Saturday, July 31, 2010

Best of the week entry 3

I am happy that Dave Black is back safely from Ethiopia and I got a kick out of this video. Imagine how much more ground Paul could have covered if he traveled on the back of a motor bike!

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Burk Parsons and deals with the strength that Christians find in weakness....

Whatever doesn’t kill us, by God’s grace, makes us weaker in our self-dependence and more dependent on the strength of God. And this is all through the One who endured the trial of the Cross so that we might regain life dependent. By His grace we remain utterly dependent as we live justified from faith to faith at the foot of the Cross taking up our own crosses daily and dependently. As it is written, the righteous shall live by faith in God, not faith in self.

Check out Strength Depending on Weakness

Best of the week entry 1

Great editorial from Al Mohler on interfaith marriage, an issue that is a hot button for me: Marry Outside the Faith? The Logic of Christian Marriage

I especially appreciated this:

For Christians, the issue is not settled by sociological data, however. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the Apostle Paul commands that Christians must “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” This command reaches far beyond marriage, but it certainly includes the covenant of marriage within its span. Paul’s principle is clear: The Christian’s commitment to Christ is determinative of his or her other commitments. A believer must not marry an unbeliever, for this violates the very logic of the Gospel and the believer’s union with Christ.

Many people reference 2 Cor 6:14 as a marriage passage but as Dr. Mohler points out it goes far beyond juts marriage while certainly being perfectly applicable to marriage. The idea of marrying other believers is so important for parents to impart to their kids. If your child is a believer, they simply must marry another believer. That may mean having to be patient and wait for a believing spouse but the record and more importantly the Word of God speak to this as a non-negotiable issue.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Church Planting, Missions and House Churches

Collin Hansen, writing for the Gospel Coalition blog, takes a look at (and a few less than subtle shots at) the house church movement: At Home in a House Church. I will say Collin is more even-handed than many people in the conservative camp when it comes to house/simple/organic church groups. It is a tough topic to write about because people in non-traditional settings are found in an enormously broad spectrum, ranging from Brethren style chapels to strict house church groups.

The tone was pretty typical. Sure, the house church looks and acts a lot more like the first century church than the traditional church but what about the downside?

Sometimes, though, spiritual democracy can veer into anti-intellectualism. If God speaks directly to all of us, then maybe we don’t need any teachers at all. We don’t need to depend on anyone else, so we don’t need to study, either. Further education, such as seminary, supposedly becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Unfortunately, some house churches appeal to Christians who hold these views, too.

We’re all familiar with the dangers of education that privileges scholarly approval over the Word’s clear teaching. But we must also beware the sort of rebellion against authority that forsakes the teaching office altogether. This privilege and responsibility finds its warrant in the Scriptures themselves. The apostle Paul wrote about elders, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it,” (Tit. 1:9). Again in Titus 2:1 he writes, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” And in Titus 2:15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

At their best, house churches recall the dynamic fellowship of the early church, exemplified in Acts 2:42-27. Let us not forget, then, that Luke’s beautiful description begins with believers devoting themselves to the apostles’ authoritative teaching.

As if traditional churches are bastions of orthodoxy and community and servant-leaders. It is a common charge, and a false one by and large, that people who eschew the traditional, institutional church are: anti-intellectual, anti-authority, anti-church. Perhaps the real issue is that we are: anti-prideful intellectualism, anti-hierarchy and anti-religiosity.

This comment from one reader really struck me:

America is actually behind the curve on this issue, since Africa, Asia, China and Eastern Europe are seeing an explosion in house churches. As I read just yesterday from a missionary in Ukraine — “In this part of the world, many Christian leaders are realizing that their countries will never be reached if starting churches requires buildings, professionally run programs, and full-time pastors.”

Are we able to see missions work outside of the idea of creating church institutions? I often hear prayers offered that building and zoning commissions will permit the construction of a church building in some far away land. Is that what we should be praying for? At the risk of being inflammatory, are we more concerned with replicating American church culture than we are with spreading the Gospel? Is that perhaps because we don’t see the difference between the America church culture and the Gospel?

In many countries, the church simply never will look like the church in America and that is not only OK, I think it is a good thing. In many ways I firmly believe that the American church culture has been a great hindrance to the Gospel witness instead of a major force for spreading the Word.

House churches scare the heck out of defenders of traditional Christianity and frankly they should. By and large, the people I know who are “house church” or simple church or organic church, whatever name you use, types tend to be far more engaged and committed than the rank-and-file weekly attenders at traditional churches. That doesn’t mean there are not highly committed Christians in traditional churches, there certainly are lots of them. It does seem though that a marginal believer (i.e. an unbelieving cultural Christian) is far more likely to show up at an anonymous church service than they are to meet in a group of 10-15 where you can’t hide for an hour and then feel good about yourself the rest of the week. With numbers approaching 10% of Christians meeting in house/simple church groups and shrinking numbers of people attending traditional services, I think you are starting to see people getting panicky about the future.

As fewer and fewer people attend traditional churches and more committed believers gather in simpler gatherings, the need for the infrastructure of traditional churches with all of the attendant expenses goes away. The need for seminaries (and seminary professors!), church buildings, church pension boards, professional ministers, etc. starts to fade and that means that some people are going to be left holding the bag.

Like it or not, the simple/house church “movement” is not going away and is likely to be a far more common expression in the future than it is today. Clucking about anti-intellectualism and anti-authoritarianism is not going to stop the tide. It would be nice if the intellectual heavyweights of the church would engage this growing movement instead of scrambling to hang on to the status quo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Amish Explosion!

A new article is out and it again shows that the Amish population is exploding:

A new report from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania lays out a stark picture of an Amish population boom. The Amish population — a religious group that limits its member’s access to conveniences like telephones and electric lights — is growing at an estimated 5% a year and now stands at 249,500.

A new Amish settlement is being created at a rate of once every three weeks, the study found. Sixteen were established over the past year alone. A new community is typically small, with a few families that together form a church congregation that meets for services in their own homes.

What, if anything, should the church at large learn from this? With large families, no buildings or programs, high commitment levels and simple lives, the Amish are operating in a very different way than other Christian groups and unlike most Evangelical churches are not losing their children. What gives?

The church on the margins

(This promises to be a rambling tirade… you have been warned)

It struck me again this morning that Biblical manifestations of the visible church have pretty much always operated at the margins of society. It is easy as Americans to “assume the church” because culturally the church has always had a special place in the fabric of Americana. We assume that what we see is how it was and how it should be in spite of the glaring discrepancies we see in Scripture when compared with our assumed practices. In reality, when you look back over the last two thousand years what you find is that the church has typically been at the margins of society and in many ways remains so today, even in “Christian nations” like America.

Here in America, the church is often hidden within the church. By that I mean that there are virtually no mainstream expressions of the church that present a consistent Biblical witness to the world. They present what the prevailing culture expects the church to look like instead of asking the hard question of what does the Bible expect the church to look like. The overwhelming majority of Christians are found in institutional church groups where the assembled group on Sunday is at best a relatively even mixture of believers and unbelievers. That is not being judgmental, that is simply reality. The aforementioned gathering has only a cursory relationship to the church that was instituted, described and lived by the first disciples.

When we remove our blinders and look at the church as a whole, we find that in most of the world outside of America and Western Europe, the church operates at best on the margins of society. In places like China, Pakistan and Iran we find our brothers and sisters living under constant threat from the authorities and from hostile unbelievers with the tacit approval of the government. For the first three hundred years of the church, it operated essentially as an outlaw religion until the “conversion” of Constantine. During the thousand year period between the conversion of Constantine and the Reformation, the Gospel itself was denied by “The Church” and believers were marginalized and often persecuted to the point of martyrdom by those who deemed themselves the arbiters of the faith. In the five hundred some odd years since the official start of the Reformation, the so-called “visible church” has been characterized by fights over doctrine, political machinations, corruption, hypocrisy and all too often violence.

As I have mentioned a time or two before, I think the decline in church attendance is a positive thing for the Gospel witness. The witness of the church is best presented when it is presented from the outside, from the margins of society to a world that is hostile to the church, the message, the messenger and the One the church serves. It is an infinitely and eternally powerful message that is proclaimed from a position of weakness and by a method of foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). Delivering a 45 minute sermon in a controlled environment to a genteel crowd in their Sunday best that voluntarily assembled to hear that sermon is not foolish preaching. Being arrested for boldly preaching the Gospel to a hostile crowd and continuing to do so when on trial for your life is the foolishness of preaching (Acts 6:8 – Acts 7:60 ). That makes absolutely no sense to Americans but it makes perfect sense when you understand the Gospel, which at its core is about God coming in the flesh to die a cruel and base death on a cross on behalf of creatures who hated Him and loved themselves. The Gospel is about the only Being in existence with any real power setting aside that power to free those who were powerless and frankly unaware of their need for redemption.

What would the church look like today if it was once again on the margins of society instead of smack dab in the middle of it? I think we are finding out as the innate hostility of the world toward the Gospel manifests itself more and more clearly and boldly. The reaction from many corners of the church has been predictable: outrage, hand-wringing, passionate speeches about our “rights” being violated, lawsuits and legal defense funds. I fear that the ugly truth is that we are spending an enormous amount of time and money and effort defending a status quo that actually hampers the Gospel witness. How terribly ironic! Instead of submitting in humility to the hatred of the world and witnessing in spite of that, we are trying to defend our place in the world. Winning the culture war, defending our rights, taking back our country, reclaiming our “Judeo-Christian” heritage, etc. have nothing to do with the calling of the church and I am similarly fearful that there are many who are cynically manipulating Christians in their own quest for power.

Christianity has its genesis in a Man born to a young woman from a no-account town, a Man who lived in simplicity and humility and service, with followers chosen from the most unlikely of men. It is a faith that has as its crowning moment a humiliated and beaten Man nailed to a cross like a common criminal, a faith that spent its first centuries being persecuted and killed for the sake of that Man. It is a faith that is unlike any other religion, a faith that demands nothing from its adherents but faith, a faith that humans are incapable of demonstrating on our own. It is a faith that promises eternal life to come but persecution, reviling and hatred now.

It is hard to talk credibly about that Gospel when we are trying to do so in the comfort and affluence of the Western church, securely ensconced among a culture that cherishes achievement and power. The Gospel does not call us to conquer, it calls us to surrender. We are not called to overcome but to submit. We don't boldly follow Christ into battle, we humbly follow Him in death. What do we have to fear from the world? Better a sword across my neck than a sword in my hand.

(I warned you)

What is the foundation of our freedom?

I bought a snarky bumper sticker after the 2008 elections from an online retailer and have been on their mailing list ever since. I get lots of kookie stuff from them but nothing beats what I saw this morning. The ad this morning was touting a DVD with the clever title:

God, Guns and Gold: Foundations for Christian Freedom

Here is the description of this DVD from the retailer:

Few ideas have a more foundational place in our American heritage than those expressed in Jefferson’s phrase, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Likewise, few people realize that the recognition of these “inalienable rights” grew directly out of the history of Christian legal and political thought. In this lecture, Joel McDurmon reveals the biblical and historical basis behind these Christian social values. He explains how the American founders and God’s Word alike expect freedom-loving people to exercise these rights practically and publicly. The security of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a society founded on God, Guns, and Gold. These are the foundations of Christian society. The perfect gift for Dad!

Huh. Quick quiz for you:

Which one of those three items on the DVD cover doesn’t belong?

If you answered: The Bible, you are correct!

See I thought that the foundation for Christian freedom was the cross of Christ. I thought that people who were born again and free from sin were truly free, even if they aren’t Americans, don’t have any gold and don’t own a gun. My freedom as a Christian wasn’t won at the end of a gun barrel and is not dependent on the gold standard for U.S. currency. In fact even if I have all of my possessions taken away, lose my freedom and die a horrible death after imprisonment, I am still free because of what Christ has done on my behalf. I own a number of firearms, recognize and support the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the law of the land protecting the American individual right to keep and bear arms and I likewise support a sound currency as part of a discipline fiscal policy. None of that makes me more or less free.

Guns don’t make Christians free, Christ makes Christians free.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another day, another outcry over discrimination against Christians at a secular school

This time it is the expulsion of a Christian grad student from the graduate program in counseling at Eastern Michigan University over her apparent refusal to counsel homosexual students:

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a public university that removed a Christian student from its graduate program in school counseling over her belief that homosexuality is morally wrong. Monday's ruling, according to Julea Ward's attorneys, could result in Christian students across the country being expelled from public university for similar views.

“It’s a very dangerous precedent,” Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, told FOX News Radio. “The ruling doesn’t say that explicitly, but that’s what is going to happen.”

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed Ward’s lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University. She was removed from the school’s counseling program last year because she refused to counsel homosexual clients.

I am certainly am sympathetic to Ms. Ward and I would never counsel a homosexual without first pointing out that their lifestyle was in all likelihood the number one contributing factor in their need for counseling in the first place. Having said that, what do you expect from a secular school?

Why wouldn’t we expect this? Stuff like this is a natural result of the winding down of the pseudo-Christian civil religion of America. In the past, the secular majority in this country at least tacitly tolerated the public expression of faith as something inevitable, a cost of doing business so to speak. As religion becomes less a part of the fabric of America, we should fully expect to see more and more of this. It is completely inconsistent Biblically to expect that unbelievers are going to tolerate firm Christian convictions on their turf and frankly a secular state school is the very epicenter of the unbelieving culture. It is foolish to expect that institutions that glorify mankind and reject God are going to permit dissenting opinions for much longer.

As a parent, I would have to think long and hard about sending my kids to a secular public state school. I understand why some parents choose to do so. The name brand recognition of a public state school carries more weight as one explores careers and graduate & professional schools. From a strictly worldly standpoint it makes all the sense in the world to send your kids to a secular school. That doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

So what should the reaction of Christians be? Should we band together and bring suit against these schools for behaving precisely as we would expect a secular institution would? Do we shake the dust from our proverbial sandals and abandon these schools entirely? Do we eschew the very idea of going to college to get a degree to be more successful?

What do you think?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Up Next: Bonhoeffer

The next book I am reading, and have already started, is Eric Metaxas mammoth biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, appropriately if unimaginatively titled...Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

I already found that Bonhoeffer grew up in a life of privilege that afforded him many opportunities for learning and he grew up in a highly academic family. A very interesting background. I am most especially looking forward to reading about his views of the church, although I will admit to being somewhat cautious. I have read one of Eric Metaxas' other, non-biographical, books and his theology is pretty suspect (and that is being generous).

From the limited amount that I know about Bonhoeffer, he is a tragic figure. Not in that he gave his life for his faith but that in the end he gave in to doing what was right in his own eyes and plotting to kill Hitler. I understand the impulse, I don’t condone it. I am interested in seeing what his motivations were and how conflicted he was about it.

So it should be an interesting book. I will of course post a review when I finish.

Book Review: Preserving Democracy

I have been reading an interesting new title, Preserving Democracy by Elgin Hushbeck. Elgin takes on a big task, walking the reader through the Constitutional framework of our republic and where we have gone so far astray.

(By way of disclosure, I received Preserving Democracy as a review copy free of charge from Energion Publications and am under no obligation except to provide a review of the book.)

All in all this was a pretty good book. I think Elgin understands the fundamental problems we face and that if we were governed in the way the founding fathers intended, we wouldn't have a lot of the problems that we find ourselves in. His key idea of a man wandering in the desert is interesting, the idea that once you feel like you have gone to far down a path, it is often too late. That captures quite nicely where America is and he substantiates that idea throughout the book, covering topics from a constitutional framework. Elgin clearly has an excellent grasp of economic thought and that is something sorely lacking from many of the talking heads who drive political discourse on the Left and Right in this country. Not understanding how economics works has left this country poorer, both metaphorically and literally. Chapter 2, Taxes and the Welfare State, was one of the best treatments of how taxes work and the impact raising or lowering them has on an economy.

Some downside. Elgin cover a TON of material. In some places it seems like he is trying to cover too much, too quickly. My copy was a pre-review copy, so there were lots of grammatical issues that I assume will be cleaned up but some of the writing was clunky or choppy in some places. IN places the book leaps from concept to concept at a helter-skelter pace which can make you feel like you missed something, but I suppose that is to be expected in a survey of this kind.

Preserving Democracy is an excellent survey of the American political system and what has gone wrong. It is not a book that gives you a thorough in-depth view of any particular study and I wouldn't say I came across anything new, but it still was an engaging read and is a book I would recommend for people who are less familiar with the bigger political issues of the day. For someone already very engaged in the various subjects covered, this book might be a bit rudimentary but given the election of Barack Obama and the general state of the country, I don't think there are very many people who are terribly engaged in the process. This is a solid survey book for people getting interested in politics, I can see this being of great value to recent high school graduates or students in college. Often I run across adults with strongly held opinions who don't know why they hold those opinions. This book will give people the foundation they need to be able to form their own opinions and we certainly could use more educated, informed and thoughtful voters in this country!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Once again we are indebted to the ELCA

Thanks to the Evangelical Lutheran Church for making paragraphs in news stories like this one possible…

"It's going to be an extremely glorious and festive ceremony because it's the culmination of decades of work to welcome LGBT people into the ELCA," said Amalia Vagts, executive director of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a nonprofit that credentials openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for ministry.

Megan Rohrer, one of the pastors who will participate in Sunday's rite of reception service, grew up in South Dakota and attended a Lutheran college where she said students tried to exorcise her "gay demons" by throwing holy water on her. Some of those people are now Lutheran pastors in South Dakota, she said.

Rohrer, who is transgender and a lesbian, was ordained by four congregations in San Francisco in 2006, but could not join the ELCA roster until the denomination's national assembly approved the new policy in August

I am not even sure what that means. Ms. (Mr.?) Rohrer was once a dude and now is a transgendered, lesbian “pastor”? I am afraid I don't find that glorious or festive, I find it tragic.

That paragraph comes from the latest story out of the ELCA and shockingly enough it is NOT a sudden reversal and call to repentance for the entire denomination. No indeed, the ELCA takes another step in embracing sin. Here is the crux of it...

Churches can now hire noncelibate gay clergy who are in committed relationships.

What exactly does that mean? We have a date this weekend, I am committed to it. Are we in a committed relationship? What about a heterosexual male ELCA pastor (assuming there are any) who is living with his girlfriend. Is that OK? What if she just sleeps over, does having a toothbrush and a change of clothes at his place count as them being in a “committed relationship”? Does this interpretation require a joint checking account? What if a pastor is committed to a half dozen women? Can he/she/whatever be "hired" as a pastor?

I have a better idea. Since we are supposed to emulate the lives of the elders of the church and since God has made clear that the only acceptable “committed” relationship is one man and one woman in the covenantal bounds of marriage, how about we stop playing social engineering games and stick to the book?

In the battle to defend life there can be no truce

I read one of the best essays I have read in a long time today from Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things. The essay, The Signpost at the Crossroads, looks at a statement in a recent interview with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Daniels, who by most accounts is a pretty decent governor and a dark horse candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012, at one stage mentions to Washington Post interviewer Michael Gerson that some social issues may have to be set aside, a “truce” might have to be called to fix the economy:

But, along the way, Daniels told Ferguson that the next president will “have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the nation’s economic issues are resolved. And one has to wonder, a little, about Daniels’ political sense. Did he think a reporter as good as Ferguson wouldn’t quote the line? The backlash started almost immediately, with loud growls from the family-values groups, while rival Republican candidate Mike Huckabee seized on the blunder to declare the openly pro-life Daniels insufficiently pro-life.

Here is the problem with a “truce” on this issue (and despite the clumsy use of the words, I believe that is what many fiscal conservatives want). A truce on abortion leaves us with the status quo, a status quo that means a million aborted babies every year and a status quo that is unacceptable in any form as Bottum rightly points out. Agreeing to a truce on abortion is not going to create a consensus because the pro-abortion forces in this country are at least as intractable as the pro-life forces. Nothing less than tax-payer funded abortion on demand, at any stage and for any (or no) reason in every state in the union, is the only position they will accept. Abandoning the abortion issue will not lead to Americans getting along because the far left that is in control of one half of the political spectrum has a radical agenda that includes not just socializing all private industry but also includes forced normalization of any and all deviancy, whether homosexuality and its various ancillary perversions or the murder of innocent children. The Left doesn’t seek a Savior who has redeemed them from sin, it seeks a savior who will declare sin to no longer be sin. Why atone for something if it is normal? The only sin will be to call sin what it is.

Here is the danger for Christians who are politically conservative. In the desire to see economic conservatism enacted and to win the war on terror, the fear of terrorism and taxes may override our proper deference to the defense of the innocent. Can’t imagine that conservatives would abandon the unborn to keep a few more dollars in their pockets? Think again. The move is already afoot and will gain steam as we approach 2012 in what will be labeled a “must win” election. No one despises big government, higher taxes and encroaching socialism more than I do but tax cuts and the deficit are virtually irrelevant when compared to the defense of life. While lower taxes may improve the economic conditions of poor women considering abortion, the sad reality is that abortion is primarily about personal convenience and choice rather than perceived economic suffering.

There can be no truce on this issue, most certainly not in the name of fixing the economic issues facing the country. What sort of country will America be if we have low taxes, great employment and a thriving economy if we still murder the least among us, sacrificing children on the bloody altar of choice in homage to the unholy trinity of the gods Choice, Profit and Convenience. I for one would rather live in a nation without the prestige and power America has enjoyed but where unborn children are given the most fundamental right: the right to life.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Best of the week entry 1

Another great post from Ed Stetzer on those who claim they don't witness because they don't have the gift for it. In No Such Thing as "the Gift of Evangelism" , Statezer takes on this notion that only certain people have the gift of evangelism and because so few people think they have it, they are excused from witnessing.

Recently, I spoke at the Church of God Triennial meeting in Decatur, IL. One of the things I talked about was my belief that there is no such thing as "the gift of evangelism." Part of my concern is that I hear many people saying they don't have the "gift of evangelism" and thus believing it is not their responsibility to do evangelism (since they don't have the "gift"). And, since evangelism can be a challenge at times, that seems to be a "gift" that people don't want.

In the mid-90s, a well-known leader who created a "spiritual gifts test," told me that about 10% of people have the gift of evangelism. Yet, that number seems to be on decline. Barna recently released research saying, "Among the interesting facets of the research was that just 1% of believers claim to have the gift of evangelism (down from 4% five years ago)."


I don't think this means there is a widespread growing realization that no one has the gift of evangelism. My best guess is that it is because people are talking themselves out of their obligation to do evangelism.

I often find that people are perceived as being "gifted" in a certain area that happens to be what they like and are most comforable doing but that doesn't excuse any of us from proclaiming the Lord to the lost. It is not just the pastors job, or the overseas missionary. It is certainly not something that can only be done in the context of a church meeting. It is the responsibility of all believers, all of the time. Not everyone will be out on the street preaching but all of us know lots of people who are lost and need to hear about Jesus. Don't hide behind "the gift of evangelism" or lack thereof to excuse you failure to be a witness

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bible study update

I mentioned last month that I was starting a Bible study at work. We have met a couple of times and I am pretty pleased so far. The group is small, about a half dozen people, but very diverse. There are a couple of fairly new Christians, at least from a doctrinal standpoint. There is one woman who used to be a Jehovah’s Witness and is now just searching around. One is a very active Roman Catholic and one is a young lapsed Roman Catholic who doesn’t seem grounded spiritually but is pretty smart and curious. The first few studies went well, we covered lots of stuff all over the map and not much from the text. Second meeting covered more of John 1: 1-18. Could have spent more time there but how I want to keep moving at this point. Today we are looking at John 1: 19-34 and I was planning on talking a little more about the Pharisees and why they were threatened by John the Baptist and ultimately Jesus and then spend the rest of the hour talking about Jesus as the Lamb of God, looking at prefiguring in the Old Testament, His propitiation at the cross and the ultimate consummation of His role as the Lamb who was slain. This is my outline for today:

1. Who are the Pharisees?

a. Why would the Pharisees be threatened by John the Baptist and later Jesus?
b. The role of religion in Jesus day and today

2. The imagery of the Lamb
a. Where else do we see this imagery?
i. Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 22 (esp 22:8)
ii. The Passover
iii. Isaiah 53: 7, the Suffering Servant
iv. Later in Revelation where Jesus is often referred to as the Lamb who was slain
1. Revelation 22:1-3
2. Revelation 21:22-23
3. Revelation 7:17
4. Revelation 5:6-13
b. What does this Lamb imagery represent?
c. Why did Jesus have to die?
i. Old Testament sacrificial system of imperfect sacrifices
ii. Leviticus 16
iii. Hebrews 9, starting verse 11
1. Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant
a. Heavenly things versus earthly things

This is going to delve into some deeper stuff, I am hoping to get some good discussion about the idea of good works, about the reality of sin, about God as a just and holy God who is also a merciful and loving God. This has been a great opportunity for me to help equip fellow believers and also to witness to some of my co-workers!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adopting the method of Rome to proclaim the message of the Reformation

Take a gander at the following description of a church gathering…

The gathering of the church is a weekly event, almost always Sunday morning although alternate times are often provided to accommodate those who are just too busy to carve out a whole hour (plus drive time!) to gather with the church. People are expected to show up at a particular time and sit in the rows of seats provided. Coming in late is a social faux pas. Most of the service is observation, watching and listening, typically restricted to one man in the front where all of the attention is focused. That man is usually on a platform so people in the seats can look up and see him clearly and he stands behind a pulpit or lectern much of the time. Along with a few prayers and songs sung, the man in front will deliver a monologue message after an offering is collected in anonymous envelopes. No interaction is permitted during the monologue. The communion portion of the service typically is near the end of the hour and is marked by a table with the elements. The same man who leads the service will speak some words over the elements and then oversee the distribution of these elements to the people in attendance. As soon as the service is over people rush to the exits to get in their cars and get on with the rest of their Sunday. As long as you attend the scheduled meeting on Sunday morning, you are not under any obligation or expectation to spend additional time with the church.

So here is the question. Am I describing a Roman Mass or a Protestant worship service?



Ah ha, it was a trick question! The answer is both!

It seems that the Reformation saw the gathering of the church as an after thought. Not that there was not a lot of thought given to it but rather that they “assumed the church” in many respects and kept the format virtually the same. Certainly the theology was better and the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was recovered and proclaimed but the community inhibiting format of the gathered church was essentially unchanged from how Rome did it and that format is by and large the same today. Little wonder that so many people are desperately looking for community and are doing so outside of the traditional church. Instead of being a force for increasing community, the traditional church is the greatest obstacle to Christian community.

There are several great regrets about the reformation. One is the readiness of the magisterial reformers to embrace a church-state union. Another is the willingness of the magisterial reformers to tacitly or overtly approve of the state using the sword to crush dissenters like the Anabaptists. The third is the adoption of the Roman form of the church gathering or the lack of reformation thereof. As I have said over and over, the reformation was merely the beginning of reform that we should seek to complete, not the pinnacle of reform that we constantly should try to return to and nowhere is that more true than how we traditionally see the church gathered.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Time to be Johnny Kill-Joy again.

The cover story in the Life section of USA Today deals with the burgeoning Christian film-making industry, Churches making mainstream films to attract souls. There are lots of groups putting out Christian movies and competing for the same backing, expertise and funding. While certainly not up to par with Hollywood in terms of technology and acting, and even more so not up to par in terms of money made, this new generation of Christian filmmakers are putting out decent films with acting that is not embarrassing. Many people see this as a way to reach the lost by giving them a message in a medium they understand that hopefully will spark conversations and thereby Gospel witnessing.

Here is one of my big concerns about the Christian movie industry. In these movies, by and large, everything works out in the end or as the article points out:

All Sherwood films draw on challenges in contemporary life: An unethical used-car salesman faces business reversals in 2003's Flywheel. A hapless high school coach, whose wife is infertile, fears he'll be fired in 2005's Facing the Giants. A firefighter's marriage is collapsing in Fireproof.

And every ending is on an up note: Once characters start to peacefully, prayerfully trust God in adversity as well as success, all their prayers are answered. They win the big game, pay off the bank, have the long-wanted baby, reconcile with loved ones.

That makes for good cinema but that is not how real life works. Sometimes in real life even when you are a faithful Christian, praying and studying your Bible and going to church, you still don’t have a baby. Your house is foreclosed on. You lose the big game. The people you are trying to reach with the Gospel kill you. Your neighbors murder your family because you are a believer. Our message cannot be: trust God and everything will work out. Our message is: trust God even when things don’t work out. After we pass from this life into life eternal, all will be perfect in communion with Christ. Until that happens, in this life we will have trouble and being faithful to God doesn’t mean He is going to fix everything for us. I think it is dangerous to try to get people “on board with Jesus” as a solution to the problems in their lives because when things don’t work out the way they do in the movies, will they still find Christ appealing?

I also worry about Christian film making as being yet another entry into the culture wars. The article reinforces this with comments like this one from Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church:

"Every movie has an agenda," says Catt, citing James Cameron's Avatar, widely noted for its vague eco-spirituality theme. "Clearly, (he) had a spiritual agenda there, and he's out to reach his audience. So are we. We have lost this culture, and we have to fight back. Our way is to show the living Gospel in a secular environment. People will see it and see themselves."

The Gospel is not competing with Avatar for the culture. The Gospel is not seeking to win the culture period. The Gospel calls people to repentance regardless of the culture that they live in. Movies like Fireproof and Facing the Giants are nice little movies, they tug at the heart strings and are wholesome entertainment. Don’t get me wrong. I just wonder if movies that combat the prevailing culture are our highest and best use of our time and resources. Rather than making films, maybe we could just live Gospel worthy lives that witness to the world around us. I worry that we are getting sucked into a war fought on the world’s terms and that is a war we are bound to lose.

If you are a Christian and filmmaking is your vocation, that is one thing but if you are thinking that filmmaking is the way to engage in the culture war and win back the culture for Christ, you are mistaken. If Christ wanted the culture, be sure He would have it without our help and He probably wouldn’t use movies to win it. The Gospel sees people saved in spite of the culture, not because of it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A lesson in legislating morality

We were headed home after meeting with the church and stopped by the store to get some vittles at around 11:30. I was in the self-checkout lane (and seriously there should be an age cap, anyone over 50 is banned from the self-checkout and must go through an actual line with a checkout person) and the lady next to me (clearly over 50 FWIW) was staring at the screen with a puzzled look while the light flashed red over her head. A young cashier came over, scolded her and took away her bottle. Her problem? She was trying to buy a bottle of wine.

You see, in Michigan you can't buy alcohol before noon on Sundays (See the convoluted blue law in Michigan code Section 436.2113. You also can't sell cars on Sunday in Michigan unless you keep the Jewish Sabbath in counties with more than 130,000 people). This law makes perfect sense especially since a lot of churches will be serving wine to congregants before noon.

Of course, a person given to drink who can't buy alcohol until noon will probably kill the time until he can buy his Captain Morgan by going to a church. What is the point here? Are we a more moral place because people can't buy alcohol during "church time" on Sunday? Most drinkers got loaded up on Saturday night and don't wake up until noon on Sunday anyway. If we as a society think drinking is inherently immoral and alcohol shouldn't be sold on "the Sabbath", we should have the courage to outlaw alcohol entirely instead of making it a church thing.

I think
recreational alcohol drinking is ugly and an indicator of your character, no matter how you hide it behind Christian liberty. There is no societal good that comes from it and untold misery that it encourages. Having said that as clearly as I can, you cannot legislate morality. You can ban certain illegal activities, like theft and murder, but doing so doesn't make someone inclined to commit those crimes more moral. It just makes them take into account the consequences of their actions. Banning alcohol sales during church time is just silly and gives politicians cover to seem like they are standing up for morality by an empty action. Laws like this reinforce the "Sunday morning is holy, the rest of the week is a free for all" civic religion mentality that pervades America. If you are not a drinker, this law doesn't do a thing for you. It doesn't keep people from getting drunk and driving around. If you are a drinker, this law is only a minor impediment that probably makes you resentful toward those church people and less likely to listen to the Gospel in the first place.

Charles Stanley channeling George C. Scott!

Bible open on the pulpit. Hordes of church attendees listening raptly to his every word. Gigantic American flag proudly draped behind him as he preaches on the Fourth of July. Applying Proverbs about Israel to America. Ignoring Romans 13: 1-7 and 1 Peter 2: 13-15.

People. God's main concern is not combating socialism. Nor is it defeating Al-Qaeda. Nor is it preserving America or returning America to its "Christian heritage".

If you are going to stand up in a pulpit, at least preach Christ and Him crucified instead of acting like a bad imitation of George C. Scott in the intro to the movie Patton.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best of the week entry 4

Becoming April...: Christians and government

A VERY late entry (with only a few minutes to spare!) from April with a great quote. American Christians would be far better off taking their cues from the first Christians who lived under a far more oppressive regime than we do and went to their deaths willingly if necessary because they trusted God instead of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. I will put my conservative credentials up against anyone but being conservative politically is not the same thin as being faithful Structurally. Go check it out!

While I am thinking about it...

What does our eagerness to try to change the world by the world's means say about our trust of God?

(BTW, April posted on two consecutive days. That might be a sign of the apocalypse, so put on clean clothes in case the Rapture comes tonight!)

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Ed Stetzer on his own blog and features an interview with Adrian Warnock, a well known blogger in his own right. The title kind of says it all My Interview with Adrian Warnock: Why We Need Non-Paid Christian Leaders. That we even have to have that conversation is sad.

Here is the video interview

Jet Set London // Adrian Warnock from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

It is interesting that our mindset is a sense of amazement that someone who is a mere layperson can have such an impact. Just think if churches equipped all believers to do the work of ministry. How powerful would that be?!

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Ed Stetzer guest posting for Tim Challies. Ed writes about the danger of pastor adoration with "The problem with pastor as rock star" and I liked it. I liked it a lot. One of the dangers that really got my attention was this:

If the church life revolves around one person’s speaking gift, it is incredible difficult to move to community. A community “won” to a single voice is not won to community, but to spectatorship. Thus, when pastors say, “it’s all about the weekend,” they tend to create an audience rather than a biblically functioning church community. This is still true if your church is an oft-criticized seeker megachurch or a your verse-by-verse preaching point. Either way, if you get thousands sitting in rows but can’t move them to sitting in circles, true community is hard to find.

As a guy who travels around speaking, I understand how quickly it can happen. For the last few weeks, I’ve spoken at a church close to my own house while the pastor is on a short sabbatical. But even in delivering biblical messages, I’m not engaging in biblical community with those people. It takes more than a stage to create a community. The temptation must be fought that a mass of people gathered to hear one person speak is equal to biblical community.

It is amazing that we can read about community, the family of God, fellowship, etc. in the Bible and still assume that a weekly observance of "going to church" to hear one man give a lecture/sermon/message is Biblical community. Meanwhile Christians around us are hurting, struggling with sin, in need financially and we assume the pastor or elders or deacons (somebody else) is taking care of it.

Rock start pastors, as Ed points out, can happen in all sorts of churches of all sizes. Whatever the size of the church it is a danger to the Body because it inhibits actual Christian ministry of the entire Body and substitutes ministry by donation and observation. Good stuff from Ed, who will appear again in a later entry.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from the ever acerbic P.J. O’Rourke, one of the few people I can say is more sarcastic and smarmy than I am. His target this week is world cup soccer, A Modest Proposal for Improving a Dull Game

There is, however, the possibility that the powers-that-be in international soccer have no interest in creating more excitement, that their entire aim and purpose is to increase the tedium in the sport. In that case I suggest you encourage your players to do as my daughter and her teammates do and wear their iPods throughout the game.

But I don't believe this is what you want for soccer. The purpose of sports—even foreign sports—is not to bore people. Boredom can be so easily obtained. Hunger, exhaustion from making a living and authoritarian governments that ban the fun parts of the Internet provide it free in most of the world. And here in America we just have kids and send them to progressive schools.

Soccer matches should be something special, something people eagerly look forward to, something that brightens life. You're almost there. Just use your hands, introduce some full-body blocking, expand the goal area, break up the game a little so that people have time to go to the bathroom between plays and maybe change the shape of the ball slightly so it's easier to carry. Now you've got a sport.

Nothing brings out American self-loathing like soccer. Oh, if only we Americans we as enlightened as Europeans! Soccer is one of those things that people can shake their head about at cocktail parties to seem enlightened and worldly. It is quite popular to bemoan America’s disdain for soccer as a sign of our collective provincialism, never once giving credence to the obvious answer: maybe Americans find soccer boring because…soccer is boring.

Hey America hating pseudo-intellectuals: Newsflash. Most Americans, even the most rabid sports fans, don’t find soccer interesting. At all. In a matter of weeks it will fade into the background again, taking up its rightful place alongside T-ball as a game for little kids to play. In spite of ESPN’s attempts to create interest for purely monetary reasons, American by and large stopped paying even a modicum of interest once America lost to Ghana.

Thanks to P.J. for putting soccer back in its place: the elementary school playground.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Grab your wallets!

The Arsenal of Liberty: Like picking a one legged blind kid for your kickball team

If you are interested in such things, hop over to the Arsenal of Liberty for my cheery rant about the new financial services "reform" effort.

Christian Comedians

“A publican, a tax collector and a Gentile walk into a bar…”

In an odd article in the Wall Street Journal, we read about a group called Veritas Riff, a Christian comedic group.

Veritas Riff comes at a moment of transition for evangelicals, after the retirement or death of the most visible figures of the past generation, including Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. In "To Change the World," the year's most widely discussed Christian book, James Davison Hunter (who first became known as the author of the 1991 book "Culture Wars") suggests that evangelicals should take a deep breath and retreat from the public square for a spell. They should de-emphasize politics and develop a posture of "faithful presence." The organizers of Veritas Riff agree that their would-be Christian thought leaders should take a deep breath. But then, they argue, evangelicals should step forward and start to riff. If these improvisation techniques succeed, the organizers will have in their words "equipped Christian thought leaders with the communication skills and peer support to become recognized and compelling cultural commentators" for a new generation.

I actually haven’t even heard of “To Change the World”, so if it is the most discussed Christian book of the year I should maybe check it out. Has anyone read it?

I understand what is going on and I applaud the idea of trying to reach the lost without demanding that they come and listen to a sermon in a church. I am not as convinced that cultural engagement should be driven with being just like the world without the cursing and sex talk. Trying to emulate the world to reach the world seems a little off and is the driving force behind churches with glamorous A/V presentations, cutesy program names and preachers with graphic t-shirts and groovy glasses. Again, I am with them in part. Too much of Christian thought and discussion has happened in the hallowed halls of academia and frankly that has led to all sorts of mischief. It is past time that Christians outside of the high priests of academia and clergy in the church start getting involved in the mission of the church and driving some of the conversations. I am not sure that Christian improv is the way to go.

Instead of “See we are normal people just like you in spite of being Christians. We can even tell jokes!” perhaps the message should be “We are different and being Christians is the reason why. Come and see why Jesus makes us a peculiar people”. If the way we live our lives doesn’t set us apart from the rest of the world, then going to church on Sunday morning certainly does seem hypocritical to the world.

I am not one to wag my finger at these folks involved in reaching out to the culture in different ways and bark about them needing more preachin’ (i.e. sermons). I also don’t think that trying to tailor our message to be cultural chameleons is the right answer either. I do think we need to witness to the world by our lives in the world being distinct from the world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I understand we are not to covet and I am trying to be frugal and a good steward of my resources but oooooooh how I would love to have an Alienware desktop!

The sad story continues

Each day seems to bring more news of the disintegration of the worldwide Anglican communion. One day it is the American Episcopal Church thumbing its collective nose at the communion and the Bible. The next it is the Church of England appointing and then un-appointing a practicing homosexual. Last year it was the Roman Catholic church welcoming disgruntled Anglicans by offering them a refuge of orthodoxy. Rome of all places! The latest comes from the Church of England where a compromise designed to placate more conservative members over the issue of ordaining women appears to have fallen apart:

LONDON — The Church of England moved another step closer to an unbridgeable schism between traditionalists and reformers on Saturday when its General Synod, or parliament, rejected a bid by the archbishop of Canterbury to strike a compromise over the ordination of women bishops aimed at preserving the increasingly fragile unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The rejection of proposals aimed at accommodating those who oppose women bishops appeared to strike a serious blow to the authority of the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, whose position as archbishop of Canterbury makes him the spiritual leader of the Communion. Although he has a long-established reputation as a liberal on theological issues, the archbishop, 60, has spent much of his seven years as the Anglican leader seeking to fashion compromises with traditionalists over the role of women and gays as priests and bishops.

But the votes on Saturday appeared to have blocked, perhaps conclusively, a settlement under which hard-line traditionalists might have accepted the appointment of women bishops. The proposals would have provided for a “complementary” male bishop with independent powers, working alongside a woman bishop, to minister to traditionalists unwilling to accept a woman as the head of their diocese.

I am afraid that Rowan Williams is fighting an impossible battle, trying to bridge the gap between those who insist on complete recognition of women and homosexuals as “priests” and bishops, rejecting all claims of Biblical authority in the matter, and those who wish to remain in the Anglican communion but refuse to compromise on homosexual and female ministers. I have to say that the compromise proposed strikes me as silly and misguided. Women can be bishops but only if they have a male bishop to minister to those who reject women in that role? How is that supposed to be satisfactory in any sense to anyone? Conservatives are still going to have an issue with the church ordaining a female bishop and liberals are going to see this as an insult, making women “second class” bishops.

This firestorm is fed by two misconceptions. One is a misconception on the purpose and role of elders. The second is the misconception of the role and authority of the Scriptures in the life of the church.

The role of elder is wrapped up deeply in church tradition but originally is derived from Biblical teaching. That seems to go without saying but given how divergent the views of elders in the church are, it bears repeating. Simply speaking from a Biblical standpoint, elders are men who are recognized as leaders, because of the manner of their lives, who serve the church body. They are not rulers or the heads of organizations or a special class of Christians over and above others. They are men we are to imitate and emulate. As soon as you start dressing elders up in gaudy robes and addressing them by titles like “The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury”, you have completely lost the role and function of elders in the local church. I have a hard time reading the New Testament and picturing Peter or Paul wearing a priests collar, a miter, an ornate embroidered robe and carrying around a fancy scepter. I picture Paul as wearing rough clothes that befits a man who works hard for a living and not bothering to dress up in his “Sunday best” or wearing vestments when he met with the church.

The Bible is equally clear that elders are recognized from among the men in the church. It is more the case that male leadership in the church is far less an issue of privilege (i.e. only men can be recognized as elders) and more so an issue of responsibility (men are called to lead the church and the home). The Bible is less interested in preventing women from being recognized as elders and leaders in the gathered church (although I believe it does state that restriction clearly and boldly) as opposed to emphasizing that men are to shoulder the burden of serving and leading when the church is gathered. A lot of what women have traditionally taken on in the church is to fill a vacuum left by men. For example, in Acts 6:1-6 (which for the record is not speaking about deacons), we see men being charged with ensuring that widows are being taken care of in the daily distribution. In most churches we have been involved with, it is the women who make sure that people who need meals are taken care of. That is not to imply that women have no role of leadership in the church or the family but their role is different. No one would argue (I hope!) that a young woman can learn more about being a wife from a middle-aged elder than she could from an older, mature Christian woman. Being a keeper in the home is every bit as important as any other role in the church. We don’t need to try to “break down barriers” for women to be recognized as elders, we need to stop denigrating the roles women are called to as if being a wife and mother is somehow shameful or something women should rise above and start calling on all of the men of the church to be faithful to the calling they have been given by God.

The other issue and the bigger one is the role of Scripture in the church and this is a problem not just among more liberal denominations like the Anglicans. Many very orthodox, conservative groups that cherish the Bible place the Word in a secondary position behind tradition and pragmatism when it comes to church practice. Even churches that claim to hold to the “Regulative Principle of Worship” depend more on tradition than Scripture. Having said that, organizations like the Anglican Communion seem to take this to an extreme. When you combine a rejection of Biblical authority, place an overemphasis on church tradition and embrace all manner of doctrinal mischief, it is hard to place an organization like this anywhere with the Body of Christ. Certainly there are faithful Christians within the Anglican Communion, especially it seems in non-Western nations, but by and large the organization cannot be recognized as functioning in any way that would be recognizable as a church as defined by Scripture.

It is easy to pick on the mainline denominations and lament their decline but many of the same forces are already eating away at the foundations of conservative denominations and groups as well. Clericalism, religious ritual, traditionalism, etc. are found in similar measures in most churches. As I survey the religious landscape in America, the question in my mind is when, not if, the institutional church will completely collapse across the country. I believe that day is far closer than many people assume. I fully expect that the visible church as we understand it will largely cease to exist in my children’s lifetime. I see our mission as parents is to prepare our kids to be witnesses for Christ in a post-institutional Christian world instead of training them to be good church members. They will not have the “benefit” of thousands of churches to pick from nor will they be able to exhibit “faithfulness by attendance”. The future of Christian witness in America is going to look a lot more like the 1st century than the 20th century and the wisdom of that 1st century church is going to be more important than ever.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sound words from John Piper

Watch this from John Piper on some cautions for the "New Reformed"...

I think those are sound and sober words. There are plenty of people who frankly seem to love Reformed theology more than God. That seems harsh and counter-intuitive but I have fallen into that trap and still do on occasion.There is a middle ground between anti-intellectualism and prideful scholasticism. Finding that middle ground requires both study and humility. Too often Reformed theology is used as a club to beat people over the head with or a platform to trumpet our own theological superiority. That simply should not be found anywhere in the church.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If this doens't make you weep you don't have a heart

In my prior post, I wondered how many orphans would be helped by the Haiti Orphan Project for what the aforementioned (and intentionally unnamed) ministry is trying to raise for its radio program (i.e. $8000/day)

Les who works with the Haiti Orphan Project filled me in (emphasis added) with this comment...

But $8,000 per day? Whew!

Yes, that would care for just over 6000 orphans in Haiti! Our ministry budgets $480 per YEAR to feed, house, school and teach the bible to one orphan. We're building an orphanage, church and school to care for only 100 orphans (and another 150 area children for school).

Somehow maybe priorities are out of whack.

I feel like someone punched me in the stomach. Out of whack is being generous. Heck, I just spent $250 at the grocery an hour ago and that will last us about a week.

I get paid Thursday and I have reminder to send some money to this worthwhile charity. I would encourage you to do so as well. I am not speaking for Les here but I would ask that before you drop money in the offering plate this weekend, think long and hard about what that money pays for and what it could do for orphans in Haiti and around the world. There are many worthy ministries right here in America as well but the key is to be as supportive as possible of those we are called to minister to.

Weep for the orphans. Pray for them. Do something to help them.

Only $8000 a day!


You know those commercials that talk about sponsoring a child for a couple of bucks a day or less? I got an email from a ministry today looking for donations to help broadcast their radio program. Their plea for money pointed out that it costs nearly $8000 every day to put their radio program on the air. I guess that is supposed to make me eager to give them money. That works out to $2,920,000 a year. It is a great radio program, very informative, but it is pretty much doctrinal teaching for existing Christians broadcast on Christian radio stations.

Let’s see. Is that the best use of almost three million bucks? I wonder what $8000/day could do for the Haiti Orphan Project? I bet a bunch of orphans would appreciate what those funds could do. I wonder how many missionaries to unreached people could be supported by that amount of money? At $50,000/year that comes to almost 60 missionaries in the field proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost. An economy version of the Bible might cost $5. The funds used every year to broadcast an hour long radio program over Christian radio stations could buy half a million Bibles. I am betting that a believer in Vietnam or Ethiopia needs an actual Bible more than a middle-class American believer who has access to an infinite amount of doctrinal resources on web needs a daily radio program.

I have to ask. Should Christians be giving even one red cent to any “ministry” that is not directly involved in reaching the lost with the Gospel or caring for the widows and orphans of the world? That seems like a pretty easy to meet standard but I would argue that very few Christian ministries that I am familiar with are really engaged in those Biblical tasks. Most of them seem to be focused on equipping Christians to be better informed Christians or the “right kind” of Christians. I understand that and there are tons of Christians who have squirrelly ideas about doctrine but that is because local churches have failed to exhibit Biblical discipleship. Equip Christians, turn them loose and focus on the lost. That is the job of the local church, it is local and it is essentially free. That seems very simple so why is it so hard?

I know, I know. I crab about this all the time. But this ministry is constantly sending me emails asking for money, letters asking me for money and calling me asking for money even though I made very clear (but politely) that I was not in a position to donate money to them. There are a lot of needs in the church. A LOT. Providing “Reformed” radio resources to a largely believing audience is not at the top of the list. There is something very, very wrong with appeals for money to support radio shows targeting Christian audiences when there are people dying every day without Christ around this country and around the world.


Question for homeschoolers

Does anyone use a separate writing/creative writing curriculum? I want to get one but I wanted to solicit some opinions first. I am consider this program Meaningful Composition. Anyone use it? Anyone use something else that they like?

Personal technology and the workplace

This is an off-beat post for me but as I have mentioned before, I blog what I am thinking about.

Growing up, my dad wasn’t in constant contact with my mom or the family during the workday. He is a family physician and his office was about five minutes from our house. When dad was at work, he was at work and seeing patients. He came home every day at lunch time, ate lunch prepared by my mom and took a power nap. Like clockwork he woke up and went back to the office. Short of the house being on fire I can’t think of a reason as a child that I would have called him at work.


The amount of external contact is enormous in the workplace. I work in a primarily cubicle environment but even in my cubicle the world is present. With my blackberry at hand and a computer with a high speed internet connection (for those of you who are younger, there was a time when you could barely open a grainy photo via the internet, much less watch streaming video in HD on demand) I have access to the internet, email, text messaging, twitter, facebook, etc. I and many of my co-workers are constantly shifting between media, from work to personal email briefly back to work to checking a new text and back to work again. I often know more about what is happening in the sports world than I do about what is going on in the cubicle next to me. I knew within a matter of minutes that George Steinbrenner died this morning, long before I got home to read the newspaper or watch the news, before I could even hear it from a co-worker.

In my lifetime we have seen an enormous shift in attitude and technology in the workplace, a change that really bugs the heck out of older workers. Attitudinally speaking, not many people are interested in going to work, hunkering down for eight hours and being disconnected from the world. We want to stay as connected as possible. Employers used to issue stern warnings about making personal calls on company time. Ha! Those warnings don’t seem to be all that relevant these days when you can surreptitiously send text messages from your tiny cell phone all day with no one the wiser.

A lot of this has to do with having both parents working. The moms I work with especially seem connected with what is going on at home or daycare because that is where their kids are and they are constantly communicating via phone calls to their cells, texting and emails. I am pretty connected with home but not nearly to the extent of some of my co-workers because my wife is home with my kids and I know where they are and who they are with virtually all of the time. With both parents so often working and with the insanely busy schedules most families seem to have adopted, it is hard to even keep track of who is supposed to be where each night.

This has to have an impact on productivity and I assume it is a negative impact, although I have not seen any studies to that effect. When you have all of the distractions available to you it intuitively is going to make one less productive at work. On the other hand perhaps it is not as bad as it might seem. Many workers today can multi-task like crazy. Most of us where I work have dual monitors and I often have half a dozen things I am working on simultaneously spread over two screens. I am not a text message person but lots of my younger co-workers are and they can text and read a work email and answer the phone all at once.

How much of a bad thing is this? If it is bad, is the technology to blame or the culture? Is the problem the temptation of technology or is the problem that workers, especially younger ones, see having a job as an onerous burden instead of being glad to have one. Work is something to escape from and now we can escape from work without leaving the building!

Perhaps the issue is not so much of a productivity loss as it is of barriers dropping. While it is true that the outside world intrudes into the workplace it is also true that with laptops, remote access, blackberries, etc. the workplace intrudes into the outside world. I always take my blackberry on vacation so I can stay ahead of problems and keep up on email. It makes a vacation less stressful for me to know that there are not going to be any huge headaches for me when I get back and that I won’t have 500 emails to sort through. The dividing line between work and personal is pretty blurry these days.

What do you think? Lots of tech lovers read this blog. Is the advent and availability of personal technology a net positive or negative for the work world?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Time to clean out the drafts

I noticed this afternoon that I have 168 unfinished draft blog posts since 2008. On top of that I probably have 30-40 ideas on Word documents that never made it into Blogger. If you think I blog a lot, just imagine if everything I thought about made it out of draft stage and into print! It is probably best to let most of those drafts die but I might fire a few off instead of deleting them...

Gospel grocery stores

An interesting story recounted in Total Church:

The Bible calls the church a family. It describes the church as a community that shares together. The church is a body whose members perfectly fit together. We belong to one another. Our friend's church was neither a family or a community. It had no vision for involvement in its immediate community. The truth is, it was not really a church according to any New Testament definition. It was a preaching center. You drove to their large parking garage for your weekly dose of religion just as you traveled to the out-of-town supermarket for your weekly groceries.

(Total Church, pg. 194)

That definition describes an awful lot of churches, big and small. We have had a similar experience in a large Baptist church in northern Kentucky. We sat in the same place every week, down to sitting in the same pew, and we sort of recognized the people around us. The people on the other side of the "sanctuary"? Not a clue. They were anonymous people in their Sunday best. We kind of knew the people in our segmented (younger married adults w/ kids) Sunday school class but virtually everybody else was just an anonymous guy in a suit or woman in a dress we jostled with in the foyer while collecting our kids from the nursery. We went there because they had a big youth and childrens program and because the preaching was consistently decent (unlike our prior smaller church where the preaching was poor at best, the fellowship was sketchy and the only kids in the church were ours and the pastors).

Why do we go to grocery supermarkets? Why is there a new Super Wal-Mart springing up daily? Because it is easy, quick and convenient. We go to a supermarket instead of raising our own food because it costs us less, it is predictable and it takes less time. Rather than work all week to grow, harvest and prepare our own food, we go to the store and get what we need in one fell swoop. I can walk into a store right now and in half an hour get enough food, in sufficient variety, to feed my entire family of ten for a week. I don’t know the other people shopping and I don’t need to because knowing them is irrelevant to what I am there for.

The church is treated much the same. We can get all of our religion in one stop and it only costs us some time and a check in the offering plate. I can go to one of dozens of local traditional churches on Sunday morning and drop my little ones off in a nursery to have a little activity but more importantly keep them out of my hair so I can “worship”. My middle school kids have classes, my high schoolers get classes with a hip youth pastor. My wife and I can go to a prepared Sunday school class and then sit in a pew for an hour, sing a few songs, listen to a prepared talk and then head out in time to be home for lunch.

Many (most?) institutional churches are grocery stores for religion. Quick, easy, in and out and plenty of different ones to choose from. This one makes you mad? Go shop somewhere else. Your only attachment is selection, price and service or in the case of a local church music style, preacher and denomination. It makes little difference to me if I go to Wal-Mart, Meijer or Krogers for my groceries. It impacts the store but only a little. There are lots of local churches I could go to that would be the same way, ranging from hip churches with cool music to somewhat more traditional, orthodox churches. No one would notice us if we were careful (although with eight kids, when we show up at a church it is like chum in shark waters and it is hard to blend in). We could show up a few Sundays at one church and then go somewhere else for a few weeks. We could maintain a great deal of anonymity beyond a smile and handshake.

The church should be more like a community garden and less like a supermarket. That might mean we need to spend a lot of time together. We might get a bit dirty in the process and there are going to be disappointments. Things might not turn out like we hope. If you have a garden and plant tomatoes, sometimes some of the tomatoes will have bugs in them or turn brown or fall off the vine before they are ripe. Sometimes it rains too much and sometimes it rains too little. If you go to the grocery store, you can pick just the best looking tomatoes and pretty much know what you are getting. It may not taste as good as a home-grown tomato and it might have been soaked in pesticides before it was shipped from California to Michigan but it is predictable. We demand too much predictability in the church, we want to know when to show up, what to expect and in what order. Deviate from the “order of worship” in the bulletin and people will be in mass confusion. Lots of people defend the institutional church by pointing it out that it is full of imperfect people but we try to make the gathering of the church as homogenous and easy as possible.

Gardening is hard work, dirty and unpredictable but the rewards are often wonderfully and immeasurably better than “store bought” produce. The church works in much the same way. Unplanned and unscripted is scary because you don’t know what you might get but I would much rather have somebody stumble over a thought or endure periods of silence than sit through another carefully scripted service designed to deliver the maximum religion for the minimum cost. The church is not something we can cram into a couple of hours a week and the goal of church should not be to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can mark a check box on our religion shopping list. Sermon? Check. Singing at least three songs? Check. Shaking the preachers hand? Check. Out at noon and lunch away from the rest of the church by 12:30? Check.

The church is not a list to be completed, it is a life to be lived with one another.

The cult of celebrity

I read a blog post the other day called Leadership Idol. The point was that there are tons of conferences on leadership that basically focus on leadership strategies promoted by the latest "it" speakers. The author of the post seems pretty dismissive of both the conferences and the topics being covered. I would agree that many of these “leadership” conferences amount to fanboys flocking to hear the latest popular speaker and that only fans the flames of a cult of personality or perhaps more appropriately a cult of celebrity. You can glance at the screenshots of the webpages for these conferences and they are all glitz and glam, very professional looking as you would expect when you are advertising a conference that is competing for scarce dollars with lots of other, very similar looking conferences.

Having said that, how is that different from the way that the most orthodox and conservative among us react? It seems that this cult of celebrity is bad when it is directed at people we disagree with but perfectly defensible for those with whom we agree. Exhibit A is Together for the Gospel, the banner is shown below:

What attracts people to Reformed theology conferences are the speakers and the line-up is very appealing to people like me: Mohler, Dever, Mahaney, Duncan, Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, Anyabwile. It is a who’s who of Reformed teachers and I have books by every one of them on my book shelf. These men are modern day heroes of the faith to many of us and they are the reason that men flock from all over the country to Louisville, Kentucky by the thousands. If Together for the Gospel 2012 were going to feature 8 local pastors that no one had heard of, I can guarantee you that there won’t be 5000+ men in attendance. I used to go to the Toledo Reformed theology conference and while it had some recognizable speakers like Steve Lawson and Tom Ascol and the topics were interesting and the speakers engaging, it simply couldn’t compete with the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids or Together for the Gospel in Louisville or the Gospel Coalition in Chicago. It eventually went out of business. We are attracted like moths to a flame when it comes to celebrity and that is at least as true among the Reformed as it is among the emergents or seeker-sensitive or whatever the group.

I haven’t been to a theology conference in a while and don’t anticipate going to one outside of Michigan anytime soon (I am going to a conference in August in the Detroit area, a one day conference that has free registration). I would rather spend the time and money with my family and with my brothers in Christ that live here locally. Better to get to know these men right around me and learn from their lives instead of listening to someone I will never meet in person talk about theology for an hour and a half. Lots of people can give an engaging talk but we are called to emulate and imitate lives, not take notes at a conference. That is not to completely dismiss any value from prepared talks but we need to be very careful that a) we don’t miss the very real influence of the cult of celebrity that has existed since the earliest days of the church (see 1 Cor 1: 10-17) and b) we don’t see going to conferences as the pinnacle of edification.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Top Ten Worst Comments I Have Ever Read

I saw this on Glenn Beck's page yesterday and it bothers me like I can't even describe (the comment came at 11:30 AM on Saturday)

There IS a God, and He will be damning the likes of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Shumer and the rest of the Socialist garbage trying to destroy our nation and Constitution, not the likes of Glenn Beck.

Wow. So God really only cares about being a capitalist and voting against Obama. Denying His Son is secondary to "destroying the nation and Constitution". The person who wrote that yesterday is probably sitting in a pew this morning and thinking that what he wrote made perfect sense.

Quick review of Biblical Christianity. God will not condemn a single person for:

- Being a Democrat
- Being "Socialist garbage"
- Destroying either America or the Constitution.
- Voting for Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi

On the other hand, God will condemn those who deny His Son and no religion denies Christ with quite as much flair as mormonism.

But hey, like Jerry Falwell Jr. says, we can worry about secondary stuff like theology once we finish "saving" America from the godless lib'rals. I have to admit I am just as concerned with godless conservatives as I am with godless liberals, perhaps even more so because a lot of godless conservatives are in church today and think that makes them right with God.

(I addressed Beck's horrific theology at the Fo-Mo Chronicles)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Best of the week entry 4

Comes from Dan at Cerulean Sanctum and is a very convicting, somewhat sharply worded (and appropriately so) critique of the "what's mine is mine" mentality in the church.

Here is a lengthy snippet from the post, What Being a Church Family Means, Part 1:

If you were to ask me what we need more of than anything else in our churches right now, it’s to let those who have a need stand up during the service and make their request before the congregation. Why this doesn’t happen in our churches is beyond me. Seriously, what is the Church for if not to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ? And what can be a bigger burden than facing foreclosure or a a five-digit medical bill that can’t be paid?

Yet I continue to talk with people who suffer in silence. And I continue to hear church people tell me there’s no place for that kind of request in the Sunday worship service.


Maybe if we got off our high horses such a time to share practical needs would wake us up to the reality that people in the pew right next to ours are suffering and that we Christians need each other. Maybe it would shatter our illusions of control. Maybe it would break the stranglehold of consumerism around the necks of too many of us. And maybe it would make us all more humble and drive us to be nearer to God.

Church is not about showing up to make an appearance, it is about community and family but we really, really don't treat each other as more than passing acquaintances that we spend an hour or two with a week. Dan is absolutely right, the lost are watching us and they see some of us living the high life and others of us living in poverty and what we say we believe doesn't jive with how we live. Many, many people say that Christians are hypocrites and guess what. They are right.

The world is watching. That should be the watchword for how we live our lives and how we spend our money and how we live with one another as the church.

Best of the week entry 3

OK, this one is political but I loved this part from the Boston Herald, Bad posture on amnesty. The point is the hypocrisy between how the administration treats Arizona versus Rhode Island but I loved this line:

Remember President Barack Obama’s claim last week that our borders are “just too vast” for us to secure them through enforcement, with fences and border patrols?

The border’s too big. The hole in the Gulf is too deep. The recession is too stubborn. Maybe we should find the president a smaller, easier-to-manage country to govern. You know - send him to the minors for a few years.


Best of the week entry 2

My good friend James wrote a thought provoking piece on the division among Christians over the recent arrests of evangelists passing out material at the Dearborn Arabic Fest, A House Divided Against Itself?

So, the essential facet of truth here really is simple. What is the dividing line between the local and visiting ministers? Well, I believe that the local ministries may not truly understand that itinerant ministry is a Biblical norm and when someone converts they should be plugged in. I also believe that the visiting ministries may not fully comprehend the delicate balance that is upset when they come in to town en masse and leave en masse with a whirlwind of controversy that could possibly be avoided or minimized by using a little more tact, or shrewdness. But, in consideration of all perspectives, no side will get it entirely right.

But, opposition to the message of Jesus Christ is a good indicator that men are being convicted or confronted, and the enemy writhes with discontent when the truth of the Bible is set forth in his deepest and darkest strongholds, Islam. I suppose I would leave you to be the judge of the entire ordeal. As for me, I say amen for the brethren withstanding persecution for our Lord's namesake. If men praise you, be weary...but if they persecute you, it is because they first persecuted Him.

Which message do you want to preach?

James has lived in the areas surrounding Dearborn his entire life and knows the area and the people, as well as many of those who witness to Muslims in Dearborn. This is a perplexing question and one that will continue to be an issue for the church as what we call "Christianity" stops being the majority report in America. We could all stand to extend some grace to those who are willing to openly proclaim the Gospel as well as to those who build relationships with unbelievers in their own community.