of the home and my wife cares for my kids. We have to live on my salary but a 30 year old assistant minister should be paid the average salary of two wage earners because it is unseemly for his wife to work? Apparently it is countr-cultural to pay an assistant minister enough so that his wife is not tempted to work outside of the hone and so that they can send their kids to private school. The poor working slob in the pew? Well if your wife has to work and you have to either homeschool your kids or send them to public school, sucks to be you. You shoulda gone to seminary dude!

This is what you are supposed to take to your church, that somehow they are being unfaithful if they don’t pay a minister a hefty salary while the people in the church struggle along at the prevailing wage. It is great that the assistant pastor is compensated so that he can send his four kids to private school but what about the families who have a plate shoved in front of them every week who cannot afford it? Hey Mr. Thirty Year Old Assistant Pastor. If you want to send your kids to private school, get a job and pay for it yourself. Don’t demand that the struggling families and widows and single moms in the pew pay for it. What Wilson is describing is not "double honor" for elders, it is an elitist mentality of an exalted professional clergy that is perfectly within their rights to expect the church to fund their lifestyle.

So here is the “BIG PROBLEM”. Doug Wilson does a four part, very well thought out, series on ministerial compensation without ever seriously addressing the first question you need to ask before any discussion of this sort: should elders/pastors/ministers be paid to serve in the church? If you skip that question by assuming the answer, you really are wasting your time because you are answering questions without having established your underlying position, i.e. that pastors indeed should be paid. That leads you to the absolutely staggering discussion of how much is enough that paints a picture of ministers getting paid well above the prevailing wage. For all of the talk about ministers not being professionals, it seems that we should look to professionals with graduate degrees to determine just how we should “honor” our elders.

I am all for honoring elders, I just reject the traditional notion that is unsupported from Scripture that honoring elders requires paying them a salary so they don’t have to work a “real” job. I had hoped for a better argument from Doug Wilson but what I got was a series of articles based on a flawed and unsupported tradition.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Celebrating Immanuel

It is going to be a weird Christmas in our family. It is looking like we are going to spend the long Christmas holiday weekend (ooh, I said "holiday" in conjunction with Christmas!) moving our household from our rental house to our new home. That might seem to be a pretty cruddy way of spending Christmas-time as a family. Our poor kids are going to "miss Christmas" this year.

On the other hand...

This year we are as a family moving from a house to a home, a place that God willing will be our home for many, many years. A home where we put down roots and reach out to others. A place of security and refuge for our children, a place where they can always come. Ten years from now that bauble under a tree will likely be forgotten but a home? That is something to remember. I am not willing to go into much detail but it is an incredible act of providence that we are in a position to buy this home and I cannot express how thankful we are. When I look back at "Christmas 2010" I will remember it as a time when I was able to provide a permanent home for my family, a home where someday I hope to welcome back on a regular basis my grandchildren and my children and their spouses.

That doesn't change the fact that the traditional Christmas is not going to happen this year. Christmas is a big deal in our culture and it is especially so to children and ours are no different. I am finding myself rethinking the whole thing. It is not merely the materialism it promotes (although that is terrible and blasphemous), it is the general crassness of the way the church deals with the advent of God coming in the flesh. The miraculous birth of Jesus Christ reduced to a religious tradition. Sure we sing songs that mention Him and read the appropriate pages of Scripture and even put little images of Him in a manger surrounded by our culturally formed vision of what this whole event looks like but I am just finding that the whole tradition cheapens the celebration of Immanuel, "God with us". Even our self-righteous indignation over secular legal constructs that are profit driven instructing their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is pure silliness and vanity, as if Christ is glorified because a senior citizen who is working as a greeter at Wal-Mart says "Merry Christmas" to shoppers flocking to a store to spend money on stuff. I can think of few things more foolish than so called ministers parading themselves on TV, all puffed up in their self-righteousness because a bank takes down a Christmas tree from their lobby. We are not called to be footsoldiers in the "War on Christmas", we are called to be Gospel minsters in the war for the souls of men. We need to take our cues from Paul, not Bill O'Reilly.

Maybe it isn't really a bad thing to "skip" Christmas this year. There are plenty of good reasons to do so as Christians (see Becky Lynn Black on Why We No Longer Celebrate Christmas and Christmas: Going On From Here) and virtually no good reasons to celebrate a cultural tradition that has little to do with the coming of the Messiah and that is a comfortable annual ritual shared among believers, unbelievers and heretics alike. In the years to come perhaps we can focus on serving others in this time of the year and celebrate the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ every day instead of once a year (and celebrate His resurrection every day instead of the weekend He has to share with the Easter Bunny). Our kids have so much that we literally are giving stuff away and yet society tells us they need more, they need new, they need better. Is that the message we really should be participating in as Christian parents?

This may not sit well with some (many?) and it is not my intent to condemn anyone who does or does not celebrate Christmas. It is just something I have been contemplating and it is something that we place so much emphasis on in the church and seem to give little thought to. We are so wrapped up in the "how" of our Christmas celebration that we seemed to have skipped the "why" or "if" of the matter and that is never OK. I am not sure where this is going, perhaps I will sleep on it and decide it is overblown. Perhaps I will sleep on it and think it through and come to the conclusion that like so many good things, we have taken what God has given and adapted it to the world.

What do you think?

Another vote in favor of Why Four Gospels?

Comes from Richard Barcellos at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies, Why Four Gospels?

Be prepared, I hold to the compositional priority of Matthew, thanks to David Alan Black and various early fathers of the church. :-)

Each Gospel served a practical, evangelistic need connected to an Apostle at the time in which it was written. As the message of the Gospel went from Jerusalem finally to Europe, practical needs arose that necessitated authoritative, apostolic commentary. Here’s a theory about how and why each gospel came about.

In Praise of Orthodoxy and Community

Most of what I have written about over the last few years has focused on the church, the purpose and form of the gathering, what the Bible means when it talks about the church, how we live as a community and adoptive family with one another while loving, edifying and exhorting each other, etc. This has been a marked change from the years prior. My blogging prior to 2009 is heavily weighted toward discussions of what we more typically associate with theology and doctrine: soteriology, baptism, eschatology, etc. I loved reading about, listening to talks about and blogging about theology. Like many Christians I “assumed” the church, figuring that we needed to look no farther than Calvin’s Geneva to see what the church should look like and that there were no problems in the church that more theologically sound expository preaching wouldn’t fix. Since around 2009 my “deep theology” content has been drastically reduced, both in what I am reading and what I have been writing although I think that ecclesiology is every bit as rich a topic as anything else we study.

That doesn’t mean I have lost my zeal for Biblical orthodoxy. Not at all. In fact I would say I am even more attuned to the need in the church for a greater understanding of Scripture especially as it relates to how the Scriptures fit seamlessly together. As an example, the truth of “all who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be saved” is a summary of the doctrine of justification by faith alone which cannot be properly understood outside of an examination of the differences between the Old and New Covenants which all are part of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of an elect nation consisting of both Jews and Gentiles foreordained before the beginning of time. I am afraid that many Christians, whether in a traditional church or a more organic model of church, never get past the “believe and be saved” stage of theology and the church has suffered because of it.

There is a very serious need for balance among the various doctrines of the faith. It can be easy to overemphasize certain doctrines at the expense of others. The doctrines of grace are magnificent but if your study of these doctrines means that you deemphasize the responsibility of Christians to ministry to the material needs of “the least of these”, your growth and ministry as a Christian will be stunted. Similarly, one can get so enamored of organic church meetings that intensive study of major theological topics can be missed. An organic meeting of the church in a home where the people in attendance don’t understand the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ is dangerous and fertile ground for false teachers (keeping in mind that the presence of a church building and a professional pastor with the “proper” ordination and education is no guarantee of orthodoxy!).

Solid grounding in the great theological truths of our faith and genuine community and fellowship among believers are not enemies. In fact, without both being present the church is naturally weaker. The evidence all around us bears that out. Cold and sterile academic orthodoxy coupled with ritualistic “fellowship” is spiritually crippled as is warm and loving fellowship among believers who cannot discern the core essentials of the faith. I love doctrine and theology. I have no interest in a gathering of the church where the big topics are never wrestled with and studied, where there is lots of talk about loving Jesus with no concept of who He is. I also love the people of God and have no interest in a sterile meeting where a theologically precise monologue is the spiritual highlight of the week and where we love the dead theological giants of yesteryear more than the widow and the orphan in our neighborhood. My desire is to see my brothers and sisters in Christ develop a love for theology and develop a love for one another, that we seek in Scriptures what it has to say about God, about man, about Christ and that we do so in a Scripturally sound community of faith as the adoptive family of God.

Theology and community are not enemies and only the Enemy benefits when we treat them as if they are.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The little things make me happy

I have pretty much sworn off buying books. Between free books I get to review, books I already own that I haven't read and the library, I can't justify spending a bunch of money on books. The only time I purchase anything these days is when I get an Amazon gift card from my debit card rewards. Just so happens I just got my latest $25 card so I redeemed it this morning. You need to understand that as of this morning I have several hundred books in my wishlist and over 50 books "saved for later" in my cart. So when I get a gift card my goal is to buy a combination of books that get me as close to $25 without going over by very much as possible. So this morning I bought two books and the total was $25.77, so out of pocket I only spent $.77 and I got free shipping as well. That makes me inordinately giddy. I ordered Carl Trueman's book Republocrat, his look at political issues in the American church from the outlook of a European. It sounds like he challenges some of the conservative orthodoxy we assume in America as believers. The other book I ordered was one I have had my eye on for a long time, William Estep's The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, a popular survey of Anabaptist history. So I am looking forward to these books, plus I am having them shipped to our new house which is pretty exciting.

Like I said, it is the little stuff that makes me happy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

If you are interested

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the proposed Ark Encounter that is being built by Answers in Genesis as a Noah's Ark themed amusement park/tourist attraction. The whole effort is creating something of a stir because Kentucky is offering some substantial tax breaks to the project, which has some crying foul over church-state issues. I understand why Kentucky is interested in giving them tax breaks as this park promises to draw large crowds who will bring lots of tourism money to northern Kentucky and likely keep people visiting the Creation Museum in the state a few days longer. It is an interesting article if you have a few spare minutes.

Update on the transition

Things are coming along nicely. We are quickly getting near a closing date on our new house and that is pretty exciting. We have lots of stuff to move and really want to get it out before the end of the month. With my trip to Haiti coming up very soon, getting settled in as best we can as soon as we can is going to be crucial.

Speaking of Haiti, I am headed to see a doctor today to get a pre-Haiti check-up. It is later than I should have scheduled it but that is just how it worked out. I am expecting that I will need a Hepatitis A & B immunization since I didn’t get one as a child and I also need a prescription for anti-malaria medication. Hopefully things will calm down in Haiti soon so we can go ahead with our flight into the country, it is a bit worrisome that the rescheduled election are set at right about the same time as our trip and close on the heels of the one year anniversary of the earthquake. It has been a pretty tough twelve months, even by Haitian standards, with the earthquake, cholera outbreak and political unrest.

As I mentioned, I have been in touch with some folks meeting after the New Testament pattern in Fort Wayne and I am greatly encouraged by that. It is going to take a lot of patience because starting a fellowship in our home, especially as remote as we are going to be, is going to take time and be full of setbacks and ups-and-downs. We are just going to trust in God’s direction and see what happens.

Looking forward to a nice weekend at home, although a busy one to be sure. Until we get a closing date there is going to be a great deal of uncertainty hanging over us. Will we close on Tuesday? Thursday? After Christmas weekend (which would be bad)? Moving ten plus beds, ten plus dressers, appliances, a gun safe, a whole pile of computers, a 90 gallon aquarium plus several smaller ones, box upon box of books, a bunch of rabbits, several pigeons, four cats and a puppy is no mean task. Here’s hoping we don’t leave any kids behind!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Embracing the unexpected

I had a great evening tonight with a brother in Christ, Kevin Abbott, one of the elders of a network of home fellowships in Fort Wayne with the simple name Neighbors. We spent a couple of hours at the local Starbucks talking and talking. It was very edifying and I am looking forward to getting to know Kevin better and learning from nis experience with a simpler form of the church gathering. During our conversation, something we talked about really struck me.

Being a Christian is inherently full of the unexpected.

When the disciples asked Jesus questions, they almost always got an unexpected answer. When He was confronted with different situations, His response was unpredictable. They certainly weren't expecting to find an empty tomb that glorious morning. The movement of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was certainly not expected. The Bible is full of events that are unexpected, gloriously so.

Here is the problem. We don't like the unexpected, the unpredictable. It makes us nervous and uncomfortable. Nowhere is this more true than in the church. We like our church safe and predictable and certainly don't want anything crazy or unexpected to happen.

I think that is why meeting outside of the comfortable confines of institutional Christianity is so scary for people. It is unexpected. When you "go to church" in a traditional setting, you know what to expect. Go to almost any evangelical church in America this weekend and you can be reasonably confident of what to expect, what will happen and even what time it will occur. Open your home up, without the benefit of the structure that surround a traditional church and who knows what might happen. It can be scary for sure! I think we can do with a little less predictability in the church. Perhaps when we try to control things too much, we limit the ways we can minister to each other. The church should be unpredictable without being chaotic, unexpected without being out of control. Instead of fearing the unexpected, maybe we should embrace it!

I am looking forward to seeing what God is going to do with us in the years to come, even if it is unexpected and often kind of scary.

The Colonel versus PETA

Game, set, match...Colonel Sanders.

So about those animal sacrifices in the Old Testament

I should have known better than to click on a link that a) led to the webpage of the left wing rag The Huffington Post, b) was written by Bruce Friedrich, a Vice-President of PETA and c) carries this catchy title: An Advent Reflection on God and Animal Cruelty

Because of course the Advent season is all about ending "animal cruelty", i.e. eating animals.

Yeah and it actually was nuttier than I expected. Given that the author is from PETA, that is to be expected. Check this out and pay close attention to the last sentence:

All the questions that are put forth in favor of eating animals (e.g., "Didn't God put animals here for our use?" and "What about animal sacrifice in the Bible?" and "What about the loaves and the fishes?") don't address the fundamental fact that eating God's creatures causes needless suffering. None of the common rationalizations address the points I've discussed above. None of them respond to the fact that today, eating God's creatures is inextricably linked to their abuse. If you are eating meat, you're paying others to deny God's animals their natures, and to abuse them. Even the very few organic and small farms abuse animals in ways that would be illegal if done to dogs or cats.

So the issue here is not "factory farming", it is the consumption of animals for any reason. Even small scale farming is not OK. I like his tactic of throwing out the very legitimate questions people might have, like Jesus eating fish on many occasions, God commanding animals to be slaughtered in the Old Testament and God giving animals to man to use for food (Genesis 9:3). Right after the Fall, God provided animals skins for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) (and you can be sure that the animals who gave up their skins died first). Then he claims that none of those objections, which clearly show his argument to be false on its face, are legitimate and none of them address his contentions, which they do, while making no attempt to even pretend to address the issues that he himself raised. I imagine that the average reader of the Huffington Post will not notice that he points out the very facts that undermine his argument and refuses to address them.

I expect foolishness from PETA but this is both kooky and incredibly bad theology all wrapped into one. In honor of this silliness I am going to get me a bucket of KFC or something similar tonight for dinner and praise God for His providence in providing yummy animals for our sustenance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I guess I already knew this

It still is hard to believe. With somewhere around 750,000 orphans in Haiti and an essentially completely dysfunctional social structure, you would think that the government would be eager to see international couples adopt these children. Unfortunately Haiti has some pretty strict rules regarding adoption. According to this post from Bethany Christian Services Haiti blog, these are the basic requirements for adopting a child from Haiti...

Applicant requirements are:

-at least one applicant must be at least age 35 years (singles must be at least age 35)
-must be married at least 10 years (for couples)
-have no children

So at least one parent needs to have been married at 25 and stayed married for ten years to reach the age 35 barrier and have no children. By contrast, Russia has no limits on the number of years of marriage and as far as age of the parents: There must be no more than 45 years between the ages of the parent and child. That makes sense, it might not be a good idea for someone who is 50 to adopt an infant.

That is a big reason why the Haiti Orphan Project is so important. In some ways, adoption is the easy way for Haitian orphans. They are removed from Haiti and get loving homes in America but for every child adopted (and adoption is something I would encourage you to consider), there are perhaps hundreds left behind. With the very strict rules regarding adoption, adopting children from Haiti is awfully difficult and that consigns hundreds of thousands of orphans to a bleak future. The Haiti Orphan Project seeks to give these kids a chance to grow up healthy and well educated and hopefully these kids will live in Haiti and be a force for change in this island nation that has spent the last 200 years in nearly constant turmoil.

Caring for the least of these and especially the fatherless is a Gospel priority. As you prepare for Christmas only a week and a half away and your children eagerly await the presents under the tree, think about these children who will not only not have presents under a tree, they don't have parents to care for them. Instead of buying another theology book or giving money to a radio ministry, please prayerfully consider helping these orphans with a donation to the Haiti Orphan Project or another Christian group that ministers to the fatherless around the world.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. (Isa 1:16-17)

Losing sight of the least of these

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)

It is hard for me to understand exactly what is going on in the culture of the New Testament events. I was born in America in the heyday of the Era of Big Government. I was born into a nation where the New Deal and the Great Society were already in place, where the safety net of government assistance was already in place and I grew up in a nation where those major economic security policies (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, welfare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, public housing) have never been seriously questioned or challenged. So the idea of a society with no social safety net is hard to imagine. We have poor people in America and we have homeless people but we also have a vast network of governmental and private, non-profit agencies that seek to assist them. The poor widow, the abandoned orphan in the first century had no such support, no case workers, no assistance from the government. Even in our comfortable and secure society, there are still plenty of people who are in need all around us. We are called to take the love of Christ to them, in Word yes, but in deed also. Somehow that priority doesn't seem to have the appropriate urgency, our priorities as the church seem somewhat at odds with what Jesus said were His priorities.

We go to conferences with the best speakers to soak up their wisdom (and perhaps bask in their celebrity). We work to control and impact the centers of influence: political leaders who beg us for votes and promise us a return to “traditional American values” in return, business leaders who don’t dare cross us by having employees say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, legal defense funds to argue before the secular courts of the lands to defend our “rights”. We go to seminars and read books about “financial freedom” when we already know what the Bible teaches about money:

7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
(Proverbs 30: 7-9)

That seems pretty simple. Our desire should be for our daily bread, we should pray that we have enough to not be tempted to steal for our food and not have so much that we start to think that we have supplanted God by our success. The blessing of contentment, while contrary to the American dream of “more and better”, is far too rare. I don’t need a book or seminar to tell me that, God already made that abundantly clear.

Jesus seemed particularly disinterested in the powers that be, the centers of influence that run society. He spent time among those on the fringe: lepers, the blind, the diseased. He wasn’t very interested in the powerful except to rebuke them for their unfaithfulness and pride. His concern was for the least of these. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus gives us a vivid depiction of the sort of righteousness that will mark His elect: care for the hungry, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner. Winning the culture wars weren’t on His proverbial radar. He didn’t seem to have any interest in building up local churches to compete for resources and members with other local churches. Seeing His people achieve financial security and independence wasn’t high on the priority list. Christ and His disciples alike are recorded as being deeply concerned with the proclamation of the Gospel and caring for those in need, the widow and the orphan, the poor in general.

All of that brings me back to the original thought. Why have we lost this vision that seems so clear in Scripture? Did we ever really have it in the first place? In place of Kingdom work, defined as preaching the Gospel to the lost (not sermonizing the saved) and caring for the poor, we have our own kingdom building. In place of “On this rock I will build my church”, we have “In this building we will build our church”. It seems the more complicated and involved we make our local church groups, the more myopic we become. The world out there becomes blurry because we are so concerned with events in our church: conferences, programs, pot luck dinners, seasonal celebrations, budgets and business meetings. It is not difficult to get so caught up in the week to week functioning of your local church that you forget to look around and see the needs of the least among us. Not every church group is like this, some churches have a real focus on the needs in their community. In fact the smaller and less complex the gathering, the more likely it seems that a heart for the least among us will be found. This is yet another reason that, all else being equal, the simpler the church gathering, the better. It is far too easy for the local church to lose sight of our priorities when the local church itself becomes our main priority. We are not called to serve and support the local church, the local church is only useful insofar as it aids us in serving and supporting others.

Does your local gathering of the church have the heart of Christ for the least among us? Before you answer that, take a look at your church budget. What percentage of it goes to programs, building debt and maintenance, clerical salaries, denomination hierarchies? 50%? 75%? I don’t have a firm figure in mind, but if you are spending half of the money you collect to keep the doors open, the lights on and the preacher preaching I have to ask if you have the same heart for the least among us that Jesus has. Every line item, every penny in a budget needs to be held up to discernment and the question must be asked. Is this a priority that Jesus would share? An honest assessment may surprise and disturb you.

Jesus Christ had a heart for the least among us. So did Paul and all of the apostles. So did the first Christians. We need to recover that heart in our day and to get our priorities in order. If we don’t we will find ourselves under the same condemnation of the religious people of the first century.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Survey sez

Two interesting surveys I want to point out to you.

First comes from research conducted by Lifeway and Ed Stetzer that was featured in a USA Today article, More Protestant churches feel economic pain. From the article:

The recession is dipping into church collection plates.

A growing number of Protestant congregations have seen their Sunday collections drop this year, according to a survey by LifeWay Research on the economic health of churches. Pastors blame high unemployment and a drop-off in giving by members.

To make ends meet, churches have laid off staff and frozen salaries, put off major capital projects and cut back on programs. At the same time, more of their congregation members and neighbors are asking for help with basic needs like paying the rent and buying groceries, the study found.

Notice what pastors don't blame: Fixed costs that cripple the ministry of local churches, including their own salaries. I made this comment on Ed Stetzers blog:

Frankly much of this is the sign of a self-inflicted wound. Churches have ensnared themselves with fixed costs, primarily the cost of vocational clerical salaries and benefits and the costs purchasing and maintaining buildings that sit empty most of the week. Handcuffed by these fixed expenses churches are crippled when giving is down, meaning less money is available to care for those who are most in need and for spreading the Gospel. A budget crunch means the local church becomes obsessed with sustaining itself, a problem gatherings of the church without clergy and buildings are not faced with.

Times of economic stress should be times for increased ministry, not times to batten down the hatches and turn inward. The mindset that local churches are like Egypt under the administration of Joseph where we save in the "fat years" to maintain our local church fiefdom in the "lean years" is lightyears removed from Biblical stewardship.

The other survey is from Barna and looks at major trends in the church: Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010. A couple of items on this list grabbed my attention:

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults.


2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago.

and the third...

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people.

Those are troubling. If Barna is right, the church is becoming less literate of the basic truths of the faith, turning inward and losing any influence on the world. A church that doesn't know what it believes, doesn't leave its buildings and is indistinguishable from the world is many things but it is not even a pale shadow of the church that the Bible describes. Fixing one of these would be great but not enough. A Christian group chock full of knowledge but lacking any sense of urgency for evangelism and service is merely puffed up with knowledge and pride (and there are plenty of those already). An eager group of young Christians who want to serve their neighbor but have no idea what the Gospel is might just do more harm than good (and there are also plenty of these!).

Stuff like this would depress the heck out of me if I wasn't unshakably convicted of God's sovereignty. I am quite comfortable that God will accomplish His purposes and more convinced each day that He is and will do so outside of the religious traditions we associate with Christianity.

Dave Black is making a list and checking it twice

Not a naughty/nice list (as a Calvinist I put everyone on the naughty list) but a list of ten things he encourages new seminary graduates to focus on. I think it is a pretty good list.

• Make love the rule.
• Never compromise basic Christian doctrine.
• Don't divide over pet beliefs.
• Let God break your heart with the things that break His.
• With every activity, purchase, or relationship ask, Does this help to build the kingdom and fulfill the Great Commission?
• Make intercessory prayer a daily priority.
• Accept being a nobody for Jesus.
• Remember that all positions and titles are irrelevant.
• Escape the frenzied "earn and spend" syndrome that drives our culture.
• Do something in the great task of world evangelization.

Well that list seems pretty obvious. Maybe not. I can tell you I fail at this all the time. In fact I don’t see one thing on this list that I have done very well and there are some common sense but difficult things Dr. Black lists. What do you mean examine every single purchase or activity or relationship? It is my money/time, don't judge me! Don’t divide over pet beliefs? Doesn’t he know that pre/post/amillenialism is wrong, how can I be in fellowship with someone who is wrong about something?! I think it might be more accurate to say that this list seems commonsense when we apply it to other people, They should be more loving, they should pray more, they should do more for world evangelism. It is not as obvious where we fall short when we apply that list to ourselves and it is a lot more uncomfortable.

So yeah, it is a short, simple list but I am 100% confident that if we applied these admonitions to ourselves more faithfully, everyone in the Church, the impact of believers on the world would increase immeasurably.

What would you add to this list?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is worship?

Alan Knox made this comment in response to a previous post:

And if you don't think that working to support yourself and your family and others is worship, then you don't understand what Scripture says about worship.

What?! You mean worship isn't a specially controlled and scheduled activity, something we do on Sunday morning that mostly involved us watching someone else? In fact working to support our families and to minister to the needs of others is every bit as much an act of worship as "going to church"?!

Hmmm, that is a bold claim. What does Scripture say?

I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Act 20:33-36)

So Paul sees working and giving as acts of worship and makes no mention of doing so by donating to the church general fund. Well what does Jesus say?

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24)

So worship is not based on where we go but the Spirit and Truth we do it in. So we can worship anywhere, anytime and not just here or there. How did we get so far from Scripture that we have decreed certain buildings as holy space, certain men as holy men, certain times as holy hours and seasons? A lot has to do with the error of going back to the Old Testament to find how the New Covenant church should worship. I have seen (and have done this myself) Christians referencing a famous event in the Old Testament that is supposed to speak to Christian worship, the strange fire offered by Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1-3)

Under the Old Covenant, we saw lots of specifics on how to worship and where to worship and those specifics were quite clear and had serious consequences if you flaunted or ignored them.

So why can't we use Nadab and Abihu and the prescriptions of the Old Testament to order the New Testament church? Because under the New Covenant the focus is on who we are worshiping and pretty thin on specifics of how to worship Him. The rules and very specific ceremonies of the Old Testament were types and shadows of the infinitely better to come. The Scriptures are mostly silent on the specifics of Christian worship not so that we can turn back to types and shadows but because the focus is not on doing specific acts in a proscribed way. Instead of being confused by that, we should rejoice that we have so many ways to show our worship of Jesus Christ to our unbelieving friends, neighbors and family.

So we didn't go to a building to "worship" Jesus this morning. I did go next door and cleared my neighbors driveway with my snowblower since her snowblower isn't working. I have to think that being the hands and feet of Jesus is at least and perhaps more a legitimate demonstration of worship than "going to church" to watch someone else perform acts of holy tradition. I don't write that to say "Look at how pious and holy I am! You should be more like me!" because I know all too well how rarely I act in a way that is worshipful and faithful. My point is that when you limit worship to specific acts in a specific building at a specific time, you limit the real joy of worshiping Christ and making your whole life an act of worship instead of dividing our lives into "church time" and "my time".

The Scriptures don't limit our worship to holy times and places and neither should we.

Believing Bible stories instead of believing the Bible

My wife and I were talking about the prior post, the "If you won't venture out in the snow to go to church, you don't love Jesus" tweet. She pointed out that this is a perfect example of how Protestants are like Roman Catholics in many ways. We believe Bible stories, i.e. the interpretation someone else has told us in Sunday school or a sermon, instead of what the Bible actually says.

Here is a perfect example. When I threw out the challenge "Show me one place in Scripture where Christians gathered to listen to a sermon", I got back the predictable response of Acts 20: 7-11. The Bible story we are taught to believe is that Acts 20: 7-11 describes an event where Paul preached a really long sermon to people who silently listened and then one guy fell asleep, fell from a window, was revived by Paul even though he seemed dead and then they all went and listened to Paul preaching a sermon even longer. John Gill's commentary even says that they had lots of lamps for the purpose of providing sufficient light for the preacher to read and "administer the ordinance of the supper", as if what was going on was indistinguishable from a traditional church service. Heck, it was likely that Paul was wearing vestments while serving the sacraments from a table with "Do This In Remembrance Of Me" carved in the front! This Bible story makes for a cute sermon illustration and is guaranteed to get a chuckle from the audience.

The reality in the text is completely different. Here is the pertinent text:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him." And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. (Act 20:7-11)

So what we have here is Paul, gathering with other Christians in a house and without the benefit of pew or pulpit. First, what is the purpose of the gathering? To listen to Paul deliver a sermon? Nope, they "gathered together to break bread". It was the meal that was the driving factor for gathering. While they were gathered, Paul "talked with them" and after Eutychus was revived we read that Paul "conversed with them a long while", until the morning. If you read that through the lens of Western cultural Christianity and base your understanding of this passage on the Bible story you have heard (and be honest, we have all heard this used in a sermon), what is happening here is that Paul preached from early evening to the next morning. What Scripture teaches us is that Paul talked with the other Christians who were gathered to break bread. Certainly he was leading the conversation but everything about it indicates that this was not a sermon or "preaching", it was a conversation among believers. When you look at what Scripture has to say, it becomes apparent that this event is not a cute story about sermonizing in the early church, it is just the opposite. The church gathered together to break bread in a home and during that time they talked with one another all night. It was a time of close and extended fellowship and a time of mutual edification. It is nothing like the Bible story that tells us we should not complain about long-winded sermons because Paul preached a sermon all night once.

When we replace studying the Scriptures with memorizing Bible stories, we often lose the original intent of what was written. We shouldn't read the Scriptures with an eye toward confirming our traditional Bible stories, we should let the Scriptures speak for themselves even when that makes us uncomfortable and shakes up our understanding of the church and of doctrines.

Worship by driving

So in the midst of the snowstorm that is hitting the Midwest, I saw this tweet from Russell Moore:

If you'll leave home in the snow to earn your paycheck, but not to worship your Christ, then at least you can see who your god is.

The implication being that unless you get up this morning, get dressed up, bundle your family up and leave your house, you aren't worshiping.

It implies that the only proper way to worship Jesus requires that you leave your home to go to an arbitrarily declared sacred space on a specially designated day to hear a holy man deliver a prepared talk for an hour before you head to Cracker Barrel for lunch.

That idea of showing your faithfulness by getting in a car to go somewhere is sweet sounding to our culturally conditioned ears but does it fit with Scripture?

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. (Rom 16:3-5, see also 1 Cor 16:19)

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (Col 4:15)

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:1-3)

So apparently Prisca and Aquila, Nympha and Philemon didn't leave their house to "worship" because the church gathered in their home for fellowship. Paul seems to praise this, not condemn them for lacking the fortitude to "go to church". Does that mean that you have to meet in your house or at least someone's house to properly worship? Not at all but it does mean that you can't label one gathering "Christ worship" and another "Mammon worship" based on the kind of building you meet in.

It is snowing pretty hard here in Michigan and the roads are pretty slick. I am not going to load my children into our huge van just so I can demonstrate my commitment to Christ. I should hope that no Christian feels obligated to drive in risky road conditions (or even perfect driving conditions) to some building so that they can prove how pious and dedicated to Jesus Christ they are. I will gather my family around me today and open the Word of God and pray with them. I am quite sure that Paul, Timothy and the other original Christians would recognize that as worship and have no idea what is going on amidst the theater and showmanship that passes for "worship" in the traditional church culture.