Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Will he or won’t he?

The latest hubbub surrounding Rick Warren and his invocation at the inauguration of the Obamination centers around the question: will he offer the prayer in the name of Jesus, thus offending muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, etc.?

President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation drew one kind of protest. Whether the evangelical pastor offers the prayer in the name of Jesus may draw another. At George W. Bush's 2001 swearing-in, the Revs. Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell were criticized for invoking Christ. The distinctly Christian reference at a national civic event offended some, and even prompted a lawsuit.

Warren did not answer directly when asked whether he would dedicate his prayer to Jesus. In a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, Warren would say only that, "I'm a Christian pastor so I will pray the only kind of prayer I know how to pray."

"Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God," Warren wrote. His spokesman would not elaborate.

For a Christian, is a prayer offered up without doing so through Christ effectual and worth the breath? Not really, which is why I believe that the Bible shows that those who pray outside of Christ are probably wasting their breath. Christ is the great High Priest, the sole mediator between God and man. He is the one at the right hand of the Father, He is the one who conquered death and sin by His cross. He is the one who made atonement for sin and at His death the curtain in the temple, symbolizing the separation between God and man, was rent in two.

In other words, what basis does anyone have to approach the Father other than through the intercession of Christ?

Let’s hope that Rick Warren offers a humble, sincere prayer in the name of the Savior. If he won’t do that, how can he claim to be a minister of the Gospel of the One who he will not name in front of believers and sinners alike?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A call for a new Reformation in the church: Reform the church, not a Reformed church

I have long felt that if we could just find a church that is “Reformed enough” we would be OK. That was the goal and the standard. I had the White Horse Inn mentality, that our goal should be churches that are more Reformed, and in being more Reformed they would be better. But over the past year or so, it has become apparent that being “Reformed” for the sake of being able to say you are “Reformed” really defeats the spirit of semper reformanda. If our goal is to constantly seek to conform ourselves to whichever Reformed confession we hold to and use that as the standard that determines one’s “Reformedness”, then I don’t really want any part of that. If the standard instead, if the goal of being Reformed is in reality and not just rhetoric to hold all that we do up to the Scriptures, sign me up. It is the Scripture that defines being Reformed, because I believe that an honest and comprehensive view of the Word leads inexorably to those doctrines that are labeled as “Reformed”: the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, the utter sinfulness of man, the substitutionary death of Christ as propitiation, the doctrines of election, predestination and eternal security. Again, if being “Reformed” strays away from that and becomes just a series of church practices, I want no part of it. The R. Scott Clark camp that has declared that anyone who breaks from infant baptism cannot legitimately be called Reformed completely miss the mark because they have reduced being Reformed to being able to tick off boxes on a questionnaire. We need to reform the church, not make the church more “Reformed”. If we focus on Biblical restoration of the church, traditional “Reformed” doctrines will follow but trying to restructure a church that is at odds with the New Testament by adopting Reformed confessions is the theological equivalent of lipstick on a pig.

A few thoughts on this quest, many of which are merely repeats of previous posts.

We must absolutely break the hold that money has over the church. I keep hammering this but ever time I do I become more convinced of the pernicious influence of money on the church. Almost every church has strife over finances and many churches spend an inordinate amount of timing talking about, praying about, fussing about spending and giving. Take away the influence of money, as much as possible, and you start to take away the incentives to water down preaching and teaching, the opportunities to cause strife within the church over spending and budgets, you eliminate to an extent the problems of unregenerate church membership (if you aren’t worried about giving, you aren’t as worried about offending!). It isn’t an end-all solution, but it would go a long way toward legitimate reformation in the church.

We need to make the main thing the main thing. The Gospel is what matters and everything else, everything else, must become secondary to that. The church spends way too much time, too much money, expends too much energy on other stuff. Some of that stuff is very important, but when we have people who are functionally Biblically illiterate, that is a problem. We can go too far the other way and get so focused on right doctrine that we ignore those in need, but in my humble opinion the opposite is more often the case, that we spend lots of time on lots of stuff and at the proverbial end of the day failed the Gospel witness.

We absolutely must recover the doctrinal underpinnings of the Gospel, and return to a true fundamentalism. Not the faux fundamentalism we see where being a “fundamentalist” is worn like a badge and consists entirely of holding to a litany of credentials that have become meaningless “Independent, Fundamental, King James Only”. That sort of fundamentalism is not what the church needs, but we do need a return to the bedrock foundational truths: the inerrancy AND sufficiency of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, His exclusivity, the reality of heaven and hell as literal, the sovereignty of God, etc. This is where the White Horse Inn, Together for the Gospel type ministries become vital. In T4G, we see four men from different denominational backgrounds that come together in affirmation of the essentials of the Gospel.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Until we start to really concentrate on the Acts 2:42 functions of the church, we have no business trying to muck things up by complicating the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church is pretty basic: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer. Let’s stick to that and simplify how we do it. The more complicated we make the church, the more time we spend on stuff we shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

I would love to see a dismantling of the structures put in place over the centuries that in my opinion do far more to impede the Gospel than to promote it. That is a pretty ambitious statement. There is a lot of institutional inertia and protective self-interests in place. The seminaries, associations, denominations, multiple campus style churches all have had an enormous amount of time, money and emotion invested in them. I don’t see that going anywhere anytime soon.

Again there is nothing really new here, just the same thoughts I keep hashing over and then publishing on my blog. Really that is what I have this blog for, as an outlet for my thoughts, a place to work out concepts and ideas and hopefully to get input from others. Reforming the church is kind of my crusade. I have taken a long, uncomfortable look at myself over the last 14 months and I didn’t (and still don’t) like what I see. Along with that I am concerned about what the church has become. This hasn’t happened overnight, but the same failings keep cropping up and until we address the core problems, the cycle will repeat itself. The same thing holds true for me. Tinkering around the edges in my own sin hasn’t done much. What I was way overdue for and what I am striving for is a core examination of myself, held up to the mirror of Scripture and honestly realizing where my own hypocrisy and clinging to the old life has led me. Christ doesn’t call for incremental changes, the cross demands radical change. That holds true for me, it holds true for the church and I am pretty sure it holds true for you.

Glenn Beck Booted

There was a bit of a stir recently when Focus on the Family produced an interview with pundit Glenn Beck regarding his new Christmas book, The Christmas Sweater. A number of Christians protested the perceived endorsement of this book and by proxy Beck's mormonism. In response to the outcry, Focus on the Family printed a retraction and removed the interview. From an article on MormonTimes...

James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry has pulled from its CitizenLink Web site an article about talk show host Glenn Beck's book "The Christmas Sweater" after some complained that Beck's LDS faith is a "cult" and "false religion" and shouldn't be promoted by a Christian ministry.

When contacted Friday, a Focus on the Family worker at the ministry in Colorado Springs, Colo. confirmed that the article had been pulled at this link and read a prepared statement for callers who had called about the Beck article:

"You are correct to note that Mr. Beck is a member of the Mormon church, and that we did not make mention of this fact in our interview with him. We do recognize the deep theological difference between evangelical theology and Mormon theology, and it would have been prudent for us at least to have pointed out these differences. Because of the confusion, we have removed the interview from CitizenLink."

Beck is predictably outraged....

A Special Message from Glenn:
The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement. Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship. I'm humbled and grateful that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read the book and have appreciated its uplifting message for themselves. At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness.

Funny to quote religious tolerance when you are a member of a heretical church that sends tends of thousands of young men around the world to tell Christians that they are members of a "abomination":

19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith "History" 1:19)

What is the problem with a mormon Christmas book? The Christ child in mormonism is not the same Christ child of the Bible. He is at best a created being and the brother of Satan and at worst is the product of a blasphemous doctrine that God the Father bodily engaged in intercourse with Mary, impregnating her with Jesus. By giving a venue to Glenn Beck, Focus on the Family tacitly legitimized Beck's mormon views of Christ. This stunt is no different than Focus inviting a muslim to talk about their Christmas book, or any other unbeliever.

What is especially troubling is that Focus on the Family, an ostensibly Christian para-church ministry, gave a platform to someone who comes from a faith tradition that is in direct opposition to the Gospel and that is engaged in proselytizing and luring people away from Christianity. Someone at Focus needs to be more discerning and worry less about elections and more about the Gospel.

(HT: Voice of the Sheep)

Sometimes they are right even when they are wrong...

It is always instructive and often amusing to read the thoughts of atheists/agnostics when they are writing about people of faith. They typically have such a skewed idea of why we believe that the embarrass themselves when they try to determine motivations. I read an little blurb on a blog called Secular Right written by Heather MacDonald. She is responding to uber-hysterical professional atheist Christopher Hitchens, one of the people who have learned that there is a vast, fanatical pool of people who will buy books slandering religious faith. In her post, Has Christopher Hitchens Been Duped? she writes the following:

Christopher Hitchens accuses Rick Warren of bigotry for believing that Jews will not go to heaven (thanks to Wally for the link). Hitchens’ condemnation strikes me as unduly harsh. I don’t think it’s fair to label a theological position as bigotry simply because it does not conform to secular principles.

But here’s another possibility: Do modern Christians still believe with the same fervor as in the past all those unyielding doctrines of eternal damnation for the unbaptised and unconverted? They sure don’t act as if they do. If they really were convinced that their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and in-laws were going to hell because they possessed the wrong or no religious belief, I would think that the knowledge would be unbearable. Christians surely see that most of their wrong-believing personal acquaintances are just as moral and deserving as themselves. How, then, do they live with the knowledge that their friends and loved ones face an eternity of torment? I would expect a frenzy of proselytizing, by word or by sword.

In previous centuries, when religion had the upper hand, religious differences meant more. But ours is a world dominated by the secular values of tolerance and equality. Either believers live with an extraordinary degree of cognitive dissonance between the inclusive values of their society and the dictates of their religion, or they unconsciously mitigate those bloody-minded dictates as atavistic vestiges from a more primitive time.

I wonder which it is.

On the one hand, that demonstrates a typical misunderstanding of Christianity. Christians don't believe they are more moral or deserving than their neighbors. That is kind of the point. Christians are not saved because they are more moral or deserving, we are saved in spite of that. That is why we call it grace.

On the other hand, she does have a point. If we believe what we say we believe, that those lost without Christ end up in eternal hell, why don’t we expend more energy witnessing than we do? It is an unintended rebuke, but a real rebuke nonetheless.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Behold the Lamb of God!


I have been listening to John Piper's sermon series working through the Gospel according to John, and predictably it has been great thus far. I listened to the Nov. 16th sermon today on the way home and for some reason it really hit me hard. Ever listen to the Word of God and just get electrified? I mean eyes welling up, heart racing, fired up? The guy who reads the Scripture before John Piper starts preaching is pretty vanilla, but when he read John 1: 19-34 it was the Word of God and this sheep heard His voice. This sermon, Behold the Lamb of God, was one of his best yet on John. You can read it here or listen to it here or watch it here. You should listen to it first, Piper loses something in writing that can only be experienced in listening to this elder brother in Christ just get fired up excited about His Savior. Listen and be edified, listen and be blessed as only the Word of God can.

All dressed up and nowhere to go?

So here is our quandary. We are going to be living where we are currently until April at the latest. So we still have about three months of living in one place while I commute 75 miles each way to my new job. That means that we sort of have one foot in one community and one foot in another. That leaves us with the question of what to do for fellowship in the interim. It is kind of a hassle to go to different churches with a family our size, it takes a long time just for us to figure out where the kids should go. So we have been bouncing around a couple of options.

There is a church, albeit an institutional one, in the area we will be moving to that I liked a lot. Very conservative theologically, solidly Reformed at least among the (plural) elders, a number of other families that homeschool (including one with 13 kids!). It is a very traditional, program driven institutional church but there seem to be a lot of great people, they were very friendly the one Sunday we visited. The problem is that it is kind of far to get to on Sunday, because it is off the beaten path it is a good 1 ½ hours away and in winter that can be kind of sketchy.

On the other hand, it is kind of tough to find a non-institutional alternative when you are moving to a new place. Although it is not that far from where we are now, finding other folks who are like-minded in a brand new area is not easy. I have been sort of trying to look around when I can. There is a Plymouth Brethren church in the area, not really close to where we will probably live but a doable drive, so that is one option but the jury is still very much out on the PB at this point. I am not sure how to find others who are involved in a house-church situation in a new area, especially since we are hoping to live somewhere pretty rural.

So here is what we are maybe thinking for the next three months. Home worship a couple of times a month, with our home open to anyone who would like to break bread, pray and teach/be taught and then a couple of times a month drive the hour and a half to the church near our new home. I may take the time to visit some other churches of a different flavor in the current area just to check them out and then have fellowship at home in the afternoon. For example I have never been to services at a Lutheran church, so I may go to one with a friend this Sunday. His wife is singing so to cause a stir we might show up with the whole family, headcoverings and all, just for fun.

Longer term, I probably see us initially attending the aforementioned church in the new area but still seeking to have people over in our home for fellowship on a regular basis. Until we can establish relationships with other believers, that may be our best bet and as we make those relationships and they evolve, who knows? My big challenge will be to not be overly critical while we are attending. My intent is not to go somewhere, make friends and then lure them away but to go where the sheep are gathered, be fed and be part of feeding them and be a witness to the lost in the sheepfold.

The other option is to start my own cult and move to a mountain retreat in Idaho.

Great Quote

If you look about halfway down the left side of this page, I have a widget that brings up a daily quote from a blog called Of First Importance. The quotes typically come from books, most of which are by Reformed authors and they are almost always great. The one I looked at today (from a couple days ago) is a great one and one I wanted to post again...

“There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their ability to live it out. This kind of ‘Christianity’ is really about shadow glories of human knowledge and performance. It does not require the death to self that must always happen if love for Christ is going to reign in our hearts.”

- Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More (Greensboro, NC; New Growth Press, 2007), 106.

Faith in Christianity and our ability to live it out, not in Christ. How terribly true that is! I know I too often place my trust in my own knowledge and my ability to live out the "Christian life" only to fail miserably (again, and again, and again...). My problem is not that I fail to obey enough, it is that I think I can be sufficiently obedient at all. It is only by dying to self that we can truly live a life of obedience to Him.

The revenge of the rainbow

The aftershocks of the passage of Proposition 8 are still resonating in California, both in subtle and not so subtle ways. In the more subtle ways, we are seeing the quiet but officially sanctioned attempts by the elites in California to undo the will of the people by seeking a judicial overturning of Proposition 8 and reestablishing the “right” to homosexual marriage that was never really a “right” outside of the one granted by judicial fiat. Former Governor Moonbeam, present California attorney general Jerry Brown is leading the charge which is really outrageous that the man elected by the people to serve as the attorney for the state is now being charged with undoing the will of those same people (for a fun read click on the link above and read the litany of self-indulgent "accomplishments" Jerry Brown lists on the Attorney Generals page. Nothing like using the taxpayers money to promote what a great guy you are!). The description of the role of the attorney general of California is as follows:

It is the duty of the Attorney General to see that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced (California Constitution, Article V, Section 13.) The Attorney General carries out responsibilities of the office through the California Department of Justice.

The Attorney General represents the people of California in civil and criminal matters before trial, appellate and the supreme courts of California and the United States.

Apparently for Governor Moonbeam, representing the people only includes representation for those laws that he likes. Other laws, passed legally by the people of California, he is apparently free to ignore and actively seek to use his elected office and taxpayer funds to defeat as evidenced by this press release:

Attorney General Brown Urges California Supreme Court to Invalidate Proposition 8

Sacramento – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today called upon the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8 because it deprives people of the right to marry—an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution.

“Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification,” Attorney General Brown said.

So the elected representative of the people, their advocate before the Supreme Court is apparently not only not going to represent them before the Supreme Court of California, but is instead going to urge that the court invalidate the will of the people and use the webpage of the State of California, paid for by the voters, to urge that their voices be silenced. With an advocate like that, who needs enemies!

In the not-so-subtle ways we have the increasingly shrill and strident mobs of homosexuals. At least they are not out in the streets cavorting about and defacing private property, but the bullying tactics have continued. From today’s Wall Street Journal

LOS ANGELES -- Soon after California's passage of a initiative banning same-sex marriage last month, dozens of gay activists descended on the El Coyote restaurant with signs and placards. They chanted "Shame on you," cussed at patrons and began a boycott of the cafe.

The restaurants's crime: A daughter of the owner donated $100 to support Proposition 8, the antigay-marriage initiative approved by voters. Gay activists have refused to lift the boycott -- which restaurant managers say has slashed revenues by 30% -- even after some El Coyote employees raised $500 to help repeal the new ban.

The boycotters have demanded that the owner's daughter, El Coyote manager Marjorie Christoffersen, pony up $100 to help repeal Prop 8. She tearfully declined, citing her Mormon faith, during a raucous meeting with activists. "You are not my friend if you take my civil rights," one activist shouted before she fled the room.

Think about that demand. You must donate $100 to a cause that you are morally opposed to or we will try to shut your business down. When Christian groups try to boycott places like Disney, the mainstream media sneers at them as small-minded bigots but when homosexual advocates do the same thing they are painted as patriotic martyrs for their cause. Think of what the media coverage would look like if supporters of the attempt to overturn Proposition 8 were publically condemned and threatened with boycotts if they refused to contribute money to the effort to uphold Proposition 8. Is there any doubt in the minds of any rational person that the media would decry those efforts?

They certainly have the right, legally anyway, to do what they are doing but it once again demonstrates the ugly side of the “civil rights” movement. The message here is clear. Proposition 8 passed by a solid margin in California but when the next ballot initiative banning gay marriage comes up, you better think long and hard about publicly supporting it or contributing to it, or you could be next. It is a not-so subtle intimidation. In most areas of the country it is not nearly as threatening but California and other states with larger homosexual populations have enough homosexuals and their supporters that threats of economic boycotts and outright mayhem may be enough to have a “chilling effect” on political speech.

What this issue does show is a potential major fissure in the Democratic majority coalition between extreme left social liberals and the far less socially liberal minority voters that the Democrats count on dutifully voting against their values every two years. The far left fringe runs the party, sets policy, decides the agenda. What McCain and the GOP failed to do in the 2008 election was to frame the debate with that in the background. All of the ancillary stuff, William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, was not going to resonate with voters. What perhaps would have struck a nerve would have been a more stark comparison between the Left and Right in this country. If you, correctly in my estimation, portray the Democrats as the party of abortion on demand, creeping socialism and the granting of rights unprecedented and unwarranted to every deviant subset of America the GOP will have far more success in future elections. But the wholesale abandonment of any sort of moral compass in the party, as some and perhaps many are advocating, will lead to more and deeper electoral disasters and the long-term ruin of our nation. If the voices in the Republican party elite succeed in shutting out religious conservatives and seek to win elections on tax cuts, they will seal the fate of America to follow in the footsteps of Western Europe where the former great powers are self-indulgent, amoral shadows of themselves that are quickly being overrun by Islam (which is ironic given that these nations who pride themselves on being secular are quickly going to find themselves under Sharia law). The winning coalition for the GOP must include not just country club elite conservatives and will not succeed by marginalizing the “values voters” who are essential in delivering the Midwest and the South. The GOP better figure that out quickly or they may just find out how deep and dark the political wilderness really is.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christmas in prison

Quite a poignant article in National Review looking at Christmas thoughts of a Christian in very different circumstances than we experience in America. The words are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his years living as a Christian in Nazi Germany.

These words and circumstances are as far from the modern American notion of Christmas as you can get. There are no stampedes for "door buster" deals at Wal-Mart. No eggnog and fruitcake. No Christmas cards. Just a man alone with the thoughts of his incarnate Savior. The whole article is sobering and a good read, but I liked this quote the best.

Bonhoeffer’s next passage encapsulates for him the true meaning of the holiday; in it he eschews all hints of self-pity. “From the Christian point of view there is no special problem about Christmas in a prison cell. For many people in this building it will probably be a more sincere and genuine occasion than in places where nothing but the name is kept. That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in the judgment of man, that God will approach where men will turn away, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn — these are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for him they really are glad tidings, and that faith gives him a part in the communion of saints, a Christian fellowship breaking the bounds of time and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At peace with God

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"

How often have you sung this Christmas hymn? In church it is a Christmas staple, and when I was younger we used to sing it in Christmas programs at school (when we were still allowed to sing Christmas songs and still call it Christmas instead of "the holidays"). But one line in that hymn really stands out to me, God and sinners reconciled. Christmas has become, culturally, all about the giving and receiving. We think about the babe in the manger as God's gift to the world. But I am afraid that we have lost sight of the cross because of the manger. Jesus coming in a miraculous birth to a virgin, in and of itself, accomplished very little other than fulfilling one part of the prophecy. It was at the cross where the Christ child was destined to ascend that the full reality of the gift of God to His people was realized. It was there, on the cross, where He brought peace between God and sinners.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19-20)

(Emphasis added)

What all of this tells me is the depths to which we once were His enemies. Our separation was so severe, the gulf so unbridgeable that peace between God and His people could only come at a terrible cost, the cost of the life of His Son. We have no peace in this life because we have no peace with God. It was an enmity that our sin has caused and it was a separation that outside of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit we are unaware of. Sure we know something is wrong in the world, but we don't realize that what is wrong with the world is not global warming, or capitalism, or war, or those people over there. What is wrong with the world is us. We were unable and unwilling to make peace with God, so God had to send His beloved Son to make peace with us. Don't buy that Total Depravity stuff? Think we are just generally good people who needed a little nudge in the right direction? Think again...

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

So we are all depraved, wicked sinners. But didn't Jesus come to bring peace? Certainly, but not the peace we usually think of.

The peace that Christ brings is not an earthly peace, a time of peace and goodwill. 2000 years of human history have proven that. There are wars, famine, hatred. The world is certainly not a peaceful place by any stretch of the imagination. So what is all of this peace talk about anyway? We read in Isaiah 9:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

We see on the glorious night that Christ was born:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14)

But yet we don't see peace in the world nor should we expect to. The peace that Christ brought is peace with His Father, a peace treaty signed in His blood.

We are cynically called to remember "The reason for the season", but the reason for the season is not the manger, it is the cross. It is not the three wise men, it is the centurion who said: "Truly this was the Son of God!". It is not the adoring shepherds, it is the crowd screaming "Crucify Him!". The reason for the season is this:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:14)

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and by His stripes we are healed. That is reason to celebrate. Not for iPods or gift cards, but because the eternal Word condescended to dwell among sinners who hated and rejected Him. But we also read that while we were yet sinners, He came and died for us. Celebrate that on Christmas day, celebrate that God and sinners are reconciled by the cross and because of that we have peace with God for all eternity.

Now that is deserving of a...

Merry Christmas!

Back together

Finally brought back the last three kids, so we have have all eight under the same roof. It is great to have them all home, but the quiet was nice for a while too!

A "small cache of weapons"?

Believe me, I am not a defender of Plaxico Burress. He is kind of a punk and played for Michigan State. But when the news media "reports" on something like this and

Weapons cache reportedly found at Plaxico Burress' home

Reports: Weapons, ammo seized at Burress' NJ home

Authorities seized a small cache of weapons and ammunition from the New Jersey home of New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the New York Post and Newsday both reported Wednesday, possibly setting up the embattled player for more legal trouble.

The Post, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, said a 9-mm handgun, a rifle and ammunition for three other guns — a .380, a .45 and a .40, the same caliber of gun Burress accidentally shot himself with — were seized during the execution of a search warrant at Burress' home in Totowa.

A "weapons cache"? One rifle. One handgun. Some ammunition. That is newsworthy? The headline makes it sound like he had dozens of M-16s hidden in a fortress, a virtual Branch Davidian compound in New Jersey. Nope, one rifle. One handgun. A couple of boxes of ammunition.

I would be willing to bet that most people in Michigan have at least that many firearms in their house, many of us have quite a few more. I know I do! I am afraid to think what the news media would describe my collection as: "an arsenal"? "A paramilitary training ground"? The national news media is so removed from the majority of Americans that the discovery of law-abiding citizens (not including Mr. Burress of course) owning firearms in the home and believing in God is like discovering a long-lost tribe in the jungle. Little wonder that Barack Obama derisively spoke of middle Americans clinging to their guns and religion, and that the comment caused little uproar on the coasts. How can we expect to get our news from people who spin reports like this, turning a couple of guns in an apocalyptic cult waiting for doomsday?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Megachurches need a bailout too!

The Wall Street Journal ran an article today on the rising number of defaults and foreclosures in churches.

During this holiday season of hard times, not even houses of God have been spared. Some lenders believe more churches than ever have fallen behind on loans or defaulted this year. Some churches, and at least one company that specialized in church lending, have filed for bankruptcy. Church giving is down as much as 15% in some places, pastors and lenders report.

The financial problems are crimping a church building boom that began in the 1990s, when megachurches multiplied, turning many houses of worship into suburban social centers complete with bookstores, gyms and coffee bars. Lenders say mortgage applications are down, while some commercial lenders no longer see churches as a safe investment.

And therein we see the problem. Two things jump out at me. First, if churches are running their budget in such a way that a 15% drop in giving is putting them into receivership, that indicates that they are spending way too much money and not being terrible smart about their finances. Second, the reason these churches are in such trouble is that they are carrying way too much debt in an effort to keep up with the market. Church A has a kewl espresso bar, so we need one. Church B has a phat youth entertainment complex, so we need one. Thus we have these huge edifices with multi-million dollar mortgages that require a high level of cash flow every week to service their debt and pay the salaries and benefits of their staff. Bigger buildings=bigger budgets=more attendees=more paid staff=a need for more and more giving. Quite frankly simple Gospel preaching and teaching probably isn't going to generate enough interest to pay the mortgage, staff, utilities, etc so you are in a position to try to do something different to draw in people to put money in the plate.

Not every church is in this pickle. I would have guessed that most mid- and small- sized congregations worship in older buildings that are paid for, and the numbers provided by the WSJ bear that out...

Churches were long considered good credit risks, lenders say. Weekly collections tend to be steady, even during recessions, and churches feel a moral tug to pay debts. Most of the nation's 335,000 churches carry little or no mortgage debt, and are based in buildings that were paid off long ago.

But some churches, especially those not affiliated with major denominations, borrowed briskly to build or expand in recent years. Spending on construction of houses of worship rose to $6.2 billion in 2007 from $3.8 billion in 1997, according to the U.S. Census. Now, churches are seeing congregants lose jobs and savings.

The 125-year-old Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, of Jacksonville, Fla., borrowed about $2.6 million in 2002 to add a new education wing, reflecting pool and tower. In addition, the church's 1,200 members pledged $1 million to the building campaign, but two-thirds of that money was never actually donated, according to the church's pastor, the Rev. John Allen Newman.

A quarter of the congregants soon stopped attending church, says Mr. Newman, so weekly collections started to dwindle. He and the church leaders cut staff and electricity use to save costs, but in January, facing a foreclosure judgment of $3.3 million, the church filed for bankruptcy protection. Mr. Newman says the church hopes to settle its debts and emerge from bankruptcy proceedings in the coming months.

I would suggest that with a few exceptions you are more likely to hear the Gospel preached in a small church without a mortgage than you are in a huge church with a $5 million note. Where in Acts 2:42 do we see the church spending $2.6 million on an education wing, a tower and a reflecting pool? The church mentioned, Mt. Calvary Baptist, went into bankruptcy proceedings after defaulting on a $3.3 million note. From a former banker standpoint, what do you do with a multi-million church facility that you suddenly own? It is pretty hard to shed those assets. It is hard enough to resell a foreclosed house, much less a multi-million dollar church in an environment where nobody is lending millions of dollars to buy a church. When you need to service a $3 million debt, you need a ton of money in giving every week and it goes without saying that many of those giving are not Christians in these huge churches, so when the times get tough they go find their entertainment somewhere else and the church (and the bank) are left with a mortgage that cannot be paid.

When you begin running and marketing your church like a corporation you are inevitably going to have the same problems as corporations: competition, market cycles, constant restructuring. If you want to be a CEO, you go to business school and work your way up the corporate ladder, but that is not the model of ministry we see in the New Testament. We have lost sight of the purpose of the church and in doing so have become indistinguishable for the world we are trying to evangelize.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A new source for headcoverings

Came across a new online store for headcovers, Happy Homestead. Right now she has a nice selection of homemade headcoverings and I understand that she is planning on expanding into other clothing as well. If you are interested in headcovering, you should check it out.

I bought a couple of covers, including the one pictured that I bought for my daughter because I thought the green would like nice with her red hair. Sure enough it does!

Eerily quiet

We are down to one kid at home since last Tuesday. My wife has gotten her last treatment for her thyroid cancer, two doses of radioactive iodine so the kids can’t be around her. It is weird how quiet the house has gotten, which is OK because my wife is really tired from the treatment and a little nauseous. Four kids are in northern Michigan, three in Ohio. The danger now is that the four in northern Michigan may not be able to get back down now for Christmas because of the enormous amounts of snow they have and are getting (10 more inches tonight). I wonder what people with just a one of kid do with themselves!

I made my wife look this up YouTube, if you lived in the '80s you might get it!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Headcovering and exegesis

Brian at "The Ironing Board" posed the question:

Head Coverings

Does Paul teach in 1 Cor. 11:3-16 that women must wear a head covering when they are “praying in worship” or not? Please prove by sound exegesis.

I posted my response on their blog, here is what I wrote in response to the question:

Wouldn't the exegetical burden here fall on those who claim that headcovering is not normative? The statement by Paul is pretty clear:

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven." (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

The covering of men is dishonoring and the uncovering of women who pray is dishonoring. That is not vague at all, nor is the command:

“For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” (1 Corinthians 11:6-7)

Her hair is not used as a sufficient substitute, the argument is that she should have her head covered and if she is not going to cover her head in rebellion, she might as well just shave her hair off which is also shameful.

So the remedy Paul is giving to the church is for women, I would argue in public and private prayer (i.e. in corporate worship or in the home), to cover their head when in prayer. It is not merely a cultural command or one directed only to Corinth and only at that time. 1 Corinthians is addressed to the church in Corinth but not JUST the church in Corinth:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

Note that Paul is addressing the church at Corinth AND all those in every place who call upon Christ. This is not directed specifically just at Corinth but all believers everywhere, and I would say at every time no differently that the Lord’s Supper or his later admonitions to Timothy. The command to cover is no different than any other command in 1 Corinthians because Paul specifically addressed his letter to the church in Corinth and the universal body of believers as an apostle.

Paul is not merely arguing from a cultural norm, he appeals to the creation order and the covenant headship of man over woman...

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” (1 Corinthians 11:7-10)

A wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, and it is not long hair. There is no substitute in our culture. A wedding ring is not a substitute because it is not indicative of authority over her, it is if anything an egalitarian symbol. Her hair is not a covering sufficient for the command. The plain reading of these verses clearly points to a command for wives to cover their heads in prayer, at a very minimum in corporate worship. There are lots of accompanying questions regarding the specifics of the passage, but those questions do not detract from the imperative for women to cover their heads (unless you argue that women do not participate in public prayer?)

It was the tradition in church for women to cover their heads up until recently. If you elect to not have your wife cover her hear in public worship and prayer it would seem that you should be able to argue in the negative regarding this commandment. We don't treat most other commandments this way.

(HT: Those Headcoverings)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Funny Stuff!

I think my wife is a Calvinist

I love that "she only owns the ESV" and "she has a tattoo that says I heart John Piper in Greek"

(HT: James Lee)

Talk about a lose-lose situation

Rick Warren pretty clearly styles himself to be this generations Bill Graham, the high profile pastor who is the one the Presidents call on when they want to look pious after some sort of calamity. Mr. Warren enjoys publicity. During the now famous Saddleback Forum, Mr. Warren simply was aglow with the cameras and both candidates there. He did a good job, but the performance transcended politics.

Now Mr. Warren finds himself in a tempest. It was recently announced that he would give the invocation during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Clearly praying on behalf of a man who supports abortion on demand is not going to win him many friends among the already skeptical evangelical Right. Nor is his choice winning many friends among the radical homosexual advocates. They have labelled Mr. Warren a "homophobe", perhaps the worst insult that can thrown at someone these days...

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, said Warren's opposition to gay marriage is a sign of intolerance.

"We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination," the group said in a letter to Obama, asking him to reconsider.

Obama's selection of Warren is seen as a signal to religious conservatives that the president-elect will listen to their views. During the campaign, Warren interviewed Obama and Republican John McCain in a widely watched television program that focused on religious concerns.

Gay rights advocates say they are troubled that Obama would give Warren such a visible role at his swearing-in. "By inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table," the letter said.

Well, it should come as little surprise.We live in a "all or nothing" age in politics. Homosexual activists, ironically, tolerate nothing but complete acceptance of any lifestyle and complete rejection of any view that questions their lifestyles. The choice of Mr. Warren means little. Homosexuals will have access to the White House like never before, and this bone thrown to evangelicals doesn't mean that they will have any voice in the Obama White House. That may be a good thing. Evangelicals have gotten far too comfy in the world of politics and public policy to the detriment of their Gospel witness. There is no room for trying to fit in with and be accepted by the culture (see Dr. Mohler on The High Cost of Being (and Staying) Cool -- Rick Warren in a Whirlwind).

Hopefully Mr. Warren will give an invocation that honors Christ in keeping with Romans 13 and not some pandering, vague ecumenical prayer that would be acceptable to Muslims, Hindus and agnostics. What a great opportunity to proclaim Christ in front of millions, even billions around the globe. The inauguration is a public forum but I would hope that Mr. Warren remembers that he is minister of Christ first and a public personality second. We will see.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sound words

Good stuff from John Piper, it is way too easy to make yourself the center of conversation when you are witnessing or preaching. If the topic starts using the words "I" or "my" too often, that should be a warning to you!

John Piper - Beware of the Self Absorbed Preacher

Who needs dreaming?

We are definitely having a white Christmas. Over half a foot of snow dumped on us today and with more coming and temps well below zero, we should have lots of snow for Christmas. People are freaked out by the snow, this was an average snow fall for us when we lived up north, but down here it is a major event!

Magnify the days we are given

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalms 71:17-18)

I came across this verse twice while reading the other day, and it really struck me.

How many generations of people have tried so hard to cheat death? Seeking the fountain of youth is the stuff of legends and lore. I remember a few years back when baseball great Ted Williams was frozen after he died. Don't eat this, don't drink that. All designed to cheat death as long as possible. Death holds such fear for so many because the fear they finality of it, the perceived annihilation of it is terrifying when you don’t know Christ.

That fear should not be part of our worldview as Christians. I do not seek long life because I fear death. Hmm, let me see. Go through life getting older and more frail, being tired, aches and pains, all that goes with getting older. Or passing from this mortal realm and being in the presence of my Lord. I know which one I choose: Take me home right now!

God gave human life boundaries in a post-fall Genesis 3 world. By the fall of Adam, all men are going to experience physical death (Romans 5:12-14). But Christians know that physical death is not the end, it is not final. We all will be resurrected to stand one day, some with nothing but their own failed works to answer for their sins and others with nothing but the sufficient blood of Christ. But all will rise again, some to judgment and some to eternal life. That is set in stone, the day and the time, and nothing can change that fact.

Our focus on this earth should not be on prolonging our life as long as we can. I can guarantee you this: not one of us will live one day longer than God has ordained, nor one day less. Proper diet, exercise, vitamins all may make us more healthy in this life and make us feel better physically but all the sit ups and salads in the world will not add one day to our lives. Exercise is good (so I hear). Proper diet is good (again, this is hearsay for me). Do it to make this life a little better, but never assume you are thwarting death. Our preoccupation should be on the Gospel. That should be what we fill our lives up, what should concern us. Gratitude for the grace of God should keep us awake with joy, not quivering in fear of death.

Our desire for long life should be on how God will make use of us in that time. I will be 37 on Saturday, and I cannot tell you how wonderful the thought of passing on the fear and admonition of the Lord to my children and grandchildren is to me. I have for too long not appreciated the gravity of the responsibility that God has placed on my wife and I, nor on the incredible blessing we have been granted in having these eight young children in our homes. I have been lax in the God-ordained rearing of my children properly, but we are taking steps to rectify that and place God and His Word in greater prominence in our home. Each day I am left on this earth is a day given me by God to proclaim His Word.

I welcome death with the assurance of one saved by grace, confident that I will be with Him and that if I should pass from this life before then He will be faithful and merciful as He sees fit to my family in my absence. But in the meantime, I desire to spend my life until my dying day not groaning about the gray hair or the bad back but instead in telling the wonderful news of Christ to my children and my grandchildren, perhaps even my great-grandchildren. That is longevity worth seeking.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Love or Truth?

Must we choose?

Can we choose?

It is apparent that some who have rejected the institutional church have not become a more Biblical gathering but have instead become a “Not an Institutional” church body. There is a great danger in being defined by what you are not. We are not this. We are not that. Great, but what are you? So what then is church all about? It is not about dividing ourselves into factions based on where and how we worship, it is not about lording our education over the ignorant sheep (especially since even the most educated of men is no better than a sheep!). Nor is it about being condescending about our rejecting of the institutional church and reveling in ignorance.

What do I advocate? Simplicity in worship. The early church was not fancy. They met in homes because they frankly had nowhere else to meet (but there is nothing inherently correct in meeting in a home or incorrect in meeting in a building). Acts 2:42 tells us what the church was focused on and it was four things: the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, praying and the breaking of bread. That is pretty simple. They didn’t give these four things passing interest while concentrating on committees or even, dare I say, while doing humanitarian acts of compassion. They were “devoted” to these things (ESV), “continually devoting “ themselves in the NASB, they “continued stedfastly” in the KJV. All of which demonstrates to us that this was not a minor aspect but rather an integral part of the life of the church. The role and life of the church has not changed in 2000 years despite our efforts to complicate it.

As I see it in the Scripture, the church exists to carry out these four functions: teaching one another in the apostles teachings (captured in the Word of God preserved inerrantly for the edification of the church and to convict the elect of their sins when preached). Fellowship among the saints which takes many forms, and in which the form is far less important than the fellowship. Our friend James is coming over to our house tonight, and in that we are in fellowship with the saints. Corporately praying with and for one another, not as a laundry list of aches and pains or other things that are best left to the sovereign mercy of God, but to exhort, lift up, rebuke and comfort one another. The breaking of bread in “love feasts” and in the coming together for the Lord’s Supper. When we add to this list, we risk diluting it. At the risk of causing a stir, is evangelism a function of the church? It certainly is a commandment to believers individually, but is it a role of the church? Think before you answer that one.

These are the four fundamental functions of the church. They are things which rightly cannot/should not be done alone or by the individual believer alone. It is hard to pray together by yourself. You can and should pray personally, but also corporately so that you can lift and be lifted up in prayer, and prayer itself is a vital form of worship. This is the area I struggle in the most. I am not sure what we need to do differently, but I know something needs to change in the prayer life of the church. I think it would certainly help if we knew each other better (see below) and had a more correct view of the sovereignty of God in relation to our prayer life (which can only come through study and teaching).

The apostles teachings are something shared and taught in the church. I don’t see any mandate or any room at all to ignore theology and doctrine in the life of the church. Being saved is not a mandate for being ignorant. Much of what Paul wrote was a reinforcement of doctrines, because evil men will creep in and teach false doctrines. Even in fellowship settings. Look at Jude 1:12-13 where we see the false teachers in te assembly and at the love feasts, pictured in the ESV as hidden reefs, lying under the surface to cause wreckage. False teachers always have and they always will threaten and seek to infiltrate the church, and if the church is not devoted to the apostle’s teachings preserved for us in the Word, they will have no idea when the false teachings are presented by these wolves. The big danger of the emergent church is not only that there are false teachers in their midst but that they have unilaterally surrendered the apostle’s teachings by de-emphasizing theology to such a degree. Certainly it is easy to overemphasize theology, as I have in the past and I still struggle with, and it is a danger that we have knowledge about God instead of a knowledge of God. But our frailties and proclivities should not dissuade us from learning and teaching accompanied with prayer and humility.

I have crabbed a lot about how little we focus on the Lord’s Supper in the (institutional) church. Not only that but just the general breaking of bread with one another is important as well. Think about the New Testament, especially the Gospels, and think how often food and meals are mentioned. It is an enormous part of the life of the church, to sit with one another and eat. Jesus first public miracle was at the wedding feast at Cana where He changed water into wine (John 2: 1-11). The Last Supper (Matt 26: 17-29). The parable of the Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14). The wondrous image of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19: 6-11). All of the food and wine images of the New Testament. We neglect this to our detriment. I don’t think that a quarterly ceremonial Lord’s Supper observance and a fellowship meal on the fifth Sunday really fulfill the spirit of the “breaking of bread” we see in Acts 2:42.

Fellowship encompasses all three of the above and more. Spending time together other than when mandated to do so by church schedules is an amazing blessing. How many people have you gone to church with for years and never stepped foot in their homes? I have been guilty for too many years of having my “friends” (many of whom were not in any way believers) and my “church family”. I would never take my friends to church and I really had little desire to hang out with the church family except when I was supposed to. I am getting better at this, but I still have a long way to go. The better I get to know someone, the more we share of our lives, the easier it is to pray meaningfully for and with them.

That brings us full circle to simplicity in worship and simplicity in the church. Simplicity and truth in concert. Worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4: 23-24). I yearn for a living, vibrant church life where we love one another because we know one another. A church life where we gather for teaching, for worship, for prayer, for fellowship. A simple church where simple sinners worship their infinitely just and holy God in the manner prescribed by Him in His Word. It is time to shed those things that complicate the church: budgets and salaries, dissension over schedules and silly stuff, committees and programs. We are called as Christians to evangelize a lost world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as the church to assemble with the saints who have been called. The more stuff we try to pile on that, the more we lose sight of the purpose of the church. Yet we may not, we cannot sacrifice truth for the sake of simplicity in the church.

Can we fulfill the noble mandate given us while meeting in a building?


Must we meet in a building with an orderly, regulated worship service?

Certainly NOT!

Must we choose between loving one another and knowing more of our Creator?

Unequivocally NO!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Headcovering thought

So while I am convicted about my wife covering her head while in worship and prayer based on 1 Corinthians 11: 2-15 I am still kind of torn on two ancillary questions.

  1. Should my wife cover her head all the time, or just when she is praying?
  2. Should my under-18 daughters cover their heads?

The passage speaks specifically of the headcovering on wives in prayer, so does it apply to girls who are not of marrying age or wives who are not at prayer or in corporate worship?

What say you?

Getting’ my curve on

I like tech stuff. I like gadgets. If I didn’t have a family, I could happily spend all day in front of a computer with two monitors, playing a game on one monitor and blogging on the other while listening to John Piper or Voddie Baucham. Of course I would be 450 pounds, paler than I am currently and even more of a social recluse so that is proof indeed that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18 ESV)!

So what better thing to get than a Blackberry, so I am never far from my email and the web? Better yet, my new Blackberry Curve 8330 was supplied by my employer so it didn’t cost me anything. It is amazing how small it is and what you can do. I can see updates to my work calendar, my work email, browse the web all in a package that is 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches and weighs only 5.3 ounces! It is not the touch screen Blackberry Storm but it is very compact regardless. How far away can the technology be to jam an electronic device in your skull so you can read email in your mind?

I really am trying to simplify our lives. Really.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is this an act of tolerance?

Steve and Paula Runyan: Our Church Fire

A couple I have "met" through blogging live in Wasilla, Alaska. Wasilla is recently famous for being the hometown of Sarah Palin and more recently for being the site of an act of hatred. The church, Wasilla Bible Church, was subjected to an act of arson. Accelerants were used and people were inside. This goes beyond mere arson into terrorism and attempted murder. No one has been charged yet, but you can bet that this will get special attention. Just wondering. Where is Jesse Jackson on site decrying this "hate crime"?Stop by and let the Runyans know you are praying for them. We will be. Pray also for those who did this, who have hearts full of hate, not against Christians, not against Sarah Palin but hatred towards themselves and toward God.

Ultimately, this act of evil will be used for good. A new building will be built. Worship will go on. Hopefully people will hear the Gospel who may otherwise not have.

God will be glorified.

"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! (Luke 6:22 ESV)

Hurry up and do something!

No matter what the cost!

I have worked, and currently am, in the retirement plan industry. It is a highly specialized business with lots of arcane rules and confusing terminology, replete with acronyms that no one outside of the business recognizes. It is full of huge players, like my former employer Fidelity Investments, The Principal Financial and the Vanguard Group, who oversees 401(k) plans with hundreds of billions invested. It has tons of other players: banks, giant insurance companies, small firms that handle small plans called TPA or Third Party Administrators (which is the kind of place I work now). We all work and compete in the market for retirement plan assets. That competition has forced all sorts of innovations which have benefitted plan participants. That is the good news.

Now the bad news. It is not news for anyone who is investing that the market correction has led to some dramatically reduced balances in their investments, and for most Americans the bulk of their investment money is in their employer sponsored defined contribution plan, a.k.a. their 401(k) plan (That is something of a misnomer, 401(k) is a section of the tax code but it is the most common designation for the defined contribution retirement plans). Because people are freaking out about their balances, there are calls for the gubmint to "do something!" (Note that these people were not calling in years when there were huge gains in the market. Funny how that works...) There are few things more dangerous than the public demanding that something be done about something and politicians and academics running to the rescue.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on "How to Fix 401(k)s" . It is instructive. Some of the proposals and concerns make sense. Some are stupid. Some are flat out scary. Some of the good ideas: Automatic enrollment. More annuity options for life-long income. More fee disclosures. Default investments so young savers are not investing in money market funds. There are plenty of common sense improvements that can be made. There are also plenty of really bad ideas.

There are many people arguing that we should scrap the whole thing and turn it over to the government, because everyone knows how efficient the government is!

Still others call for the government to do even more, by guaranteeing a modest level of return on these accounts. "The financial crisis has driven home the point that people can't be exposed to these kinds of market fluctuations," says Boston College's Prof. Munnell. "Even if the market bounces back, people who sold at the bottom will have been harmed. All of us approaching retirement have been harmed emotionally in a way that is unnecessary, demoralizing, and inappropriate in a country as rich as this one."

Well certainly it is the role of Uncle Same to ensure we aren't harmed emotionally in a demoralizing way because of the return on our 401(k) statements! What kind of nonsense is that? The kind of nonsense you get from a college professor with a state sponsored pension that is probably underfunded by billions of dollars. More incredibly dumb statements...

Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at New York's New School for Social Research, argues that the government is far better equipped than most individuals to bear the risks associated with investing in the stock market. Her government-sponsored Guaranteed Retirement Accounts would provide a guaranteed rate of return of 3%, on top of inflation. Because that number is tied to the economy's long-term growth rate, "it doesn't present a big risk for the government," Prof. Ghilarducci contends.

Well here is the problem with that logic. The government is not self-funded, it is funded by individual taxpayers, i.e. you and me. You would think that we would have learned from the mistakes of the Social Security system, i.e. that the government is not really far better equipped to provide stable retirements for individuals. Ultimately why is it the role, the responsibility, the right of the Federal government to get involved in the savings of individual Americans?

Are there changes that need to be made? Sure. Things like automatic enrollment and automatic increases are a good start. Does the system that provides a vehicle savings in a convenient, tax-advantaged way need to be trashed in favor of a bloated government guarantee that no one can realistically think will not lead to higher taxes? Absolutely not.

It is always scary when you allow people with a political motivation to start tinkering with the private sector, especially when they promise to enrich you with your own money.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interesting experience

I visited Stark Road Gospel Hall yesterday. It is a Plymouth Brethren church, although nowhere in their name or on their webpage does that appear (which I believe is fairly typical among the PB churches). It was unlike most Christian church services I have been in. Very familiar in a few ways, but very much not in others.

It was a stark contrast (no pun intended) with a church I visited a few weeks ago, a local Baptist church, very conservative, openly Calvinistic. The church building was, not putting too fine a point on it, opulent. The service was quite charming and wholesome, but carefully orchestrated. The music was well done, they had “worship folders” instead of mere bulletins. The crowd was middle aged for the most part, and quite clearly upper crust economically. Nice people but the service had an air of the stage to it.

The service we attended at Stark Road Gospel Hall was a polar opposite. It was simplicity in every respect (and I mean that as a compliment!) The building is functional but has very spartan adornment. Wooden chairs, no “Christian” flags on the stage, a simple pulpit, no choir loft. We sang one song without musical accompaniment from tiny hymnals people carry (there were no hymnals in the seats). A couple minutes of announcements and then two talks from two lay members. Clearly these men are not trained in preaching, their talks were very simple and lacking in flair, but that certainly is not a black mark at all. My understanding is that during the weekly service for the Lord’s Supper it is more extemporaneous and open, less formalized. The women almost all (95%+) had their heads covered, mostly with berets and hats instead of cloth coverings. They didn’t look oppressed or dominated, in fact they looked comfortable and modest. It was very interesting, sober and serious but welcoming and simple. It bears further investigation. Not everyone has had a positive experience with Plymouth Brethren churches, and I am thinking that theologically you get a pretty mixed bag (i.e. dispensationalism). Still, I am intrigued.

On God, marriage and mankind

Pyromaniacs: Of Course, she says

A last note and a link about the Newsweek article by Lisa Miller. Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs has put together a fine piece of polemics, and he targets not just the folks at Newsweek but also the church. It really is way past time we start getting our story straight when it comes to marriage.

I am hardly someone that anyone would turn to for advice about marriage. In fact I would assume that not many people are interested at all in what I think about marriage, unless they are interested in order to do the exact opposite of what I am doing. But fortunately, what I think about marriage is not relevant because God has made Himself abundantly clear about what marriage is, how it should look, why it is mandated, etc.

To paraphrase Voddie Baucham, God defined marriage and because God defined marriage we do not get to redefine marriage. Marriage is what God ordains it to be, and what He has ordained it to be is revealed in the pages of Scripture.

Marriage is not about us, it is not about making us happy. In fact I have spent much of my married life doing things that make my spouse unhappy, although I am working on rectifying that. It is not a social construct. It is not designed to make benefits more freely available. From the very beginning God made man in His own image, and as part of that He demonstrated through Adam that it was not good for man to be alone, that His creation glory is expressed in both men and women and that their proper relation to one another in this world is in marriage, one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2: 18-25). That life together ought to be a life that is focused on glorifying God by serving Him in our ministry to others, but also in our ministry to our spouses and our children. It is hard to overemphasize the centrality of the human family as ordained by God. In Genesis 3:15 we see the first promise that through the seed of the woman would come a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent and restore the fellowship between God and man. We read in the Proverbs about how precious a good wife is (Proverbs 18:22, Proverbs 19:14, Proverbs 31: 10 just to name a few). The family and children are a blessing, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward (Psalm 127). Geneaolgy tracing the people of Israel run throughout the Bible culminating in the genealogy of Christ. Abraham to Isaac to Jacob the familial patriarchs of the faith. The adoption of believers as sons and daughter, grafted by sovereign grace into the tree. The marriage supper of the Lamb. There is a clear theme throughout the Bible of the church being family. Those who share a common salvation in Christ share a familial relationship that goes beyond blood and DNA making us brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is high time to restore the family to its central place in the church so that when issues like gay marriage and Proposition 8 and Newsweek magazine come up, we can make a cogent, Biblical defense of what God has ordained. Rather than stumbling around talking about traditional marriage, we can instead confidently speak about Biblical marriage. Having the most conservative position on an issue is worthless unless it is grounded in Scripture and that is nowhere more true that in the defense of God ordained marriage.

Take care who you render unto

There was some quiet news last week that escaped much attention. It had to do with Mr. Richard Cizik, who resigned as Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE hereafter) after 28 years with the organization. The impetus for his resignation came from an interview he gave with Terry Gross on the NPR show Fresh Air on December 2, 2008. Fresh Air is one of the most liberally slanted of all of the shows on NPR (which is saying a lot!). I downloaded the podcast because I wanted to hear it for myself. Was this an overreaction? Was it a tiny component of a larger conversation? Was Mr. Cizik wrongly tarred and feathered, ridden out on a rail? As I listened this morning on my way to work it became apparent immediately that this issue was not overblown.

As you would expect from an openly and unapologetically liberal talk show, the topics of conversation steered invariably toward why the evangelical movement, at least the conservative evangelical movement, is wrong on a litany of issues and why Barack Obama is right: gay marriage, the environment, the war in Iraq, nuclear disarmament, government funded contraception. On issue after issue, Mr. Cizik came down firmly in support of liberal social causes and a liberal view of Scripture. The interview details, when they gained steam in this online world as things like this invariably do, caused an uproar and that uproar finally led to the resignation of Mr. Cizik from the NAE.

Quite frankly it was embarrassing listening to someone who is supposed to be lobbying on behalf of Christian churches on NPR groveling before Terry Gross, looking for acceptance like a puppy by signing on to every liberal agenda she threw in front of him. You could hear Terry Gross egging him on by proposing things that clearly stand at odds with the rank and file of the churches in the NAE, and on every one of them he came down on side of a leftist agenda.

This man doesn’t even seem to get what the Gospel is, which begs the question of why he is even in an association called the “National Association of Evangelicals” If you don’t get the evangel, the good news how can you lead an organization of people who are supposed to be devoted to it? I make that statement not because of Mr. Cizik’s support for gay marriage, but instead because of his emphasis on the “social justice” aspect of the Bible at the expense of the saving work of Christ on the cross. At one point near the end of the interview, he spoke about the Gospel being the hope of people getting along together. Is that what Christ died for, so that people could get along together better with each other? See, I thought it was so we could get along with God…

The NAE issued a statement on Mr. Cizik’s resignation and very quickly reaffirmed their core commitment to Biblical values on these issues.

Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained in a letter to the members of the board of directors of NAE that “in a December 2, 2008 broadcast interview on National Public Radio, Richard responded to questions and made statements that did not appropriately represent the values and convictions of NAE and our constituents. Although he has subsequently expressed regret, apologized and affirmed our values there is a loss of trust in his credibility as a spokesperson among leaders and constituents.”

What is disturbing is that he has held views like this, apparently for quite a long time. You don’t come to these conclusion overnight. It was only after the uproar following the Fresh Air interview that he was pressured to leave. In an organization like the NAE, you would assume that conversations about politics, beliefs, doctrines would come up occasionally. I would assume that others in top leadership in the NAE knew of Mr. Cizik’s beliefs and still sent this man to Washington to represent them and their constituent churches, churches that include the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Free Church, the Baptist General Conference, among others. If he had not given this interview and therefore been forced out, how long would he have gone on like this? When Mr. Cizik goes to Washington, he was supposed to represent the constituent member churches of the NAE. Even though the list of churches and denominations in the NAE includes few theologically conservative groups, you can rest assured that the average Assemblies of God congregation wouldn’t be pleased to find that a man who is representing them in Washington, and doing so while portraying to those he was lobbying that he spoke on behalf of these Christians, was espousing positions that those he was paid to represent would undoubtedly by and large find to be abhorrent. The way he was fawning over Terry Gross, seeking her approval, is a warning to those who seek to mix Christ and Caesar too closely. I fear for those who stand too close to that flame, who get invited to all the right parties and luncheons, that the temptation is to forget their first love. It is not just liberals who have this subtle seduction happen. Many of the leaders of the “Religious Right” have fallen into this trap over the years. Getting invited to the White House does that to men.

The Gospel is not a social justice mandate, although caring for one another is a natural response as well as a commandment. The Gospel is not a political movement, although it should impact our beliefs in secular issues based on Christian convictions. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ dwelt among us, born of a virgin, lived a perfect sinless life, died as a substitute on a cross and took upon Himself the due punishment for the sins of His elect sheep, was buried, rose again on the third day, established His church, ascended to heaven and waits for that preordained day when He will come again, not as a servant but to rule as King over the new heavens and earth. When we overly entangle the affairs of sinful humanity with the Gospel, we always run the danger of emphasizing the sectarian too much and doing damage to the Gospel witness. The freedom of religion is not designed to protect the state from the church, but the church from the state. Men like Mr. Cizik are a living testimony of the dangers of forgetting that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Think the mainstream media might be in trouble?

How about a major city newspaper not delivering the newspaper most days?

The publisher of the Detroit Free Press, the country's 20th largest paper by weekday circulation, is expected to announce next week that it will cease home delivery of the print edition of the newspaper on most days of the week, according to a person familiar with the company's thinking.

The publisher hasn't made a final decision, said this person, but the leading scenario set to be unveiled Tuesday would call for the Free Press and its partner paper, the Detroit News, to end home delivery on all but the most lucrative days—Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On the other days, the publisher would sell single copies of an abbreviated print edition at newsstands and direct readers to the papers' expanded digital editions.

Preaching, preachers and the church

The Assembling of the Church: Just Semantics? (Preach)

I have been thinking a lot about preaching. What it is, who should do it, how it should be done. I have always been a big proponent of preaching. In my opinion, the church has suffered from a lack of preaching and the preaching it got was mediocre and powerless. Men like John Piper and Voddie Baucham in part receive such acclaim because the way they preach is so foreign to so much of Christendom. Not that they are not gifted preachers, they are, but they also are unusual given what passes for preaching from so many pulpits.

Preaching is prominent in the Bible. John the Baptist came preaching. Jesus preached. The apostles preached. Paul preached and exhorted others to do the same. So what does preaching look like for us in the church today?

As I started looking into this, I jotted down some thoughts. See below for some initial thoughts I put in draft form…

“More and more as I listen to sermons, even sermons from men I respect and are considered to be great preachers by the church as a whole, I ask this question: is this primarily preaching or is it a performance? I remember all too well preparing sermons and trying to figure out if something sounded right, or would have the desired impact at the desired time. The most important thing in sermon prep for me always was and remains that it is a faithful exposition of the text at hand, that it didn’t take liberties and that it was theologically sound and fit with the Biblical record as a whole. But I admit freely that presentation was a big part of the prep work. I can talk extemporaneously about Scripture easily enough, but making it sound right and run smoothly within an allotted time? That takes more work.

When we see large scale preaching, one man preaching to a large crowd, is it not always in the context of evangelism? Do we see anything like a Sunday morning worship service sermon to believers anywhere in the New Testament? Anywhere? Taking out the issue of the single pastor who preaches for pay, even in the instance of a non-paid, elder led congregation is there a mandate for a “preach and receive” model where the one man preaches and the congregation passively sits there and receives?”

Then, as often happens to me, I find someone else has already done a post making many of the same points I was thinking of, and did a better job of it. Alan Knox has been running a series on words we use in the church, and whether or not the way we traditionally use those words corresponds to the way they are used in Scripture. One of the best looks at the word “preach”. A couple of snippets from his post….

“However, today, it is common to use the term "preach" in the context of the church. In fact, many believe that the purpose for meeting with the church is to learn from "preaching". To take this further, the "preacher" - that is, the one who preaches - has been turned into a title or position for a specific person within the church. Instead, in Scripture, this term relates to anyone and everyone who proclaims the truth of the gospel of the kingdom of God.”

“When we read the English words "preach" or "preacher" in the Scriptures, we should think about someone who is proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers outside the context of the church. In fact, we should think about our own responsibility to proclaim the gospel. If, instead, we think about some titled position or office in the church which is synonymous with "pastor" or "elder" then we are not understanding the Scriptures the way the original author (and God!) intended for us to understand.”

So Mr. Knox is making the case that preaching is not a task reserved for a particular few but that preaching the Gospel to unbelievers is the responsibility of all. That certainly runs contrary to what we have always been taught in church. Preaching is something that the pastor does. We sit in the pews and listen, he preaches, we shake his hand and go home. There are all manner of preaching conferences designed to teach pastors to preach more effectively. But shouldn’t we all be engaged in preaching the Gospel to unbelievers?

Then consider these words from Dr. Mohler at the commencement of the latest class from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, coming from a very different viewpoint…

The preacher's authority is a delegated authority, but a real authority. We are assigned the task of feeding the flock of God, of teaching the church, of preaching the Word. We do not speak as one who possesses authority, but as one who is called to serve the church by proclaiming, expounding, applying, and declaring the Word of God. We are those who have been called to a task and set apart for mission; as vessels who hold a saving message even as earthen vessels hold water.

Our authority is not our own. We are called to the task of preaching the Bible, in season and out of season. We are rightly to divide the Word of truth, and to teach the infinite riches of the Word of God. There are no certainties without the authority of the Scripture. We have nothing but commas and question marks to offer if we lose confidence in the inerrant and infallible Word of God. There are no thunderbolts where the Word of God is subverted, mistrusted, or ignored.

The crowds were astonished when they heard Jesus, "for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." Congregations are starving for the astonishment of hearing the preacher teach and preach on the authority of the Word of God. If there is a crisis in preaching, it is a crisis of confidence in the Word. If there is a road to recovery, it will be mapped by a return to biblical preaching.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. In his commencement address, Dr. Mohler is sending these young men out, most of whom (I assume) will go into some sort of vocational ministry. Not even able to see the event, it is nonetheless a stirring picture of a room full of young graduates receiving last words of encouragement and exhortation from one of America’s great leaders in Christendom. These young preacher boys will be called to churches all over the land, and in stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of commencement, by and large they will inherit local churches full of unbelievers and believers with a perfunctory understanding of the Gospel, doctrine and theology. Do they have a right understanding of preaching?

Dr. Mohler comes at the issue with the full weight of the traditional understanding of the role of preaching. Dr. Mohler is a brilliant scholar and along with being a masterful theologian is incredibly well read and an expert in church history. Mr. Knox approaches the issue from the view of the use of the word “preach” (and other similar words like “proclaim”) as it appears in the Word, with an emphasis on the earliest days of the church in the book of Acts.

Who is correct?