Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good news so far on the housing front

The seller accepted our offer on the house we are hoping to buy so that is a big step out of the way. We are of course going to need to get an inspection and that has me a bit nervous because the house, especially the electrical, is pretty old. We also are waiting on the survey from a few years ago which is important because the house is sitting on almost 8 acres and that is a big selling point so we want to make sure we are really getting the property we think we are. I am starting my new job tomorrow so I will be in place and able to conduct business a little more easily. Now we just need to pack up a house full of the stuff of ten people!

Be anxious for nothing

We are waiting to hear back on the offer we made for our first choice house, the seller has until 6 PM tonight to respond so we are hoping to hear something soon. We have a second house we will go with if the first one doesn't work out, it is a smaller house and a smaller property but probably needs a lot less work to get it up to snuff. So we will see. We have been praying for patience, wisdom and submission to God's will in this matter but one way or the other we should know where we are going to be living pretty soon!

Back to the beginning of this journey

I read a couple of interesting posts this morning, one from Bobby Auner, church refugee, and one from Eric Carpenter, Ceremony? Why? and it got me thinking about the path God has put so many on and that he put me on around two years ago. Back in November of 2008 I wrote this post and as I went back and read it this morning, I think I would tweak a few words here and there but by and large this was the beginning of so much of where my thoughts have been directed since.



Main Entry: Ka·bu·ki
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈbü-kē, ˈkä-bü-(ˌ)kē\
Function: noun
Etymology: Japanese
Date: 1899

: traditional Japanese popular drama performed with highly stylized singing and dancing

It would seem sadly fitting that 491 years after that day in Wittenberg, Germany we find the church in such dire straits. A lot of what passes for “Christianity” today is gross heresy because the Gospel is watered down to make it less offensive to sinners, and as such it becomes “another gospel” and as such is declared anathema by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. But much of what is declared to be appropriate in “Bible believing”, orthodox churches is little more than a carefully choreographed and stylized dance, with actors who know their roles and carry them out as expected, saying the right thing, looking the right way. Even the churches that are admired as being paragons of "Reformation" thinking are seemingly content to carry on the dance, comfortable that what they are doing is the right thing: Sunday worship=Sunday school+1 hour of singing and preaching+maybe a Sunday evening sermon for an hour.

So what should the church look like? The model now is to dutifully show up on Sunday morning, an hour early for Sunday school if you are especially devout. You sit in your pew, stand up when told to stand up, sit down when told to sit down, drop your check or cash (or pass it on) when the offering plate comes, listen to the announcements, sing a couple of songs when the choir isn’t performing, listening to a sermon for 20-45 minutes and then heading out after the closing prayer. It is highly regulated, the same every week and does very little to foster a “love one another” atmosphere. I have often said in response to the “just love Jesus” crowd, how can you love Him if you don’t have any idea who He is? In the same vein, how can we love one another if we don’t know one another? Church is designed now for us to receive, we listen in Sunday school, we listen to the choir, we listen to the prayer, we listen to the sermon. It is very comfortable and very easy to be anonymous. It is also pretty easy to not get to know anyone, especially as the church gets bigger.

Men like Michael Horton, who is someone who I admire and appreciate for his knowledge and ability to communicate, still buy into the notion that the church is fine in its present form, we just need to modify what is being taught. According to Horton and company on the White Horse Inn, what makes a church a “True Church” is the Word rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. Umm, what about Christians? If you have a guy faithfully preaching and passing the wine and bread to a room full of unbelievers, is that a church? Isn’t the church the assembling of the body of Christ under the Word? The focus is not on a faithful preacher, is it? As long as we stay in the church sandbox, we just need the right order of worship, the right exegesis, the right observance of the sacraments. I am a big advocate of deeper study, of expository, verse by verse, chapter by chapter Bible preaching that links one Sunday sermon to the next. But is that all that we need?

As I was watching Luther with my friend James last night, it struck me that when you look at Luther and read his 95 Theses, what Luther was trying to do was reform the church within the framework the church had created. Given the circumstances that is understandable. But we haven't gone much beyond that in the intervening 491 years. We are still content to tinker around in the sandbox, moving the shovel over here and the pail over there.

The need for a fresh reformation is not limited to the egregious false gospel preached in emergent churches or in far left liberal “mainline” Protestantism. It is also found in many of the most “conservative” churches, churches that pride themselves on fidelity to Word and creed and confession, who wear the mantle of “Reformed” like a superhero cape.

This need for reformation goes beyond how we preach, or what music we sing, or the programs we run. It is not about tweaking around the edges, tinkering with the basic model. It goes to how we view the church and how, or if, we get beyond the model of the vast majority of churches. Semper reformanda should not be about returning to the 1950's. Or even the 1600's. Our source should always be the Word of God. Being "Reformed" is not a declaration that we subscribe to this Reformed confession or that creed, but that we seek God's will in the church, in our teaching and preaching, in our prayers, in our worship, in our lives.

So who am I to make such a grandiose, sweeping declaration? What of all the more learned men in the church, shouldn’t they get to decide how the church is run? I should maybe just be quiet and go about my business. Maybe not. I am hardly a modern day Martin Luther, or even a modern day Ulrich Zwingli! I haven’t exactly done a really good job of leading in the church in the past so what business do I have in declaring a need for an overhaul of how we “do church” in America especially but throughout Christendom? I am nobody I guess, but I am one of His sheep and thanks to men like Martin Luther and William Tyndale I can read His Word and because of that and because I love His church, I am concerned. That concern drives me to speak out, not out of anger or out of arrogance but out of fear. Fear that we are worshipping a jealous, holy God in a way that suits us instead of glorifying Him.

I do not have an end-result in mind, a preordained conclusion. I am not calling for the wholesale abandonment of the church, the "steeple house" in favor of so-called "house churches". But I am similarly not content to just muddle through like we are, tinkering around in the sandbox unafraid or unconcerned with why we do what we do because that is just how we have always done it. But I want to think out loud on this public forum, to express what my thoughts are and to encourage constructive conversation and even rebuke if needed. I want to examine every aspect of the church as it exists today, not just in this external or that, but in everything we do, including some of the most cherished traditions we hold.

This is very important to express up front. My intent is not to slander any of the multitude of godly men who lead our churches today, or the people who attend and serve, or the men raised up by God in the past upon whose shoulders we stand. This thought process is NOT an indictment of any church I have, am or will attend or any individual who I have been taught by, sat under the preaching of, or even anyone who has sat under my teaching or preaching. But the human heart, whether mine or Calvin’s or John MacArthur’s, tends to wander like the sheep we are. We need constant reflection in the mirror of Scripture to see if what we are doing is worship authorized by God or if it is strange fire. That is my intent, and that is my only intent. I invite you to think and pray and study along with me, and see where it leads.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A quick thought on holiness

I have read a few blog posts on holiness the last few days. It is an important topic and often a neglected one. Christians are not called to lives that resemble the world with nothing to distinguish us other than church attendance.

I have noticed one thing missing from much of the conversation regarding holiness, i.e. how our holiness is lived out and impacts others. As I read the conversation about holiness, what kept coming to my mind was this:

Any exhibition of personal holiness that is not accompanied by substantive action and an urgent sense of compassion is not Biblical holiness. It is nothing more than self-righteousness.

We cannot speak of holiness in the church as something that is marked merely by personal acts of piety. An internalized holiness is not holiness in any true sense but we have created a norm that sees religious observation as the pinnacle of holiness. If I look like a religious individual as understood by our cultural traditions, I am considered holy. What we see as holy, our self-focused and prideful personal piety, bears little resemblance to Scripture. If we are to truly focus on holiness we need to look to Scripture, not to the pop culture that surrounds our church traditions and what we will find is a holiness that sees others as more important than ourselves and requires sacrifice and humility. Our model to emulate is Jesus Christ and His holiness was marked by compassion, mercy, love, sacrifice. Our holiness must look the same or it is no holiness at all.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some thoughts about money on Black Friday

Ah, money. Our old friend. I have been thinking a lot about this topic yet again. There is a lot going on in our lives. I have a new job that pays me substantially more than the prior one and we are trying to be very careful not to “spend up” to the new income level. We are also in the market for a new house, one to buy instead of rent which is a major decision and one that has stewardship implications. What is important in buying a home, is it convenience and aesthetics or is it the way a home can be used for ministry? A big master bedroom with a separate master bath and walk in closets might be great for me but a large, simple, open living room where we can have Christians and other people come into our home to minister to them is more important.

Money is one of those things that Christians, at least in America, are really squirrelly about. We can talk about some sins all day long, even our own sins like a bad temper, but when the topic is money we clam up. It is weird because the Bible has so much to say about money and the hold it has on people. It is oh so easy to rail against “gay marriage” but start asking Christians to examine not just their giving to the local church but also how they spend all of their money and you are going to get yourself in trouble. This is especially pronounced in America where we have taken the love of money to new extremes and the church has been playing right along.

Perhaps this is again one of those topics that are harder to talk about because it hits so close to home. There are not tons of homosexual couples in most evangelical churches. Speaking out against gay marriage is not going to get you glared at from the pews, it probably will get somber head nodding and perhaps an “Amen!” or two. Start questioning the way American Christians treat money and you might get an ugly look from the well to do Christian with a new Cadillac parked outside. It is just odd that we have such a phobia when it comes to speaking about money especially because the way we deal with money has far more impact on the witness of the church than dealing with “gay marriage”. Maybe we should talk about our money, our spending. Maybe we should... gulp ...confess our sin where this is concerned.

The way we deal (or don’t address) money damages the witness of the church. Even people who know very little about the Bible probably know that Jesus had a lot to say about caring for the poor and yet those who follow Him seem oblivious to this. Not that we don’t care for the poor but our actions sometimes seem counter-productive when it comes to pouring money into the maintenance of our local church and the lifestyles that Christians live. Let me say this bluntly: most American Christians treat money as something that is none of God's business and take affront at any suggestion that we are accountable to God for every single penny we spend, even on "necessities"

Yeah, I went there.

I will be open here. There are lots of things I spend my money on that I don’t need to. I need to change that. For example, we have a membership with Netflix. Granted we have the cheapest level, something like $9 per month for hours of mindless and unedifying entertainment, but it is flat out unnecessary and I am going to get rid of it. I already stopped playing an online game that I really enjoyed, it only cost $14.95 per month but it adds up and was a major time stealer. We have a ton of money sitting in narrow boxes holding shining silver discs, some with movies and some with video games. I am afraid to calculate it but I am sure it is in the thousands of dollars. No more of that. I have shelves full of books, many of which are great books and quite edifying. They also cost a lot of money (except the “free” and unread books I got at Together for the Gospel in 2008). Many Christians think nothing of spending untold sums of money on books because reading good Christian books is such a pious thing to do. It is great during a conversation to airily remark “I was just reading a book by Jeremiah Burroughs the other day”. Other Christians will be impressed by your piety and knowledge but the starving child or the single mother doesn't care how many times you can quote Calvin in a sentence.

It certainly is true that money, in and of itself, is not evil. It serves a purpose in the facilitating of commerce, the exchange of goods and services. We all spend money on things that are not strictly necessary but that is not of necessity an evil act. It also is also true that money is perhaps the most addictive substance in the world, one that seems to cloud minds in a far greater way than drugs or alcohol and is more addictive than pornography. Almost all societies love money for what it can buy and it is doubly bad in the west where we love money not just for what it can buy but in many ways simply for the sake of loving it.

We are every single bit as accountable to God for how we spend every penny of our money as we are about our sexual behavior, our prayer life, our participation in the Body of Christ and everything else we focus on in the church. If you don't believe me, be a Berean and search the Scriptures for what it has to say about money, greed, the love of money, class distinctions in the church, stewardship, etc. and then tell me that attendance at a religious ceremony on Sunday morning is fair game for rebuke but my personal spending habits are off limits. Saying “I don’t murder people on Sundays but the rest of the week is fair game” is inane but so is “I give X% of my money to the church but the rest of my money is my business”. I don’t see that there is a pot of money that is “my money” and a pot that is “God’s money” implied anywhere in Scripture but in spite of all of the rhetoric regarding “it’s all His money”, we function as if the Bride of Christ has a separate checkbook from the Bridegroom. I think it is healthy that we examine on a regular basis our spending habits and our view of money and I think we need to be accountable to God and to one another for how we treat money because it frankly is an important Scriptural doctrine and the way we treat money has a major impact on the witness of the Church to the lost in the world.

One can be content in Christ but one can never be content in money.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Yesterday was my last day at the old job, Monday is my first day at the new job. We are once again in a state of transition as a family but in many ways this feels, at least for me, very different. Since we moved from Cincinnati, we have kind of been drifting along and the last couple of years have been especially tumultuous. From the spring of 2008 when the bank I managed closed down to our upcoming move, we have been perpetually in a state of flux and living sort of out of boxes. I am very hopeful that this will be our home for a long time as we settle into a new area and buy a home with some acreage and plenty of space. We are eager to get back into a more rural lifestyle, the last few years we have been living in the suburbs and have gotten pretty soft.

I anticipate that my blogging will transition as well. It is Thursday and I haven't posted anything at all since Sunday and nothing substantive for longer than that. I see this blog becoming more of a journal of what we are doing instead of a place to write lengthier thoughts. I still expect to write longer posts now and then but those posts likely will be less frequent and my regular posting will have more to do with our daily life. We are really going to try to raise more of our own food and necessities, whether that means milk and meat or fruit and vegetables, not because it is cheaper (it is not!) but because it is healthier and gives our children both responsibilities and a firm sense of where their food comes from. So I expect to do more blogging about our lifestyle. We also are going to get involved in gathering with the church in a "house church" network so I expect to write about that as well. The easy thing for us to do would be to get involved with a local Plymouth Brethren assembly but oddly there is not one where we are moving (one brother made the comment that it might be the largest metro area in the country without a PB assembly), so we are going to take the plunge. If we end up buying the house we are hoping to, it has a number of large rooms perfect for having lots of people over and lots of property for kids to run around on while also being pretty centrally located to the main population center. It is kind of scary but very exciting! I am so looking forward to what God is going to do with us over the years to come and I invite you to come along, at least from a cyber standpoint!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to the future?

A Pilgrim's Progress: Back to the Old Testament?:

Eric is banging a drum I have been beating on for some time, i.e. the way that many of our church practices find their origin and support in the Old Testament and make no sense under the New Covenant church. From tithing to sacred buildings to a distinct clerical class, we practice the gathering of the church using the Old Testament as our guide instead of the clear and quite different instruction we get from the New (my most recent foray into this arena was a post on Christians and the Sabbath). Eric makes some great points, go check it out!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do the Amish Tailgate?

Today is college football Saturday and I was down this morning looking at a house in a heavily Amish area. We saw a lot of Amish driving buggies and working in the fields but as we were leaving the small town we noticed a bunch of smoke coming from the parking lot of a hardware store. When we drove by it looked like there were at least half a dozen buggies parked in the lot and that the Amish men were manning grills and smokers. If they were tailgating, which teams would they root for?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teacher pay in Michigan

As a quick follow-up to the prior post, the Detroit News ran an article today about the relatively high pay of teachers in Michigan, something that is sure to be impacted by budget cuts....

More than 300 teachers in the region make more than $100,000 — double the median household income — and the average top wage for a teacher with a master's degree and roughly a decade of experience is nearly $82,000, according to a survey of districts in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties. The information was gleaned from employee compensation reports that school districts must post online.

Although starting teachers right out of college make roughly $40,000 in many area districts, they can earn well above $70,000 by age 30 if they get a master's degree. And that's for nine months' work and most holidays off.

In the Troy schools, a 25-year teacher with a master's degree and 30 extra hours of education can make $99,528.

Are public school teachers underpaid?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teacher Training

Very interesting article on the teaching of teachers and the need to raise the standards for those charged with educating the yutes of America in today's Wall Street Journal. The article, Teacher Training Is Panned, looks at the patchwork system for training teachers for America's schools and the efforts in a number of corners to improve that system to hopefully turnout higher quality teachers. Sounds nice but I think the article misses the mark.

There are two fundamental issues here. One, teachers are perceived to not be paid very well. I say “perceived” quite intentionally and I will address that in a moment.

Secondly, as the report implies, the perception that teaching is a lower paying professional position tends to discourage the “best and brightest” from pursuing teaching as a career.

Studies have shown that, historically, students who enter teacher-education programs generally have lower grade-point averages or lower scores on college-entrance examinations than students who enter other professions.

I would concur with this anecdotally from my own time in college. The only way to consistently encourage the very best students to choose teaching as a career is to change the pay perception and that takes money. Unfortunately money is in short supply these days for most school districts. Between lower property values and the explosion of extra staff that are not traditional classroom teachers, the odds of getting large pay increases for teachers are pretty poor and frankly not needed.

Compounding the problem is that the public is in no mood to keep giving more and more money to public schools. As more data comes to light and is more readily accessible, it is also apparent that teachers are not nearly as “underpaid” as folklore would claim. According to a report published by the Manhattan Institute in 2007, statistics show that the average public school teacher made $34.06/hour in 2005. If you were to annualize that hourly rate to 40 hours per week times 52 weeks per year that would be the equivalent of just shy of $71,000. That doesn’t mean that the average teacher makes $71,000 per year but then again they aren’t working 52 weeks per year either. There are 260 weekdays in a non-leap year. The average school year is 180 days or 36 weeks. Compared to a private sector employee with three paid weeks of vacation, public school teachers get the equivalent of 16 weeks of vacation. So they are really only “on the job” around 70% of the year. During the time that they are on the job they are paid an hourly rate that is much higher than most private sector workers who have full-time employment and a college degree. Because teachers only work a partial year, their annual income is perhaps low but frankly the per hour pay for actual work is much higher than most . Granted, many teachers spend a lot of time outside of school grading papers and other school related activities but those same teachers still have an enormous amount of time off compared to private sector workers. Perhaps for those reasons (lower pay that is offset by having 16 weeks off per year and a work schedule that corresponds to the school schedule of teachers children), it seems that teaching is more and more a female dominated profession that attracts women who expect to have a spouse who works to help offset the lower annual pay. The entire conversation about teachers being underpaid is framed by the talking points of teachers unions in a guilt trip scheme to continually add to the pay of teachers (and the coffers of teachers unions) but when you look at the facts as opposed to relying on folklore and emotional appeals, it is apparent that public school teachers are paid on an hourly basis far better than their higher achieving peers from college.

The other factor is that there is no real correspondence between pay and performance of students. If it were a simple mathematical formula, where X amount of additional money yields Y percent improvement in student performance, it would be far easier to make the case for paying teachers more. Unfortunately that is not the situation. Case in point from the same Manhattan Institute report, Detroit public school teachers have the highest average hourly pay at a whopping $47.28 per hour. That is an annualized rate of nearly $100,000 per year so if teacher pay was tied to educational quality, Detroit public schools should be leading the way in academic excellence. Alas that is not the case.

The education system is antiquated and it is broken. Merely throwing more money at it is not going to fix the problem and the public seems to be increasingly hesitant to rubber stamp millage increases on an annual basis for government services including public schools.

Maybe what is needed is a radical rethinking of the entire system. I am not suggesting that all parents should homeschool their kids but I do think that we have a system in place for educating children that has been virtually unchanged since I was a child and long before that. The four walls of a school building and the anachronistic schedule actually confine and restrict education instead of supporting it.

I am not sure what this radical rethinking looks like. Perhaps we see more out of classroom work, more online or interactive studies. What about asking someone who is a business person to come in once a month and teach economics or instruction from other subject matter experts from the “real world”? Why not pool resources in a given school district, instead of having a history teacher in each school have one history teacher who covers classes in multiple locations either in person or by video conferencing. I think the artificial, age based system of K-12 grades absolutely should go. Students should be grouped by ability and background, not age. Kids with an aptitude for math shouldn’t be restricted because a certain class is not offered at their “grade level”. I obviously don’t have all the answers or perhaps any of them. I do know that stubbornly trying to use 19th century methods and structures to teach children in the 21st century is foolish and self-defeating. We are no longer a primarily agrarian society so why do we still have academic years that are built around farming?

What are some ways to radically change the educational system in this country without increasing the costs?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Barna on the Reformed resurgence

The Barna Group put out a new report this morning asking if there is a surge in the number of Reformed churches, Is There a "Reformed" Movement in American Churches? . The report is interesting and its conclusion is not what you might think:

Kinnaman, who serves as Barna Group president, concluded, "there is no discernable evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade. Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most today's church leaders. It is important to note that the influence of Reformed churches might also be measured through other metrics that are currently unavailable, such as the theological certainty of self-described adherents, their level of acceptance toward those who are not Calvinist, and the new methods Reformed leaders are using to market their views to their peers and to the public.

That runs somewhat contrary to the regular stories that imply a huge uptick in Reformed theology among Christians. I think there might a couple of problems in the research.

First, the research focuses on “leaders”, i.e. pastors. I have found that there are a lot of local church groups with a number of Reformed/Calvinist believers but pastors who are at best a squishy Arminianism. These “orphan Calvinists” are often sort of stuck in local churches without a confessionally Reformed presence because frankly they can’t find anywhere else to meet with the church.

Second I think you need to take into account the outsized influence many Reformed leaders have on the greater church. I think of course of men like John Piper who is influential in a wide swath of the church as well as men like John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, R.C. Sproul and others who influence people across the church.

Third, it seems as if there is a definition problem. When 17% of self-identified “Reformed” pastors describe themselves as theologically liberal, that would indicate the report is capturing as “Reformed” those pastors from traditionally Reformed denominations that long ago lost any semblance of Reformed theology (i.e. the Christian Reformed Church). There are a lot of Reformed leaders in churches that are not overtly Reformed and there are a lot of theologically liberal leaders in churches that have the word “reformed” in their name but little else.

Is there a surge in churches that would call themselves Reformed? Maybe not as much as some reports seem to indicate but I certainly think that among rank and file Christians there is a large upswing in interest. That interest may not lead to lots of churches that say “We’re Reformed!” but even in the ten years that I have been a Christian I have seen it become more mainstream. Of course there is also the small but noticeable departure of people who hold to Reformed theology proper (i.e. the five points of Calvinism and the five solas) but who reject the church traditions of typical Reformed denominations. People like Eric Carpenter and I may not be a significant movement yet but with the ease of information being disseminated via the internet, I can certainly see more Christians following that same path. For myself and others, being Reformed in theology is not the defining characteristic of who we are as followers of Christ. It doesn’t make the glorious, God honoring truths of the doctrines of grace any less glorious, it just is not the end all and be all of the life of a disciple.

It is an interesting report, you should take five minutes and check it out.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best of the week entry 4

This one is my favorite, one of the best ideas in a long time. Eric Carpenter wonders about the impact of sending an open letter to all of the churches in Savannah, Georgia. In his post, An Open Letter to the Church in Savannah, Eric considers sending a letter to all of the local churches calling on them to abandon the current name of their local church in favor of one name that all would share:

Jesus Christ, our Head, desires, expects, and commands that we be united. This unity is not some sort of theoretical unity (often referred to as 'united in Spirit'). This is real unity. This is allowing nothing to come between us because Christ has united us.

In light of this, let's do something tangible that will show our unity in Christ to our community. Let's change our name to The Church in Savannah. Every local body of believers would get rid of its current name (such as Providence Baptist, Grace Presbyterian, Zion Lutheran, The Church on the Hill, Tapestry Fellowship, The Community at the Coast, etc.) in favor of The Church in Savannah.

Think about that, a name that all Christians in this city would share that speaks to our common faith in Jesus Christ instead of declaring how we are different and separate from one another. Embracing our unity instead of our division. We share a common faith and worship the same Christ, why shouldn't we be unified in name and not just in theory? Eric hasn't sent this letter but I wish he would. I am afraid that his idea wouldn't be very well received. I think it is a great idea but I sometimes think we are more concerned about advertising for "our church" and less about our united witness to the lost in our community.

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Alan Knox as part of a synchroblog on those who are marginalized. His post, Naming the Marginalized, explores how we look differently at those in the margins of society when they have names and faces and are not just a concept:

You see, it’s one thing to care for “the sick,” but it’s something completely different to care for Tina. It’s one thing to care for “the homeless,” but it’s something completely different to care for Charvin. It’s one thing to care for “the widows,” but it’s something completely different to care for Peggy. It’s one thing to care for “single mothers,” but it’s something completely different to care for Shonna.

We can say that we care for “the marginalized,” but never get to the point where we actually no someone who is marginalized. We can even give money to help “the marginalized,” but in fact, we’re actually paying someone else to care for individuals for us. And, unfortunately, from experience, I know that often that money does not actually help individuals, because they are often treated as a group. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should give money to help groups. I’m saying that we shouldn’t stop there.)

It is only when we get to know the person, to hear their story, to learn about their struggles and pain and hopes and fears… it is only at that point that we will know who to love them and serve them. We love and serve people when we are no longer caring for “the marginalized,” but we are caring for Benny, Belle, May, Creston, Cathy, and Jimmy.

If you want to begin to see through the eyes of the marginalized – to truly understand their life and their plight – then begin by getting to know their individual names, and listening to their individual stories.

Ignoring "the poor" is easier when they are just some amorphous concept. When the poor have names and faces and real stories, it is much harder to forget them.

Best of the week entry 2

Over at the Pyromaniacs Dan Phillips writes about John Gardner III, the animal who raped and murdered two teenage girls and dumped their bodies like garbage. Here is a man who is the poster child for the death penalty but he is also someone who should recieve something more than scorn and hatred from Christians. As Dan says, he is a man we should pray for because "let us remember that we need that same grace not one atom less than John Gardner III." What?! This most vicious of men needs grace but so do I and in the same way? Yes. From Reflections on the Gospel, repentance, and two wrecked souls.

So you see, this is yet another precise place where our inborn skewed priorities show themselves. We all choose our points of comparison very carefully and very wrongly, and end up not seeing just how desperately, how badly, we ourselves need the Gospel of pure grace through Christ alone, received by faith alone.

Is your Gospel that big? Does it reach that low?

You and I had better hope so.

Exactly. This man who committed a heinous act that is unthinkable by most suburban, middle-class churchgoing Americans is no more in need of the Gospel than the nicest soccer mom sitting in the pew in front of you. If the Gospel isn't big enough for John Gardner, it isn't big enough for me and it isn't big enough for you. If God can save murderous Saul, if God can save me, if God can save you, He can save John Gardner. I don't know if He will but I do know that if I can't pray for men like John Gardner, I have no business praying for the nice people I go to church with.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Dave Black and is a piercing call for the church to stop seeking after comfort and safety and start embracing suffering as part of the witness of the people of Christ. From The Persecuted Church: An Obstreperous Flower:

Jesus taught that unless a seed is planted and dies, there is no life. How then can we refuse to accept suffering as a normal part of our Christian life? No excuse is acceptable before God. We have no option. We must come to the place where suffering for the sake of the gospel is normal. We must arrive at a place in our lives where we learn to run to suffering and embrace it.

Nothing reveals the bankruptcy of the American church more clearly and quickly than our lukewarmness toward suffering. Because we have not yet comprehended the place of suffering in the Christian life we fail to see the terrible state of rebellion we are on. We have countless opportunities to trust God in the midst of persecution, yet it is rare to see Christians moving out in reliance upon God to the dangerous places of the world. I see dozens of famous Christian leaders preaching weekly from their pulpits who would never think of giving at least equal time to world missions. Yet we go on blindly -- holding our annual missionary conferences and talking about reaching the world for Christ without ever going ourselves.

Unless we come to a place of personal involvement we can never truly understand missions. Unless we learn to place the needs of the world above our own, we are in danger of producing a twenty-first century baby boom of immature saints. We have not learned to live sacrificially, as Jesus taught us to live, until we relate the crying demands of the unfinished missionary task to our own everyday lives and work.

Very true and quite convicting. Something else Dr. Black said struck me as well, something not in sync with American Christianity:

When our sons and daughters go off to war we honor them for their willingness to die in military service. But the minute our children tell us they want to give up career or marriage for the sake of Christ we spend countless hours trying to keep them from "going off the deep end." Much of today's popular pseudo-patriotism and flag waving is centered around a horrible distortion of Bible doctrine. It denies the very heart of the Gospel and says, "Self-denial for the sake of the nation is honorable, but before we follow Jesus we must bury our dead or bid farewell to our families or build new barns."

Also true but it is not popular to say it. Many Christian parents think nothing is more noble than having a child serve in the military but the idea of their child going to a foreign land without a gun and the might of the U.S. military to defend them is unthinkable. How I wish we would encourage our children and prepare them to serve Christ instead of serving their country. How much more in keeping with the self-denying, cross carrying life of weakness of a disciple of Christ that would be. Going to the "other" with the words of life and a willingness to die if need be instead of going to the "other" with a rifle and a willingness to kill if need be.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Obedience does not depend on obedience

Well that is a clunky title! The inspiration for this was a conversation I had at work yesterday. One of my female co-workers said “I’ll submit to my husband when he starts loving me like Christ loved the church!” I got to thinking about it and there is a major problem there. The commands, the “how shall we live as Christians" commands, are not predicated on someone else treating us right. In other words, the commands are by and large not conditional on the behavior of others.

One of the best examples of this is found in the aforementioned “husband and wife” passages in Ephesians 5: 22-33

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

It is instructive to read not just what Paul is saying but also what he is not saying. When Paul writes in Ephesians 5: 22 that wives are to submit to their husbands and Ephesians 5:25 husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, the two commands are similar and adjacent to one another but are not dependent on one another. There is not an “if” clause in his exhortation.

When wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, Paul doesn’t add “as long as he loves you properly”. There is no doubt that submitting to a husband who doesn’t love you as Scripture commands is difficult. But a wife submitting to her husband does so as an act of obedience not to her husband but rather to Christ.

When husbands are likewise commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church, Paul does not say "if she submits to you". If your wife is not submitting to your headship in the home, that doesn’t mean you aren’t obligated to love her. The command to love your wife as Christ loved the church is absolute and unconditional. My wife defers to my headship so I don’t have any complaints here, although I fall far shorter in my duty to love her as Christ loved the church. Even if she didn’t it is my obligation to love her because that reflects my love for God.

Here is another example. In Matthew 22:39, Jesus describes the second great commandment as follows:

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In no way are we led to believe that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves as long as our neighbors are lovable and love us back. It is far more likely that many (most) people we run into are not going to love us back but that is OK. Our neighbor love that is tangible and real as opposed to theoretical serves as a witness to our lost neighbors. Neighbor love does not carry with it a demand or even expectation that your neighbor will love you back.

When Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14: 26

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

He is not adding on “as long as the person speaking is ordained, an engaging speaker and agrees with every line item of the confession or statement of faith that our church adheres to”. Paul’s condition is that things be done in an orderly fashion and that people don’t speak over one another but there is no hint of the sort of restrictions we put in place. I have all sorts of problems with the church refusing fellowship with other Christians or at least denying them the ability to serve unless those other Christians first adhere to their manmade rules. The church does not exist for the best speakers to do all of the talking, the best singers to do all of the song leading, the best leaders to make all of the decisions. It is easier for me if someone else does all the work but it is unhealthy for me and for the rest of the church.

One of the hardest ones for us to swallow is in Romans 12: 17-21…

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Note that it is up to us to live peaceably, knowing full well that not everyone will be peaceable back to us. Nevertheless, we are to be a peaceable people who do not seek to avenge wrongdoings but rather to leave it up to God. That is hard in the West where we see retaliatory justice as something we are free to carry out. People love revenge movies where a good person is wronged by a bad person and the good person then metes out justice. Those sorts of movies are a staple of American culture but unfortunately are not Biblical. We see some of the best examples of this in the way that many Anabaptists, past and present, have lived. In the face of persecution they refused to fight back. This led to great temporal suffering for them as they were driven from their homes more than one time until they eventually landed in America. Even in this land that touts its religious tolerance the Anabaptists suffered persecution just as their forerunners did. The peacemaking that we are called to is not a peace through superior firepower peace or the threat of mutually assured destruction. It is a self-sacrificing, cross taking up kind of peacemaking that neither demands nor expects reciprocity.

These unilateral commands can be hard for us to swallow but no one said that being a Christian was going to be easy or comfortable. In spite of the difficulty, I thank God for all of this. I thank God that He didn’t wait for us to meet His standards before He stepped in to save us. God’s love for His people was not conditional and God didn’t meet us halfway or even 99% of the way. He came all the way. The Scriptures tell us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We who are redeemed in Christ Jesus ought to be the same, showing love to those who don’t love us, forgiving others before they forgive us, living peaceably even unto death with those who would seek to do us harm. All of these commands which require something of us with no expectation of reciprocity are difficult for selfish people to carry out but they are ultimately reflective of how God has dealt with His people, people who were by nature children of wrath and enemies of God. Instead of giving us what we deserved and returning enmity with enmity, He sent His Son to redeem some of us not because of what we did for Him but in spite of what we are. If God can redeem those who by nature hated Him, certainly we can love our wives without demanding they submit to us and certainly we should love our enemies without expecting them to first love us back.

Up Next: Why Four Gospels?

Now that I have finally finished Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, I am moving on to Dr. David Alan Black's Why Four Gospels? where Dr. Black makes the case for the priority of Matthew and rejects the Markan priority that is apparetly in vogue in much of academia. Why Four Gospels? is published by the good people at Energion Publications.

From the book description:

In Why Four Gospels? noted Greek and New Testament scholar David Alan Black, concisely and clearly presents the case for the early development of the gospels, beginning with Matthew, rather than Mark. But this is much more than a discussion of the order in which the gospels were written. Using both internal data from the gospels themselves and an exhaustive and careful examination of the statements of the early church fathers, Dr. Black places each gospel in the context of the early development of Christianity.

Though Markan priority is the dominant position still in Biblical scholarship, Dr. Black argues that this position is not based on the best evidence available, that the internal evidence is often given more weight than it deserves and alternative explanations are dismissed or ignored. If you would like an outline of the basis for accepting both early authorship of the gospels and the priority of Matthew, this book is for you.

Should be an interesting read. I hope to have this book completed soon and a review posted. On deck is a book I have had for a while and really want to read, Russell Moore's Adopted For Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches. Oh yeah, and changing jobs and moving my family along the way.

Book Review: Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation

In spite of the proximity of Haiti to the U.S., very few Americans know much about this small island nation beyond the regular tragedies that show up on our news and that they practice voodoo. Philippe Girard’s new book, Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, is a great introduction to the fascinating, colorful and all too often tragic history of Haiti that spans her history from the early days of European exploration all the way to the 2010 earthquake. I am going to Haiti in January of 2011 and was looking for an introduction to her history and I found a goldmine with Girard’s compact but thorough book.

What I especially liked is that Philippe Girard refuses to get into the blame game with Haiti’s woes. It is true that Haiti was exploited in its early history but so were many other nations and they are not in nearly the same shape as Haiti. According to Girard, Haiti’s woes can be placed squarely on centuries of corrupt leaders who have seized power in this island nation and used their nation as their own personal piggy bank. The end results is a giant welfare state that depends on foreign aid to function. Girard doesn’t sugarcoat the racism of America and the horror of the slave trade but neither does he allow these events to be an excuse for Haiti’s deplorable conditions.

What was most interesting was Girard’s conclusion. He asks the obvious question being asked by his primarily American audience: what should the U.S. do to help Haiti? His answer was surprising but dead on: as little as possible. Haiti needs to come into the world economy on its own. Free food helps feed people but it destroys Haiti’s agricultural sector. What Haiti has in abundance and the world has a need for is a cheap workforce that can do labor intensive light assembly. Are those jobs glamorous? Nope but in a country with something like 70% unemployment, these jobs are not exploitative they are gateways to a better future. Haiti is not going to go from welfare state to booming economy overnight and it is a century behind much of the rest of the world. All Haiti has going for it right now is a large, cheap workforce and natural beauty. To tap the one (the natural beauty) is going to require a stable country which requires stable employment (cheap workforce). Tourists are not ging to visit Haiti and spend their vacation money in a country that is unstable and the only way for Haiti to achieve last stability is to become economically independent.

Not everyone is going to agree with Girard but I think he makes a compelling case for how Haiti got where it is and the only real hope for Haiti in the future. Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation is a great introduction to our neighbor to the south that only seems to be in the news when the latest tragedy strikes. I think that the suggestions Girard makes could lead to Haiti someday being a tourism destination and a thriving economic partner instead of a nation broken by mismanagement.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let’s Get a Grip

So I am sure this was terribly inconvenient:

Several tug boats pulled a stricken cruise ship to San Diego Bay early Thursday, bringing the nearly 4,500 passengers and crew closer to freedom after four days of limited food, smelly toilets and dark cabins.

Three days with food and supplies being choppered to you, living on Spam and pop tarts. Toilets that don’t flush for a couple of days. No doubt many passengers will now sue for emotional distress after having to suffer the indignity of no running water, something hundreds of millions of people around the world live with as a daily fact of life. They should sue, after all the vacation they paid thousands of dollars for to be pampered on a huge cruise ship where their every whim was fulfilled was ruined. Ruined I say! I am sure that every passenger will get their money back or a replacement trip or a combination of the two. This afternoon they will be back on shore after three whole days of inconvenience.

It speaks volumes about us as a people that this is so newsworthy. Even in these “terrible” conditions, the passengers on this ship were being taken care of. Meanwhile all around the world kids are starving to death, dying from malnutrition and disease. People are being sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. People are facing hurricanes, epidemics and flooding in ramshackle tent cities. In America our breaking news, on Veterans Day, is of a cruise ship being towed safely to port after three whole days of toilets that don’t flush and Spam. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan that cost $4,500,000,000 is sitting nearby shuttling supplies to the tourists. Forgive me if I am less than sympathetic. I am sure that it sucked to be stuck on a luxury liner that wasn’t very luxurious but really people, get a grip.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can spiritual unity replace communal unity?

I read something interesting this morning from Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries. Tom often writes very thought provoking stuff and is one of my favorite Reformed writers because he is not nearly as dogmatic about it as some other self-appointed defenders of all things Reformed. He wrote this morning about Christian unity and referenced a devotional from Octavius Winslow. Here is something Tom said that I found especially interesting:

Nevertheless, there are some who, rather than join in this movement of God's Spirit, seem intent on undermining with accusations of conspiracies and compromise. I pity such people. Their spirit is contrary to spirit of Jesus and the Word of God. Winslow understood that. And his morning thought for today could not be more timely.

I think anyone who has spent much time in the blogosphere and especially among the most common Reformed haunts will recognize what Tom is saying. There are some, few in number but with an especially loud voice and influence far beyond what is reasonable, who delight in searching for signs of “compromise”. I am as stalwart as anyone when it comes to the Gospel and standing firm for it. There is no room for compromise on the core essentials of the Gospel nor of the fundamentals of the faith like justification by faith alone. These are not the compromises that garner the most response. It is the secondary issues that divide us that generate the most passion: baptism, church governance, end-times positions, etc. and it is largely because of these secondary doctrines that we give primary importance to that the church is splintered and fragmented.

The quote from Wislow that Tom references is what really caught my eye:

The one family of God is composed of “many brethren.” They are not all of the same judgment in all matters, but they are all of the same spirit. The unity of the family of God is not ecclesiastical nor geographical, it is spiritual and essential. It is the “unity of the Spirit.” Begotten of one Father, in the nature of the Elder Brother, and through the regenerating grace of the one Spirit, all the saints of God constitute one church, one family, one brotherhood—essentially and indivisibly one.

Yes but also no. I absolutely believe that I am in the same church as a brother in Brazil or a sister in South Korea but the reality of our spiritual unity in the universal church should not excuse our division in the local gathering of the church. Saying I am unified with my brothers in my geographic area but then denying full fellowship because of denomination or secondary points of doctrine is a de facto denial of the universality of the church. It is not sufficient to say "I recognize you as a brother" in theory but not in practice. In many churches Christians who are not “members” are denied even the ritualized observation of the Lord’s Supper, much less the full communion of the body of Christ in a meal. Most members in a local gathering are expected to be mute, how much more so those who are visiting. Our "unity" is predicated on your adherence to our rules, rules that have no basis in Scripture but are as unchanging and inflexible as the strictest code in Scripture.

We cannot merely acknowledge our unity in Christ in theory but deny full fellowship with one another in practice. Unity in doctrine without a matching practice is not unity in any real sense and makes a mockery of the universality of the church of Jesus Christ.

Supplies for orphans

I just found out that I can take two 50 lb. duffel bags with me to Haiti at no extra charge, so I am soliciting for donations for the orphans on behalf of the Global Orphan Project. Sounds like they have plenty of clothes and shoes so what they are looking for is:

Items should include soap,toothpaste, tooth brushes, combs, hair barrettes, towels, twin bed sheets, shampoo, dishwashing liquid,deodorant, band-aids, antiseptic creme, and children’s Tylenol (or off name brand)

We as a family are going to try soliciting local dentists as well as retailers in addition to seeking private donations. My wife is really good at that and is hard to say no to! If you live in the general vicinity of Lansing or at least somewhere nearby and feel so inclined, please feel free to donate the above goods and I will haul them to Haiti in January. If you are interested and able to help, please note your interest in a comment or send me an email. If you happen to live in Missouri I can get you in touch with the main group there and they can transport these essential items to Haiti. These items that many of us take for granted will make a huge impact on the lives of these children!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sarah Palin on Neanderthals who dare question feminist dogma

This seems to be an odd position for someone who touts herself as a social conservative and defender of traditional values. From WorldNetDaily comes this telling snippet from an interview with Sarah Palin on Fox news….

"It kind of seems, Geraldine, that some things haven't changed," Palin said. "There are still the Neanderthals out there who pick on the petty, little, superficial, meaningless things – like looks, like whether you can or can't work outside of the home if you have small children – all those type of things where I would so hope that at some point those Neanderthals will evolve into something a bit more with it, a bit more modern, and a bit more understanding that, yeah, women can accomplish much."

Petty? You can make arguments on either end of the political spectrum or even try to use some Biblical support for it but the topic of whether or not women should work outside of the home when they have small children is anything but “petty”. I would go so far as to make the link between absentee parenting and much of the social ills we experience in America. I think having a parent at home is far more important than whether we allow/mandate prayer in schools or have textbooks that talk about the religious beliefs of the Founders or whether we allow Ten Commandments monuments on public ground.

I think women or at least one parent should stay home with their children. I don't apologize for that view and neither should anyone else. I believe it is unhealthy for kids to be raised by strangers or even worse to be hanging around at home alone. It may be unkind to bring this up but I wonder if Ms. Palin would be a grandmother already if she were at home instead of chasing fame and personal glory?

Furthermore, the prevalence of two-income families where the second income is superfluous has been, in my humble opinion, disastrous for our economic well-being and our families. In the not too distant past, most families survived quite nicely on a single income where the father worked and the mother stayed home to care for the home and the children. As we have increased the number of women working outside of the home in an misguided attempt to ”empower” women, we have seen a change in our economy. Today many, if not most, families are two wager-earner families. More people are putting off marriage and consequently putting off children while men and women alike establish their careers. By the time they get married and eventually start having kids, they are used to the things in life that two people working full-time can afford to buy. It is perceived to be much harder to make ends meet on one salary today but we used to do so quite commonly. What happened?

If you needed further proof that Sarah Palin is more useful as a spokesperson and someone to rally the troops than as a serious leader, this is it. There are a lot of people who think that women ought to have home and children as their first priority. Many of them are exactly the kind of people who Palin would depend on to win the GOP nomination. Referring to us as “Neanderthals” is probably not going to win her many votes. There is a new strain of “conservative” women who seem to think that “traditional” values boil down to opposing gay marriage and abortion while embracing a neo-feminist view of the family.

Ms. Palin, I am not really interested in “evolving” into something “more modern” if that means that we consign an ever larger number of our children to the tender mercies of day care workers and public school officials or worse yet left to fend for themselves day after day after school. I am quite convinced that “women can accomplish much” but I also think that they can do so with the children God has placed under their care instead of seeking personal glory in the workplace. What is the greater testimony of a strong woman, children who are raised well by their mother or a list of accolades from work and a high balance in your 401(k)? If a woman chooses to work outside of the home, that is between her and her husband but please let’s not resort to petty and ignorant name-calling of those who think that decision is not in the best interest of children. That is the sort of behavior I expect from political liberals who can’t argue their positions on merit, not from someone who many people think is a champion of conservative values.

Can women work outside of the home? Sure. Are there circumstances where this is actually necessary as opposed to a matter of preference? Absolutely. Is it generally better wherever possible for women to stay at home and care for their children? You betcha!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Not a mormon? No shelter for you!

The Fo-Mo Chronicles: Shelter from the storm? For mormons only!

I ran across a very sad story about a mormon owned building in Haiti that only allowed mormons to shelter there during the recent hurricane. Apparently the decision came from way up the food chain and the local leaders were unable to use common sense to make a decision that might have saved lives.


So we are once again “On The Road Again”, this time to what I believe is less of a stop-gap job and more of a permanent place to settle down. We are joining the hordes of people who have left the great state of Michigan, leaving behind its unfriendly business climate and horrible roads but being close enough for easy access to the wonderful features that Michiganders are rightly proud of. My soon to be former employer was an OK place to work but it was not very challenging and offered virtually no room for career growth.

I am expecting that the impending move will lead to somewhat sporadic blog posting until we get things figured out and more settled.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Timothy, M.Div.

Check out this advertisement for Westminster Seminary in California by Michael Horton. Play close attention at around the :45 mark....

Dr. Horton speaks about the importance of finding pastors who are well trained, who have...

studied to show themselves approved as handlers of the Word of God

...i.e., studied at a proper seminary. What Dr. Horton said in the above quote is believe a reference to 2 Timothy 2:15.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

I wonder. Since Timothy is the one Paul is addressing, where did Timothy go to seminary so that he would be able to be approved to handle the Word of God?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Tim Challies and is pretty hard hitting and perhaps controversial: The Burden of Perverse Assumptions. Tim asks if the widespread acceptance and embrace of deviancy, specifically male homosexuality, has led to the decline of close male friendships among normal men.

My mother has often remarked that men, and Christian men in particular, go through life lonely—forsaken by other men who should be their friends. And I think she is right. I wonder if we, too, bear the burden of perverse assumptions. Maybe we, too, from our early days feel the need to prove that we are not homosexual. And we do this by fleeing emotional or spiritual intimacy with other men, assuming that such relationships are unworthy of men—real men.

The societal prevalence of homosexuality is not going to lessen anytime soon. While Christians must continue to insist that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with Scripture (and you may like to read Dr. Mohler’s book to learn more about why this is the case) we must also not allow it to usurp friendship and to reframe the way we, as Christians, and Christian men, view and understand friendship. We have far too much to lose.

I think this is an interesting question and a valid one. Give it a read and let me know what you think....

Best of the week entry 1

An excellent repost from Alan Knox is my first best of the week. Alan's post Community in name only? looks at a hypothetical community church and wonders how a group that is a true community and not one in name alone would interact with others from outside of the group as well as with one another:

As he drives away, and as you return to your unpacking, you wonder to yourself, “If Community Church is a true community instead of a community in name only, what would I expect of them? How would I expect them to act towards me and my family, as outsiders? How would I expect them to act towards one another? What would I expect to happen on Sundays? What would I expect to happen other days of the week?”

How would you answer these questions? [By the way, I'm not saying that this fictitious group of believers known as "Community Church" is a community in name only. Instead, I'm asking what would you expect from a group of people that was a true community and not a community in name only.]

I like the exercise here. Sometimes it is better to think about things hypothetically because we get so emotionally attached to "my church" that we can miss areas to improve. What does a real community of believers look like? Give Alan's post a read and then jump in with your comments!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Rome Is Not Home

I have been reading an interesting exchange between a stalwart Reformed Protestant, Carl Trueman, and a staunch Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.

In the essay by Cross he points out that many “Protestants” are not at all offended (his word) by the Roman claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded to the exclusion of all other sects, denominations and traditions because they frankly don’t even know that Rome makes that claim. Others do know of this claim and are deeply offended by it (think James White). A third group is aware of the claim and not offended because they see Rome as the source of Protestantism. From his blog post:

Some Protestants who know of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded are not offended by this claim. They are not offended by it, because they remember Protestantism’s historical origin in the Catholic Church. They remember that in the minds of the first Protestants, the intention was not to separate from the Catholic Church, but to reform the Catholic Church. For these first Protestants, their resulting separation from the Catholic Church was a kind of ‘necessary evil,’ not intended to create one or many schisms from the Church, but to bring needed moral and doctrinal reform to the very same Church that Christ had founded. In the minds of those first Protestants, this separation was to persist only until the Catholic Church was sufficiently reformed, so that they could return to full communion with her. The present-day Protestants who remember this obviously do not believe that the Catholic Church is infallible; that is why they believe that they can justifiably be separated from her. But they do believe that the Catholic Church from which they are visibly separated is (or has the best claim to being the visible continuation of) the Church that Christ founded, and they look to be reunited to her as soon as she is sufficiently reformed.

In many ways both Cross and Trueman are right. Protestantism did start with the basic premise of reforming Rome and that is in large part why it has been so splintered for so long. Rome is essentially a centralized, hierarchical, controlling institution. Everything about Rome is designed to perpetuate the institution and control what people think and do by controlling their access to the Scriptures and to God Himself in the form of the Eucharist, the priest system and the papacy itself. There is no coming boldly before the throne, you must go through an intermediary like a priest or pray to some long dead “saint” to intercede on your behalf. If you are outside of the Roman church, you are estranged from God Himself.

Little wonder that trying to tinker around with this system has led to chaos. It is not that the Roman system is right and we should return to it. It is that Christians have stubbornly clung to Roman tradition and in doing so are trying to fit the proverbial square peg in a round hole with predictable and demonstrable results. The reality of the Christian life with its blatantly counter-cultural stance and worldly rejection is always at odds with the sinful human desire for something tangible to worship, for rituals to engage in and exaltation of other men.

It is very true that the Reformers, as the name would indicate, sought to reform the Roman Catholic church at first and then only after that failed sought complete separation from her. Likewise those who dissented from the Reformers and were persecuted for it were mostly seeking to push the Reformers to go further, not merely changing the doctrine of the church but also changing the practice of the church. It was only when they were stonewalled in that effort that they broke away from the Reformers, a path that left them vulnerable to persecution and martyring by Roman Catholic and Protestant alike. Little wonder that many Anabaptists eschew the title “Protestant” when their history is one of bloodshed from both sides of that conflict.

That is why many Christians are not as closely aligned with the Reformers as perhaps would seem appropriate. The Roman church does not now, did not during the time of the Reformation and has not represented the Church of Jesus Christ for over 1500 years. I am not interested in reforming Rome because Rome was never right in the first place. I am all for preaching Christ and Him crucified to Roman Catholics and welcoming them into the communion of the saints when God sovereignly brings them to faith. However many Protestants, those who embrace the title more than as a generic “not Catholic” title and seek a return to the Reformation find themselves in a precarious spot. As Carl Trueman says in his response to the blog post by Bryan Cross: Bryan picks up on a point I have made numerous times, both in print and in the classroom, that Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic. In other words, the default position for Protestants is that once Rome is sufficiently reformed, we can all go back. Merely being “not Catholic” for whatever reason is insufficient. I think that is troubling and dangerous.

When I look at the historic faith, I don’t see Rome as the fount. I am not like Trueman, assuming Cross is accurately representing him, in his view of Rome:

He writes about the Catholic Church as someone who knows that in a certain sense, the Catholic Church is his Church; she belongs to him, and he belongs to her, even though he believes he must now remain separated from her. In that respect, he writes of the Catholic Church as one writes about a parent from whom one is estranged, waiting to be joyfully reconciled.

Far from an estranged parent, I see Rome as a complete stranger who is sitting in our living room and helping herself to the contents of our fridge. The fact that she has been camped there for a very long time doesn’t change anything. The church that I trace back to is not now and never has been Rome. The so-called schism I see is not a 16th century event, it is something that happened around the time of Constantine when the unholy church-state alliance was formed, when the “visible church” stopped being a called out people, unique in and apart from the world, and became a man-centered religion that bore no resemblance to the Church of Christ. There have always been Christians and many of them could be found throughout the ages in the Roman Catholic Church but that doesn’t legitimize Rome in any sense.

Trueman is quoted as saying we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic. I respectfully disagree. The Roman Catholic Church in no way is representative of the early church that existed when Peter and Paul were spreading the Gospel. I no more need a “good, solid” reason to not be Catholic than I do a “good, solid” reason to not be a Buddhist. I am not estranged from Rome, Rome is estranged from the Gospel. Being Roman Catholic is not the default for Christians, the position that we all naturally align ourselves to. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is a great one for civil laws but not when it comes to the Gospel. Since coming to Christ some ten years I have never once considered Rome because even in my limited understanding of Scripture a decade ago coming out of mormonism, I realized that there was very little that Rome had to offer that was supportable in Scripture. Even more so, I saw in Roman dogma and practice regarding the church much that seemed eerily familiar to someone who came out of an authoritarian cult like mormonism.

So to Mr. Cross and my friends in Rome, there is no need to leave the porch light on for me. I am not “coming home” because Rome never was home in the first place. I would instead like to invite you to come to Christ and join in the communion of His Church alongside believers all around the world, now and throughout the centuries. The historic church of the Scriptures was not a religion of hierarchy, ritual and works. It was and is a family of new creatures in Christ, believers who are linked by our common salvation instead of by label and baptism as an infant. I encourage you to come join His people all around the world. I would further exhort my fellow believers in Christ to make their division with Rome complete by rejecting Roman practice as well as doctrine.

Would the last one to leave Rome please turn the lights off on your way out?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Urgent Prayer Request

Les at the Haiti Orphan Project posted this request today to pray for Haiti as Tropical Storm Tomas turns north and looks to be heading straight at Haiti. Many, many Haitians are still without shelter, living in tent cities since last January's earthquake. Of course the cholera epidemic is still going on and the flooding that comes from this storm will make that worse.

I have prayed boldly, even presumptuously, for God to spare Haiti this devastation but I also recognize His sovereign will and prayed this morning that if He chooses to not spare Haiti the devastation of Hurricane Tomas that He would cause His people to stir up and be filled with compassion for those who are facing a hurricane with no shelter, those who are already terrified of cholera, the orphans who don’t have a parent to tell them it will be OK. The need of people both within and outside of our borders is incredible and there is no excuse, none, for a follower of Christ to see the suffering of others as a reason to change the channel on their TV set.

Our God, stir up your people. Stir us up that we cannot be content to see the tragic need around the world as something for someone else to worry about. Make the luxuries we take for granted a condemnation to us instead of a comfort. Cause the excuses we so easily give for ignoring the needs of others bitter in our mouths. Give your people no rest when there is so much that even those of us of modest means could aid. Like your Son, may your people be moved to mercy and pity.

The Cultural Hermeneutic of Western Christianity

It never ceases to amaze me how deeply our cultural expectations color our Biblical interpretation. It is so easy to read the Bible, especially the New Testament, as if it were written Christians in a suburban local church in modern day America. The sheer volume of assumptions we make based on what we just assume to be true is staggering.

As an example. When we read what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. are some of the assumptions we often make.

An evangelist is a professional minister who is sponsored by some local churches or by a denomination.

We know who evangelists are because we have glossy color postcards from them with a picture of their family saying “Greetings from the so-and-so family”, often on a billboard in the foyer to declare that this local church is serious about evangelism. Or in Baptist circles an evangelist might be a guy who comes to churches to do "revivials" and get "decisions".

Oddly enough, that is not exactly how the Bible describes it. We read in Acts 21:8 that Paul stayed in the home of “Phillip the evangelist”. We also read that Phillip was one of the seven chosen in Acts 6 to care for the widows. That is also the passage that is supposed to refer to the selection of deacons, so we have an odd situation where we see evangelists and deacons as separate in the modern church but Phillip was clearly fulfilling both roles (assuming again that Acts 6 is speaking of deacons, which I don't see any evidence for). Perhaps one can do the work of an evangelist without being officially titled “evangelist” or “missionary”, and in fact we can do the work of an evangelist while working a regular job and holding no official title in the local church? Here is another example from that same passage:

The ministry Timothy was fulfilling was vocational pastoral ministry

After all, Paul’s letters to Timothy are called the “Pastoral Epistles” so we should apply anything we read in those letters to the traditional idea of being a pastor as an employee of the local church. Of course the problem here is that Timothy was never, at least as far as the Bible describes, anything like what we traditionally think of as a minister. It is amazing that an extra-Biblical title, “The Pastoral Epsitles” leads people to apply what they read in 1 and 3 Timothy and Titus to a professional, vocational clergy even though that is clearly not what Paul was talking about since there was no professional clergy in the days he was writing. Timothy was recognizing men as elders in local churches, I am not at all certain that he was even an elder in a local church at all so I think there is limited value in applying the "Pastoral Epistles" to our notion of pastors.

Or Acts 2:42 which is one of the most quoted passages in the Bible for how church is done:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Apostles teaching means listening to a sermon or two each week. Fellowship means going to church and perhaps a potluck lunch afterward once in a while. Breaking of bread means a passing a plate with oyster crackers and a small cup of grape juice once a quarter or even once a month. Prayer means listening to the pastor pray while we bow our heads reverently

Now I am not saying that there is nothing in what traditional churches do that even vaguely resembles what the early church was doing in Acts 2:42. My bigger point is that we just assume that when we read these words, it matches up with what we already know. We form an image in our head that is formed more by tradition and experience that what we find in the context of the text. The early church was far more than a “twice a week meeting, once a quarter bread breaking, meager offering Sunday morning, one man leads and the rest listen” kind of experience. The early church was a true set apart people, people who lived their lives daily with one another. As Joseph Hellerman argues in his book, When the Church was a Family, becoming a Christian meant that your brothers and sisters in Christ became your most important relationship, more so even than family. Culture notwithstanding, we cannot reduce the church fellowship to a couple of scheduled, rigidly organized observances per week.

Or my favorite from the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

Remembering the Sabbath means going to church for a couple of hours on Sunday and relaxing at home the rest of the day

I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t “remember the Sabbath” but clearly Christian worship services and the way we normally approach Sunday has virtually no similarity to how Jews observed the Sabbath. In spite of that we still often view Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath” even though the Bible doesn’t make this link. In other words, we reinterpret Sunday as a replacement of the Sabbath and have created all sorts of rules about what that means without a shred of solid Biblical proof. Do we “remember the Sabbath” by going to church or by staying home with our family? Do we honor the Sabbath by serving others or do we abstain from doing anything at all? We have decided that “remember the Sabbath” means “going to church” and doing certain things while we are there (singing 3-5 songs, listening to a couple of prayers, putting some money in the offering plate and listening to a sermon) even though that bears a) no resemblance to the Jewish Sabbath that God ordained in the Ten Commandments and b) doesn’t look anything like what the early church did.

I think we all can fall into this trap because our religious culture is so powerful and the culture in the ancient times the Bible was written seems so foreign, so togas and sandals, that it can be hard to interpret Biblical principles without overlying contextualizing them in a modern setting. Compounding this, many Christians take what they are told at face value. Given a simple explanation for a troublesome passage, it doesn’t seem that many people are willing to dig into the text to be sure that what they are told by the experts in a local congregation is really what the Bible is saying. It also seems that we are trying to export this cultural hermeneutic to other countries by trying to plant Western churches in countries that barely have running water.

So how do we avoid this? Is it unavoidable? Or maybe it isn’t really a problem at all?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Let’s temper our expectations

Like many Americans, I am voting today. It is one of those civic duties we all do and I think that, in this life anyway, how we vote makes some difference. I am voting, no shock to anyway, for Republican candidates across the board because I feel that the principles that the GOP allegedly stands on (but often doesn’t govern on) are the best for the largest number of people: smaller government, lower taxes. There is a great deal of excitement among evangelical Christians who are politically conservative because we are expecting a big win for “our side” today.

In voting, I have no illusions that a GOP majority is going to lead to America “turning back to God” (or gods if you are Glenn Beck). I also don’t think that is the point. Yesterday America was a nation of people who by and large are lost and don’t even know it. A nation of people who need to hear the Gospel just like people in France or Tanzania or Thailand. No matter what happens today , that basic truth will still hold true. We will have a different crop of people who need Jesus in office and their policies will be different but their state before God will be the same.

There is a growing and dangerous reliance in the Church on the political process. If we can just overturn Roe v. Wade, if we can just stop gay marriage, if we can just get Nancy Pelosi out as speaker and Barack Obama out as President, then we will have a victory for Christianity. This blurring of the lines between our secular civic duty and our sacred eternal calling is dangerous and counter-productive to the Gospel.

We are not called to transform America, we called to proclaim the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

So I hope you vote today because it makes a difference, however minor, in our day to day lives but no matter the outcome, the greatest need of all people, in America and elsewhere is Jesus Christ and His Gospel is not a political movement. If you put your trust in politicians they will let you down. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and you will never be disappointed.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Tough questions

Dave Black echoes some of the very feelings I have and along the way he asks some tough questions, questions that I think we all know are out there but are too afraid/apathetic to answer.

The fellowship we enjoyed went far beyond the gastronomic. As we talked my mind wandered to a famous book published in 1967 by Hans Hillerbrand called The Fellowship of Discontent. Each of us feels a holy discontent with the status quo in our churches. (I hope it is a holy discontent.) Like the radical reformers of the sixteenth century and earlier, we desire to cut to the root of the church. We feel a holy dissatisfaction with the "affluenza" (Kevin's term) that characterizes Western Christendom. We desire with all our hearts the establishment of a church that Luther once described as "Christians in earnest who profess the gospel with hand and mouth." (This is my only nod to Luther on Reformation Sunday!) We see the church today mired with its own success and apathy. We long for a community of believers that is characterized by simplicity, democracy of organization, theological purity, humility of spirit, strong fraternal feelings -- in sum, a church composed of those who, in the words of Waldo (the founder of the Waldensian church in 12th century France), "follow nakedly a naked Christ." We want to be believers who live in such a way that proves that the church's task is to give itself in love and service to the world. I doubt that any of us -- I know I don't -- think that we live up to our aspirations. Sometimes I feel like the perfect hypocrite. Here I am, preaching about sacrifice, and but have I sold everything to follow Jesus? No. Am I just another Zwingli, a Greek scholar who had become (in the eyes of the Anabaptists) a mere "halfway man," afraid to face the consequences of his own teaching? The Anabaptists made the Great Commission the responsibility of every Christian. We Baptists have outsourced missions to professionals. The early Quakers went into all the world with a carelessness about geography. We ask ourselves, "But is it safe?" The Methodist leader Thomas Coke died in 1814 on his way to Ceylon. James, a 24-year old Burji, willingly exposed himself to grave danger when he translated for me while I preached to the Gujis, not knowing that a few weeks later it would cost him his life. Am I really seeking in my own life what the Hutterites called Gelassenheit -- a German word that connotes a complete yielding to God's will by the radical elimination of self-will? It is a high and holy privilege to serve Jesus. It is our assignment to reveal Him before a watching world. And you and I are added to the list of participants. Will we carry our weight?

Boy does that hit me like a ton of bricks. I am quick to ask those questions of others but less eager to ask them of myself and I fear that I often am more hypocrite than prophet.

The big question we all are faced with is: am I willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ? Comfort, affluence, safety, life? I know what the answer should be but I don’t think the answer is yes for very many people and especially not for people who live in the affluent West.

This is not a question of justification by works or of seeking after our own righteousness. It is a question of what sort of faith we have. Is our faith a comfortable, Sunday morning, God-talk kind of faith that is an addendum to our lives as Americans or is our faith the ancient faith of the disciples, the faith of the Anabaptists and others who suffered persecution with joy and gladness. When I look at myself, and to be blunt almost all of the other Christians I know, I don’t see a life that is reflective of the life we have been called to. Christianity is part of who we are, it impacts what we do and the choices we make but it is not the sum total of who we are. It becomes an identifier: I am a Christian, I am an America, I am a Republican. In my case and in many others it is by far the most important distinction about me but it is still one of the distinctives among others.

Perhaps I am simply being morose today, a peevishness brought on by the shorter days, impatience with some impending big decision and the cesspool of politics that I keep diving into. I just can’t shake this feeling that I am like so many others, sleepwalking through our Christianity. I taught an overview of Jeremiah yesterday and when I think about how he lived for God in spite of the cost of being hated and reviled, being beaten and put in the stocks, seeing virtually no fruit for his efforts except faithfulness, I feel pretty unfaithful. I wonder what I would do if God called me to abandon everything and then I realize He has called me to do just that, to see what the world values as worthless. This goes way beyond the various, vague external pieties that we use to try to convince ourselves that we are true blue disciples.

I don’t want to be a religious American, I need to be a Christian who happens to currently live in America.