Thursday, April 30, 2009

The problem with public schooling: Entrenched Interests

There may not be an institution in America that is better at self-preservation than the public school system. The drumbeat from the educational establishment is deafening and constant: More teachers, more schools, more administrators, more supplies, more, more, more. All accompanied by dire warnings of educational apocalypse (as if that is not already happening) and plaintive pleas to “think of the children” (as if the NEA is really thinking of the children as anything but job security). Think of the tone of campaigns for school levies. They are masterpieces of heartstring tugging on the one hand and making you feel like a heartless villain if you vote against them. There is rarely talk of accountability or how else the budget could be structured. It is always mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.

The biggest partner in the self-preservation and perpetual expansion of the public school system are the education unions, i.e. the National Education Association. The teachers unions, with enormous budgets and their hands in the wallets of virtually every public school teacher in America, can bring to bear enormous pressure to perpetuate full-employment for teachers, at the national level as well as in the local school district.

At the national level, it is the rare politician who will take on the enormous war chest and emotional appeals of the teachers unions. Better to let the kids in your district or state languish in cruddy schools than face a challenge in your re-election bid funded by the NEA. There is a reason that no real debates on education policy are allowed, why charter schools fit an uphill battle, why vouchers are killed again and again no matter how much sense they make. Public schools are one of those direct expenses to taxpayers that they are forced to pay for whether they use the service or not. If you don’t drive and therefore you don’t use the roads, you also don’t buy gas, so you don’t pay for the roads. But childless adults or parents who pay for private schools or parents who homeschool pay for the public schools but don’t use them.

At the local level, the union has the power of the strike and a teachers strike is a powerful thing. The last thing most modern American parents want to deal with is their kid home unexpectedly. The unions know that and use it. When teachers go on strike, and little Johnny is home and mom is not because she works outside of the home to “make ends meet”, parents get irate because they are inconvenienced. They might be mad at the teachers but it is the school board and administration that they call. If the UAW goes on strike, big deal. It doesn’t impact the average person. When a school goes on strike, there is an immediate and unpleasant impact on families.

When education reform is proposed that threatens the public school monopoly, or threatens the funding of public schools or might decrease the number of unionized teachers, it is attacked without regard to merit as "hurting kids". Pretty much the only "reforms" that the system will get behind are ones where improved education is irrelevant and where the only pertinent factor is how much more the public school can receive in funding.

Public schools are big business for a lot of people and like any big business the public school system defends its market share fiercely. The problem is that children are not boxes of Trix or dishwashers or laptops. They are people who have been turned into a commodity by the very institution that so many parents trust to educate their children.

Speaking of T4G

The Together for the Gospel page has a sporadic blog (although only Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever ever post anything). A recent post by Ligon Duncan has the following quote from the book Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War :

Philip Schaff observed, with dismay, the popularity in America of self-educated theologians, unexposed to the traditions of the academy, who presumed to establish themselves as authorities in matters of religious truth. He lamented that “every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport of license, and sell his false ware at pleasure.”

What do you think of that?

Together for the Gospel 2010

So I know it is a year away, but registration for Together for the Gospel 2010 opens tomorrow! Having learned my lesson from T4G ’08, I went ahead and reserved a hotel room at the Galt House hotel in Louisville this morning. Last time we stayed in a hotel several blocks away, which saved some money but made it hard to hoof back and forth when we got 2-5 books per session and yours truly ended up being the book Sherpa because I had a backpack for my laptop. The Galt House is very nice and is connected to the conference center by a walkway, so we will be able to go back and forth between sessions to check email and drop off the books we get or buy in the cavernous book hall.

There are not tons of details on the conference yet, but the title is The (Unadjusted) Gospel and the speaker line-up is the same as 2008: C.J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever, joined by John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and Thabiti Anyabwile.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The greatest gift you can give your kids

We finally broke down and bought ESVs for all the kids. When we read together, we were using a few ESVs, a few NKJVs and a few KJVs which made it kind of choppy. So we spent a couple bucks and bought each of the kids (except Victoria) their own ESV bibles. It was nice to all be reading from one translation last night, even though in Romans 8: 21 some of our ESVs say "decay" and some say "corruption", so they are a little bit different. The kids are very excited to have their own Bibles that they got to pick out instead of using one off the shelf.

I am also mindful of how blessed we are in America. We have probably a dozen and a half Bibles in the room I am sitting in. How many of our brothers and sisters around the world don't even have one Bible in their own language to read. How often are we neglecting to read the Word when there are people risking their lives to smuggle the Word to people thirsting for it? How many men died fiery deaths at the hands of Rome to bring us this treasure in English? God forgive me for neglecting and taking for granted this most precious gift.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Very noble...but...

Much of has been made in the news of Carrie Prejean, Miss California, answering that she believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. She has become a lightning rod, reviled by the deviants of the world and praised as an example by Christians. This is the "controversial" answer that she gave....

"I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," she said. "And you know what? I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

So a tacit rejection of gay marriage, which according to the questioner "Perez Hilton" who is apparently a homosexual celebrity blogger (and what has become of this country that someone can be identified that way!) cost her the title. Apparently what the judges want is for these young women to repeat the P.C. answers that will give you the crown. Good for her to answer that way and stand up for marriage in God's eyes. As she said upon returning home, she was raised to see marriage as described in the Bible in her church...

She offered her version of the tense hours following the April 19 Miss USA pageant while appearing at the San Diego megachurch that has helped shape her views. The Rock Church, founded by former San Diego Chargers defensive back Miles McPherson, was active in the campaign to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriages in California last year.

I am sure that Mr. "Hilton" knew full well of her church affiliation and asked what amounted to a no-win gotcha question. I loved this comment from another judge:

"I do not fault her for her beliefs. I fault her for her complete lack of social grace, and that's a quality I want my Miss USA to possess," judge Alicia Jacobs, a former Miss Nevada, wrote on her blog.

So it is a sign of a "complete lack of social grace" to not parrot back what someone wants to hear and instead speak your mind. They might as well just record a PC answer and not let the girls speak, just play the recording of the correct answer while they stand there.

It all sounds like something I would support. So what is my problem?

Here is my issue. Before we go overboard anointing Ms. Prejean as the spokesperson of the faith, keep in mind that in this same pageant there is a swimsuit portion. I won't link to it or put the pic up, but Ms. Prejean's swimsuit is, well, barely there. If you search her name on Yahoo! one of the first images that pops up is her in her swimsuit. It is hardly modest, but it is what is expected of a woman if she wants that crown. Her church is only giving her a partial message if she is learning that homosexuality is wrong but that wearing a skimpy bikini to win the worlds acclaim is OK.

Maybe I am making too much of this. Maybe not.

likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. (1Ti 2:9-10)


Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. (Luk 11:34)


But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:28)

I hope that this whole incident has been instructive to Carrie Prejean. If you seek the world's approval by parading around on TV in a bikini, the world will only give you its approval if you deny everything that the world hates. She is a beautiful and no doubt smart young woman. She has far more to offer this world than a tiara and a sash, and the cost of her immodest attire on TV outweighs whatever good she may have done. Far better to adorn herself in this world by standing apart by her faith and leave the crowns for Christ.

The problem with public schooling

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about the public school system lately and what is wrong with it. It is no secret if you read with this page with any regularity that I have a great deal of distrust bordering on distaste for the public school system. As I have been thinking about it, I have come to the realization that the massive institution of “school” is flawed not just from a Christian parenting perspective (although that is the first and most pressing reason for homeschooling our kids). It is flawed fundamentally at another, deeper level that has nothing to do with Christian kids being taught in a secular school setting. A lot of this thinking has come into clearer focus while reading a book by John Taylor Gatto Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (I hadn’t heard of him until I saw a link about the book on April’s blog but it is electrifying stuff), a former schoolteacher in New York City. A book review of Dumbing Us Down is forthcoming as well.

My thoughts have coalesced around the realization some time ago that the flaws in the public school system have become so severe and institutionalized that the system of compulsory state mandated and enforced schooling is broken beyond repair. It is kept alive by a combination of cultural nostalgia, institutional inertia and the efforts of vested interests in the education establishment to perpetuate and even expand the system. I have been working on a post about the public school system that has gotten longer and longer, and ultimately unwieldy, so I am planning on breaking it down into several posts.

Entrenched Interests

The Educational System of the Educational System

Cultural Nostalgia and Parental Apathy

A Misguided Mission

So What Is the Answer?

My goal is not to disparage parents who send their kids to public school or to slander individual teachers or even individual schools. My hope is that this series will spur us to think about the school system: where it came from, what it is supposed to and what it really does accomplish, why do “education reforms” never seem to make anything better. These are not esoteric questions. School buildings are ubiquitous in every town of decent size in America and perhaps no institution in America has a greater impact on our society. The public school system is the repository of the vast majority of our nation’s children during their most formative years. Most kids are sent on a bus driven by a relative stranger, full of other relative strangers, for the first time at age five and then their lives revolve around that school, the system, other kids their age and the authority figures at the school until they are 18. When a child boards a bus for the first time they enter a system that will mold them until they are old enough to drive, vote, sign contracts and serve in the military. From a few years removed from diapers they are in the system until they are ready to enter the workforce, vote for President and be a Marine. How much thought does the average parent give to school? They might move based on "good" school systems but for the overwhelming majority of parents, when their child turns five they stick them on the bus and hope they turn out OK thirteen years later. We can no longer ship our kids off with minimal thought to a place that is going to make them who they will be as adults.

(BTW, the picture is of Anthony Wayne High School, the high school that my siblings and I graduated from)


As an American taxpayer you are about to become the proud owner of General Motors!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

While another denomination rushes headlong to embrace heresy...

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:7-9 KJV)

These words clearly no longer hold any meaning within the Episcopal church and haven't for a long time. That was pretty evident in the ordination of women, in the permitting of homosexuals to serve openly, in the ordaining of a "bishop" in New Hampshire who divorced his wife to live in a filthy relationship with another man. Now yet another example of what happens when we stop "Holding fast the faithful word". I heard about this on the Albert Mohler show and it piqued my interest having lived for a while in Northern Michigan...

Bishop-elect worries some Episcopalians

As priest, he altered prayer book, says evil exists but Satan doesn’t

LITTLE ROCK — The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester denies that Satan exists. He doesn’t believe God sent his only-begotten son to die for the sins of the world. He says that the Koran is sacred, he has taken a Buddhist middle name and he teaches that many paths lead to the divine.

As an Episcopal priest, Thew Forrester altered the denomination’s prayer book, including its baptismal vows and the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Now he’s been elected to become a bishop - a successor to the Apostles - by the Diocese of Northern Michigan.

If a majority of the Episcopal Church’s bishops and dioceses give their consent, Thew Forrester would inherit a seat in the House of Bishops, a ceremonial shepherd’s staff and an awesome task - to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church.”

When you read the whole thing, it really is striking that a man who in almost any other time in the history of Christianity would be rightly called a heretic is potentially going to be ordained by what used to be a Christian church as a bishop. Granted, on any given Sunday less than 700 people show up in Episcopal churches in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan in the "Diocese of Northern Michigan" But the fact reminas that the very idea of someone who clearly needs to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to him is instead being called upon to guard that Gospel is heartbreaking.

It does sound like he may not be confirmed or whatever they call it by the other bishops, but the fact that his confirmation is even in question shows how far the Episcopal Church has strayed.

One denomination steps back from the brink...

..but just barely.

Presbyterians vote against gay clergy

Efforts to allow gays and lesbians to serve as clergy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have been defeated again, sealed by votes Saturday.

But the margin of defeat -- the final tally has yet to be determined -- is already guaranteed to be much closer than in previous years. That is encouraging for gay clergy supporters and concerning to opponents, with both sides expecting the issue to be revisited in the future.

It is only a matter of time I am afraid before the PCUSA abandons this position and starts to ordain people who are openly and joyously flaunting their sin and rejecting the Word of God. They will then go the same way that the Episcopal Church has gone and the end result will be the same: faithful Christians who have hung in will leave in droves, taking entire local assemblies with them, and those that remain will continue to embrace progressively more deviant teachings until they stop being a "church" as it is understood in any sense of the word.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good News!

Baptisms drop in the Southern Baptist Convention!

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Southern Baptist churches baptized fewer people in 2008 for the fourth year in a row to reach the lowest level since 1987, and membership in the country's largest Protestant denomination fell slightly as well.

Baptisms dropped just over one percent to 342,198 last year, compared with 345,941 in 2007, according to an annual report released Thursday by LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm.

Total membership of Southern Baptist churches was 16,228,438 last year, down nearly 38,400 from 2007.

Why is that good news? After we came to Christ, we spent the majority of our church life in Southern Baptist churches and by and large they were baptizing enormous numbers of people, many of them small children (essentially late infant baptism) based on decisions garnered through altar calls and in deceitful luring of children to repeat a prayer that they don't understand. With rolls full of "members" who haven't shown the least sign of regeneration, it it little wonder that the total numbers of "members" keeps declining.

The whole "church membership" thing leads to churches that see the Great Commission being fulfilled by preaching an invitation and getting people to make a "decision" for Christ.

"The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay.

Actually Thom it probably just means that SBC churches baptized fewer unregenerate people last year. Many, many SBC churches are not "reaching people for Christ" or preaching the Gospel, they are preaching decisions aand getting people to repeat rote and unBiblical "sinners prayers". When the SBC won the battle over the inerrancy of the Bible, unfortunately many of the old guard were replaced by a new old guard that is just as implacable. For every Al Mohler there is a Johnny Hunt, men who don't seem to understand how men are saved and what Christ has done. One can only pray that the men being taught by Dr. Mohler and others can impact the SBC so that the focus is no longer on numbers: decisions, baptisms, "members" and instead is on preaching Christ crucified for sins. Faithful preaching of the Gospel accompanied by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit leads to people that are truly Christians. Getting people to "make decisions" leads to false converts with a false security.

On a more serious note...

Today is Draft Day when football fans gather for a sporting event that includes no actual sports being played, where the prophet is poofy haired Mel Kiper Jr. and the only sweat is on overweight NFL executives. Always fun to see how my beloved Cleveland Browns make a series of bad draft picks.

All Hail NFL Draft Day!

Good Bye Winter? Really?

It was almost 80 yesterday, same today. Not supposed to get below freezing for the next ten days (although it will be in the upper 30's) Can this be what people in other states call "Spring"?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Speaking of mutuality

Where we are gathering for fellowship has taken some getting used to. It has been jarring to have someone different bring the primary message each week. It is hard to get comfortable with the idea of lots of different men contributing to the teaching instead of the typical model of one man teaching and everyone else listening. Our Wednesday evening Bible study is led by the same elder most weeks, preceded by a time of open and extemporaneous corporate prayer. Even in that model it is less "Me lead, you listen" and more "Me facilitate, we all contribute". Sunday morning it is rarely the same person twice, this week it was a missionary, next week perhaps it will be someone from our local assembly or a nearby assembly of believers. It is scheduled so we know who is coming each week so it is not completely random. It is a far cry from the single individual giving the message Sunday AM, PM and Wednesday PM that we are used to. That is familiar and comfortable. I don’t think it is Biblical but it is what we have always known and it is the cultural norm in the civic religion of America.

In many ways, as we get used to it, I have found it to be pretty cool. People come to visit and pray with us and open the Word, often these are people that the local assembly has a relationship with so we catch up and spend time in fellowship. It seems more likely to me that in the early church, while doctrine is vitally important, a great deal of their time was spent in fellowship, in sharing meals, in praying with and for one another. I have a hard time envisioning the early church as being a scheduled 45 minute lecture preceded by 15 minutes of singing a couple of hymns, prayer, offering and announcements.

I think it is healthy to have so many different people getting involved. The tendency of people is to get lazy. Why study for myself when the pastor will do it for me? After all, that is what we pay him for: studying books and going to conferences and then telling us about it. This attitude is not true of everyone, but it is true for an awful lot of people. I know that an assertion like that will lead to howls of protest: not MY congregation! Really though, in a conservative, doctrinally sound church of say 100 people, how many of them even read the Bible regularly? Never mind reading good books on doctrine and theology, I am talking about just cracking open the Word of God more often than Sunday morning. The church structure we have in place makes it easy to be passive recipients of the Word instead of students of it. Reliance upon a pastor to do the all of the teaching and edifying leads to dependence on the pastor. That is not healthy for the laity and it is not healthy for the man called to be the sole pastor. I have said before, a big reason why so many men leave vocational ministry is the enormous burden that is placed upon them. The community of believers should share the burden and the work, and in turn will share in the growth and the joy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Update on Reformation Society

I didn’t get a ton of emails back on my invite to form a Reformation Society in Mid-Michigan. I think part of the problem is that I emailed everyone at once with a blind CC and emails with 40+ names BCC’d often get caught in spam filters. I did hear back from some brothers who are very interested, a couple of ministers and a few lay people. I think that for this to really take off, we will necessarily start small with a few men and through word of mouth and connections in the area, gradually add to the group. It is kind of hard to spearhead something like this in an area where I am a recent transplant, so I am going to depend on some of the longer tenured residents to help spread the word. I am still encouraged by the response I got and hopeful that this can be the start of a great organization for edification, encouragement, fellowship and friendship. Certainly the Body of Christ can use all of that we can get!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not only hearers but doers

Our speaker yesterday was a physician who works as a medical missionary in India (his wife is also a doctor as are his three kids, talk about an overachieving family!). He and his wife left what I am sure is a very comfortable life in Ann Arbor, Michigan as well as their three children to spend their days providing medical treatment to people living in the rural areas of India, carrying medical supplies up paths in the wilderness for miles to get to a rudimentary building. Carrying supplies up mountains is one thing but when you add cobras to the mix? Yikes! It was pretty humbling to see someone who had every incentive to live out a comfortable life as a physician in America choosing instead to travel to his home country of India and spend his days caring for people in less than ideal conditions and taking the message of Christ to people who likely would die never having heard His name.

It is so easy to get caught up in the world around us and forget that vast numbers of our Christian brothers and sisters are living in a very different world than we do, a world without comfortable church buildings, gatherings designed more for convenience than safety, Bibles abundantly scattered around like confetti.

I feel like we need to do more in the community to help those around us. It can be a convenient dodge to play the eight kids cards, but really I spend a lot of time doing my own thing and I certainly could spare a few hours a week to help people in need. I would like to get involved in a crisis pregnancy center or something of that nature, or helping people who are homeless find employment. I have spent enough time being a hearer of the Word, it is high time I become more of a doer of the Word.

Mutuality in the church

The Assembling of the Church: Mutuality: Dangerous, Acceptable, or Necessary

Alan Knox posted a very interesting thought on the idea of "mutuality" in the assembly: mutual edification, mutual teaching, mutual exhortation contrasted with the model that occurs in many churches where mutual edification means one person does the teaching and the rest do the listening. It should spark some interesting conversations. I have said in the past and I am ever more convinced that we have let pragmatism and tradition replace Scripture in far too many instances in the local body.

I really liked one of the commenter's who remarked that we are pretty good at the "don'ts" of Scripture, it is the "do's" that we struggle with. Quite true!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them

September 1938
Munich, Germany

Nevil Chamberlain making nice with fascist Benito Mussolini at the Munich Conference where the "annexation" of the Sudetenland was agreed to by the world powers to placate Hitler. Six months later, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.

April 2009
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

President Barack Obama "strengthens" America by kowtowing to dictator Hugo Chavez.

70 years and naive leaders are still in vogue

Saturday, April 18, 2009


So urged Henry David Thoreau in the mid-1800’s. There has not been much evidence of people following his urging in the years that have passed since he wrote Walden. Our lives have become more and more complicated, as have our institutions. Back in the 1800’s, banks were in the business of deposits and loans. Today they are messing around with derivative swaps and mortgage backed securities. Our lives are incredibly complex to the point that many people have no idea how thing work around them. It was amazing the number of people who sign loan papers and don’t even look at them. We go through the day on faith that the complex systems around us will keep working and when they don't, people are lost.

That may be changing a bit. Little by little, signs are popping up that Americans are rejecting the consumer-driven, consumption based lifestyle and are seeking something a little simpler. As evidence, USA Today ran a story on families who are seeking to simplify their lives: Economic survivalists take root.

When the economy started to squeeze the Wojtowicz family, they gave up vacation cruises, restaurant meals, new clothes and high-tech toys to become 21st-century homesteaders.

Now Patrick Wojtowicz, 36, his wife Melissa, 37, and daughter Gabrielle, 15, raise pigs and chickens for food on 40 acres near Alma, Mich. They're planning a garden and installing a wood furnace. They disconnected the satellite TV and radio, ditched their dishwasher and a big truck and started buying clothes at resale shops.

"As long as we can keep decreasing our bills, we can keep making less money," Patrick says. "We're not saying this is right for everybody, but it's right for us."

Hard times are creating economic survivalists such as the Wojtowicz family who are paring expenses by becoming more self-sufficient.

It is HARD to get away from this lifestyle of trivial amusements, of empty distractions. We don’t get cable or satellite TV and we cut our Netflix subscription down to 1 at a time from 3 at a time. Several years ago I dumped my XM Satellite radio. But with the high speed internet, it is still pretty easy to find entertainment at will. With our Netflix subscription we can watch thousands of movies on demand, we can also watch TV shows if we want from the broadcast companies the day after they air on TV. We don’t have to try very hard to find ways to distract and entertain ourselves. It is also pretty hard to get away from the prepackaged, disposable, convenience oriented lifestyle. Making stuff from scratch for ten people takes a lot of time. Heating up some frozen pizzas or chicken nuggets is easy.

It is not just in simpler living and vegetable gardens that we see this. The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week that has been on their most read article ranks all week about the rise in gun sales, Fear and Greed Have Sales of Guns and Ammo Shooting Up.

Nearly four million background checks -- a key measure of sales because they are required at the purchase of a gun from a federally licensed seller -- were performed in the first three months of 2009. That is a 27% increase over the same period a year earlier, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

There are no clear-cut reasons for this. Some people are worried about a renewed Clinton-era gun ban. Others are actually investing for profit in guns, expecting prices to rise. Many people are worried, with some justification, about civil unrest. The institutions we have placed far too much faith in over the years have proven to be untrustworthy. Most people have blithely stumbled through life assuming that the government really cares about the people, that the schools are interested in educating our kids, that banks are benevolent non-profits here to help us out, that home prices and 401(k) balances will go up inevitably year after year. The reality has hit people really hard. People are nervous that the foundations of our society are being shaken up and the things that they counted on may not be around. We are in the midst of a cultural quake the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 60’s.

I was directed to the USA Today article by an editorial by Peggy Noonan. Peggy Noonan has been a pretty keen observer of all of this, which is remarkable given that she lives in New York City and has worked with the major power brokers for so long. Unlike many of her peers in the East Coast major media establishment, she still recognizes and cherishes the values and lifestyle of Middle America, and that perspective often serves her well.

One thing that Peggy Noonan wrote that I don’t agree with is in her last paragraph:

A friend, noting what has and will continue to happen with car sales, said America will look like Havana—old cars and faded grandeur. It won't. It will look like 1970, only without the bell-bottoms and excessive hirsuteness. More families will have to live together. More people will drink more regularly. Secret smoking will make a comeback as part of a return to simple pleasures. People will slow down. Mainstream religion will come back. Walker Percy again: Bland affluence breeds fundamentalism. Bland affluence is over.

I certainly hope that people will not start drinking and smoking more! But I also don’t think that her notion that “mainstream” religion will come back is borne out by the trends. Given that Ms. Noonan is a devout Roman Catholic (she wrote a book on the prior pope) living in the Northeast, what she considers to be “mainstream” religions are likely the staid, genteel Protestant churches and old, traditional Roman churches, where the focus is on bake sales and potluck dinners. The reality is somewhat different.

I think that in the days ahead, as we see a massive reordering of life, we will see less of what the media describes as “mainstream” religion. Civic religion once fulfilled a purpose of communal identity. That is rapidly becoming no longer the case. Being a churchgoer is not nearly as important as it once was. The hallmarks of civic religion in America included being a Christian as the birthright of every American and membership in a local church the responsibility of every American. No more. Civic religion in this country is in its death throes. As religious involvement, or lack thereof, becomes less important in the daily life of Americans, the incentives for being involved in some sort of religious activity to be part of the culture will wane.

America is going to look like a different place, a far different place, in the upcoming years. Economically, socially, religiously, culturally. The nation we knew, for better or for worse, is gone and something new is going to replace it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't support abortion? You just might be a "rightwing terrorist"

The blogosphere and conservative talk shows are all abuzz over the Department of Homeland Security report that warned of potential "right-wing" domestic terrorists, even though there is no evidence of the sort.

The report labels as extremists those who:

* (U) Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups),and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Huh, I fit the bill on several of those descriptions! If they find out about all those guns I own, I expect to see a "florist" van full of guys with headphones outside of our house any day now! Who knew that belief in the First, Second and Tenth amendment makes you a threat to freedom!

As Rush Limbaugh points out, this report comes out to coincide with the Tea Party rallies around the nation. Suppose that is a coincidence?

David K. Rehbein, National Commander of the American Legion, wrote a scathing letter to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the DHS, condemning her clumsy blanket warning about the potential radicalization of returning military vets. The report warned that:

The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.

Nice to know that our vets are considered potential threats to national security, the same national security they risked their lives defending. What is ironic is that we already have domestic terrorists in this country. They tend to be left-wing nuts in groups like PETA and Earth First!, as a markedly less publicized report from DHS pointed out earlier in the year.

What is really disturbing about this report is that the DHS admits that there is no specific threat and yet they still feel free to lump pro-life Americans, returning vets, gun owners, people suspicious of big government, etc in with the Klan and Timothy McVeigh. Apparently anyone who owns a gun or refuses to walk in lockstep with the most left wing, pro-abortion administration in history has become an enemy of the state, a "counter-revolutionary".

Viva la counter revolution!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reformation Society

I have desired since we moved to mid-Michigan/Lansing to see a Reformation Society start in this area. I find it odd that there is a great Reformation society in the wilderness of Northern Michigan, but in the more heavily populated parts of southern Michigan we don't have one. I just sent an email out to see if anyone is interested, so if you didn't get the email and live in Mid-Michigan and are interested in reformation in the church, give me a shout. The text of the email is below:


Reformation in the church is not merely something that occurred 400 years ago. It is a very real and urgent need for the church in our day.

Inspired by the number of people I saw in attendance at the recent
Magnifying God conference held at University Reformed Church in February and also by the small but vibrant group of brothers in Northern Michigan who have organized the NE Michigan Reformation Society, I am convinced of the value of a similar group of like-minded brothers in mid-Michigan gathering for mutual edification and encouragement. I have been in contact with The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the folks who sponsor the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and the Reformation21 webpage, and they are willing and eager to assist in helping a Reformation society take root in mid-Michigan. There are a number of active Reformation societies around the country, 21 by my count, all dedicated to proclaiming the Word of God and the historic doctrines of the faith. I believe that the Body of Christ in mid-Michigan would be blessed greatly by a Reformation Society in our area.

I recognize that we all lead busy lives and have many responsibilities. As a home-schooling father of eight I understand that all too well! I also realize that the need for reformation in the church has perhaps never been greater. My intent is not to create yet another responsibility, one more burden on our lives but instead to create an outlet for encouragement, fellowship, prayer, teaching and friendship among like-minded Christians in mid-Michigan. My goal would be for this group to be geographically wide enough to have a large pool of participants to share the work but not so large as to make meeting burdensome. To that end, I was envisioning a group encompassing a radius of approximately one hour (or so) from Lansing .

Before proceeding forward, I would like to see if there is interest in getting like-minded Christians in the area together for a discussion and time of prayer. If you are interested in being involved in this effort to encourage reformational teaching in mid-Michigan, I would ask you to reply to this email with your interest. After measuring the response, we would then look for a time and place to gather for discussion and prayer.

Thank you for your time, I am looking forward to hearing from you.


Arthur Sido

(if you are getting this email, I probably found you on the T4G cooperation map or the 9 Marks church search, so blame Mark Dever)

The Secret to Marital Bliss? Selfishness?

Apparently in a small sampling of married couples, having children makes marriage less “satisfying””

Parents all know that children make it harder to do some of the most enjoyable adult things. Bluntly put, kids can get between you.

Now scientists have attached some numbers to the situation.

An eight-year study of 218 couples found 90 percent experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction once the first child was born.

"Couples who do not have children also show diminished marital quality over time," says Scott Stanley, research professor of psychology at University of Denver. "However, having a baby accelerates the deterioration, especially seen during periods of adjustment right after the birth of a child."

I would ask this: what qualifies one as having a satisfying marriage? Is it living as if you are still single without the stress of having to find a date? Is it living together as a couple while still being able to indulge in whatever whim strikes your fancy? Not surprisingly, the same study found that levels of dissatisfaction were higher among couples who lived together before marriage. Little wonder that people who lived together and then got married to placate their families suddenly find children to be an imposition on their lifestyle.

Is it stressful and challenging to have kids? Sure! If we didn’t have kids, my wife and I could travel all over the place, we could eat out all the time, we certainly would have more money and more stuff, our house would stay cleaner, we would get more sleep. Would I change the fact that we have kids and lots of them even if I could? Absolutely not!

I would hazard a guess that the reason these parents find life less fulfilling after kids is that a) they are selfish and having kids interferes with their narcissistic pursuit of self-gratification and b) in America today, having kids means rushing around taking them to daycare, to school, to activities, on expensive vacations, all without a word of thanks. The problem is not married couples having kids, the problem is in the way that these couples view marriage, family life and a slavish devotion to the cultural mandates for how to parent in 2009. In American society, children are a burden and a financial drain. They are an line item on the family budget like cable and groceries. Children are not a blessing to cherish, they are a burden to endure. Little wonder so many couples find life so unsatisying after children come into the mix.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is sin not a salvation issue?

See, I thought that it was.

When I browse around the news, I come across all sorts of stuff that gets me upset. Sometimes I read things that are just tragic. A news piece titled At 1 Lutheran church, gay, partnered and preaching is one of those tragic stories. This is how the story starts off:

MINNEAPOLIS – Brad Froslee was installed as pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church at a special Sunday service attended by dozens of his fellow pastors, as well as Froslee's proud parents and grandmother, all devoted lifelong Lutherans.

But the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially lists Calvary's ministry as vacant. That's because, sitting with Froslee's family at his installation ceremony in February, was his male partner of 5 1/2 years — living proof that Froslee has flouted the ELCA's prohibition on non-celibate gay pastors.

This is kind of a self-described “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ministry. We will pretend that a person openly living in a sinful lifestyle is our “pastor” and the ELCA will pretend that he is not there even though they know he is. The ELCA is considering changes to allow homosexuals in “committed relationships” to serve in the clergy. I am not sure what that means. A “committed relationship” in this case means that they have been consistently committing sin with the same person for years. I am not sure that consistently engaging in sin without a whiff of repentance is a quality that is listed in Scripture for elders.

"In the City for Good," reads a banner on the front of the church, a symbol of Calvary's mission of social justice and outreach to distressed communities. When it came time last year to replace the married couple who served as co-pastors the last 13 years, Calvary's lay leaders wanted someone who would help realize that mission.

"We're a church that's serious about being real about issues of crime and poverty and racial and social injustice," said Josh Moberg, a stay-at-home dad who's president of the church council. "And Brad had experience working with diverse and poor communities. The identities seemed like a good fit."

So they replace a married couple who are “co-pastors”, which should set off warning bells, with a homosexual living in blatant and unrepentant sin. I would suggest to Mr. Moberg that before they start getting serious about their understanding of “injustice”, they need to start getting serious about sin. They need to worry about “being real” about the Gospel. I understand and applaud their desire to help the disadvantaged but not when they set aside the Gospel to do so. I wonder why they even bother with the pretense of being a Christian ministry at all when they ignore the Word of God? I wonder if anyone has ever heard a message like the one Peter preached at Pentecost that ended with “Repent and be baptized”

What is truly tragic is this section:

Rev. Peter Strommen, a pastor from Prior Lake, Minn., who led the task force that proposed the policy change, said it's an attempt to officially recognize the lack of consensus across the ELCA.

With rapid social change on gay rights even in recent weeks, including the sudden legalization of gay marriage in Vermont and Iowa, he said the Lutheran church must find a way to proceed amid strongly divergent viewpoints.

"We've tried to stress here that this is not a core issue of our faith," Strommen said. "It's important. But it doesn't get to the level of the risen Christ and salvation."

What is the risen Christ and salvation about if it is not about sin? Christ came to save people from their sins, the Holy Spirit comes to convict people of sin and change hearts. Christ didn’t die on the cross and rise on the third day so that you can embrace and wallow in your sins. Mr. Strommen should crack open that leather book on his shelf with “Holy Bible” on the cover and read Romans 1:

Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

Not only those who do such things but also those who approve of them. Instead of calling on this lost man claiming to be a minister of the Word to repent, he seeks to enable and encourage his behavior. I need to be in prayer for the faithful remnant that is sticking it out in the ELCA among all of the rejection of the Word of God, people who are trying to hold the line while remaining loyal to their denomination. I fear that the fight they are waging was lost decades ago. I also need to be in prayer for men like Brad Froslee and Peter Strommen, in prayer that God will work in their hearts. The Gospel is not a weather vane that changes direction with the cultural winds. It is the bedrock, the unchanging declaration of man's sin and Christ's redemption.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words,and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24: 1-12)

Friday, April 10, 2009

What happened on the cross?

At the moment that God poured out His wrath and Christ bore the penalty for our sins in His flesh, something happened, something changed. We will never understand more than a sliver of what the cross means in this life, but what has been revealed to us in the Bible is enough for man to ponder for a lifetime.

On the cross the godly died for the ungodly. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that through Him we might become the righteousness of God. What Luther called the Great Exchange occurred, our sin imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to the elect through the God-given gift of faith (Eph 2:8 ). But what does that mean?

Some of the terminology used about the cross causes confusion. The Bible and theologians use language and terms that are pretty uncommon in normal conversation. Here are a few of them using dictionary definitions that don’t always capture the nuance of the term…


2: something that propitiates ; specifically : an atoning sacrifice


: to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of : appease


2: to supply satisfaction for : expiate


2 a: to extinguish the guilt incurred by b: to make amends for


2 archaic : to administer justice to archaic : absolve c: to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation

So when we are speaking of the cross, we need to recognize that there are a number of things going on. When we read in Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10 of Christ being made the propitiation for our sins, we see an atoning sacrifice, a sacrifice that appeases and satisfies the judgment of God. Sinners who were enemies of God regained his favor through the imputed righteousness of Christ. We are justified by faith, but the reason for our justification by faith alone in Christ alone is because of what He did on the cross. By His cross He made peace between man and God, reconciling us to our Creator by fulfilling the demands of the Law.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2: 13-14)

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2: 14-16)

The cross changed the dividing lines among humanity. Before the cross, humanity was divided by nationality. The Jews were God’s chosen people, a nation chosen among all of the nations by God’s sovereign will (Deu 7:6). It was through the Jews that the types and shadows of the cross were revealed in the sacrificial system, it was through the Jews that the Law was given and it was through the Jews that the Messiah came. Within the nation we found believers who were faithful and many who were not believers and continually violated the laws. After the cross, the dividing line is the cross. The world contains two kinds of people today, the redeemed and the lost. We have created all sorts of subdivisions within both groups (Baptist/Methodist/Presbyterian on the one hand and agnostic/atheist/”seeker”/Muslim/Buddhist on the other) but when you get through all of the labels and subgroups there are really only two types of people: Christians and everyone else. You were either redeemed at the cross or you are eternally lost. There is no second place prize.

We also see the very root of eternal security on the cross, the action that makes sinners secure in their salvation. The sins of the elect are placed on Christ and He made propitiation for them. If the Christian is able to “lose their salvation” that would indicate that Jesus died for their sins and the Christian is still punished for them. That flies in the face of God as a just judge, sort of the theological equivalent of double jeopardy.

What else can you think of that was accomplished on that day almost two thousand years ago on the cross of Christ at Calvary?

What can wash away my sins?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

I have noticed a slew of postings on the cross around the web this week and a lot of them go out of their way to avoid any hint of the wrath of God. Lots of talk about reconciliation, but not much about propitiation. No hint of the “B” word (blood). All very feel-good stuff but not much of it faithful to the sometimes troubling Biblical record. I want to look today, on Good Friday when many Christians and churches focus on the crucifixion, at the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

This is what the cross tells me. Because of my sin, someone had to receive justice. That just punishment for my sins was going to be paid for either by me or by Christ. Thank God that in His mercy, He sent His Son to die for my sins. Like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, He was lifted up and in doing so He paid for my sins with His own blood. He sealed that new covenant between me and God with His shed blood. When we observe the Supper today, we remember Christ’s vicarious death and we make a public proclamation to the world: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor 11: 26). The blood of Christ is the great healer.

Blood is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.

In Genesis 4, we see the blood of Abel crying out from the ground…

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. (Gen 4:10)

In Egypt, it was the blood that turned away the Destroyer

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exo 12: 12-13)

On the Day of Atonement, blood was shed and sprinkled on the mercy seat…

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. (Lev 16: 15-16)

As Christians, we read in the New Testament (esp. in Hebrews) and see that the rivers of animal blood were not the intended remedy, but a picture of the cross. The blood of animals was never enough to be more than a temporary fix. Year after year the sacrifice was made. It was never a complete system nor was it intended to be, it was a mere type and shadow of the true sacrifice of Christ to come…

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10: 1-4)

The blood of goats and bulls was not enough. Our good works were not good enough. Our righteousness was not good enough. Only one Man was good enough, one sacrifice complete enough, to take away the sins of the elect once and for all eternity. One perfect, sufficient and complete sacrifice…

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10: 10-14)

This is powerful stuff, the life giving, sin atoning blood of Jesus Christ! If you aren’t hearing about this on Sunday morning, ask yourself why not? What else do we have to talk about other than the blood shed to redeem lost sinners? There are so many wonderful blessings that accompany being born-again, but all of them, all of them, are predicated on the cross of Christ and the blood He shed there. Without the cross, there is no adoption. There is no advocate with the Father. There is no victory over sin. There is no joy. There is no salvation and without the cross there is no reason for celebration.

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9: 22-26)

The world will look at the cross and declare it foolish. So an innocent guy died so that other people could be saved? That doesn’t make any sense! To the unregenerate mind, to the world, it is foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). You can understand why. The unregenerate does not see his own sin, does not see the righteousness of God and realize the affront of his own sin in the eyes of God. When a person is born again, they don’t see how righteous they have become, they see how sinful and lost they truly are. I pray we don’t make the mistake of listening to the world instead of the Word.

The cross was not some neat, clean knickknack to be sold in Christian schlock stores. It was a place of brutal death. When Christ was crucified, by nails and a spear, His blood was shed. That may make us uncomfortable in the sanitized Churchianity of 2009, where we gather in tidy buildings with comfortable seats. We don’t like to be uncomfortable but a blood stained cross where the Son of God died for sinners should make people uncomfortable! For the Christian, it should also make us rejoice that so great a sinner as I should be saved by so a great a Savior as Christ!

Three Hours That Changed The World

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27: 45-54)

The last words that Jesus Christ uttered according to John, the only one of the twelve with Christ as He died, were so incredibly simple and yet so infinitely wonderful:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19: 28-30)

It is finished! It is complete! It is done! Three hours of unimaginable suffering and a shameful death for Christ secured an eternity in glory with Him for those called to be His sheep. A Savior slain and a sinner saved. That is what is so very amazing about grace.

I am all in favor of technology...

...but this may be a bit much.

NYC church tweeting the Passion of Christ

NEW YORK - Experience the Passion of Christ — in 140-character bursts.

In a marriage of Christian tradition and digital technology, Wall Street's Trinity Church is using the micro-blogging service Twitter to perform the story of Jesus Christ.

The main characters will tweet the Passion play for three hours beginning at noon on Good Friday. The feed also can be delivered to mobile devices or e-mail addresses.

The lower Manhattan Episcopal parish also is offering a Web version of the Stations of the Cross.

How about just reading about the Passion, say in a Bible perhaps?

Not the pies!

Have they no shame!

Pennsylvania Pie Fight: State Cracks Down on Baked Goods

ROCHESTER, Pa. -- On the first Friday of Lent, an elderly female parishioner of St. Cecilia Catholic Church began unwrapping pies at the church. That's when the trouble started.

A state inspector, there for an annual checkup on the church's kitchen, spied the desserts. After it was determined that the pies were home-baked, the inspector decreed they couldn't be sold.

"Everyone was devastated," says Josie Reed, a 69-year-old former teacher known for her pumpkin and berry pies.

Sold for $1 a slice, homemade pies have always been part of the Lenten fish-fry dinners at St. Cecilia's, located in this tiny city near Pittsburgh. Similar dinners are held in church basements and other venues across the country this time of year.

The problem is the pies are illegal in Pennsylvania. Under the state's food-safety code, facilities that provide food at four or more events in a year require at least a temporary eating and drinking license, and food has to be prepared in a state-inspected kitchen. Many churches have six fish fries a year, on Fridays during Lent. St. Cecilia's has always complied with having its kitchen licensed, so food made there is fine to serve. But homemade goods don't make the cut.

As my sister pointed out, I would trust a pie baked by one of these ladies far more than I would something served at a fast food joint or in a rack of Hostess Pies in a gas station. Then there was this comment, sure to warm your heart on Good Friday...

Mr. Chirdon says the pie episode has shed light on an often-overlooked aspect of food safety. "I've gotten a lot of letters from churches that are tattletaling on churches down the street that aren't licensed and don't meet standards for food service."

Churches turning in other churches for pies and fish dinners. Perhaps they are trying to knock off the competition for their own bake sales?

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

(I posted this some time ago, but in light of this series on the cross I thought it would be worth reposting it)

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)

There is probably no figure that causes more trouble to those who buy into doctrines like works salvation or baptismal regeneration quite like the repentant thief on the cross next to Christ. He really confounds those who believe in some version of works based righteousness. We see a man who does nothing to merit paradise, just condemnation, one who is justifiable being punished hanging next to one who merited no such punishment. There are many ways he confounds those who insist on works for all or part of their salvation.

His simple declaration of faith

His faith is simple, it is a faith of one who places his hope on the One who can save him. His hope is in spite of the life he lived up to that point, not because of it. When a Christian is saved, he or she is saved despite the utter sinfulness of their prior life. We are saved not by our litany of good works, we are saved by Christ.

His recognition of his own sin

He sees and realizes his own sins, and Christ's sinlessness. A recognition of sin that must precede salvation. We cannot be saved until we see why we need to be saved. That flies in the face of a faith+works salvation. The image of the thief is little different than the image of the saved Christian. We are that sinner, a lowly criminal hanging next to His King. We bring nothing to our salvation, we add nothing to our justification but the sin that Christ atoned for.

His salvation

His salvation requires no action on his part, only His blessing. Nothing else needs to be done. Indeed I think the reason we see this account is to show us that this thief, like us, is utterly helpless. He cannot get down and go do righteous works to show himself worthy of salvation. All he brings is all God demands: a penitent heart, changed by God, that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. That is all we need, and when we seek to add our works to His work we put the cross to shame and deny the Lord.

Something else I love about this guy: He is anonymous. We have no idea who this guy is or what his name is or what kind of life he lived. He was a thief, we know that and that is about all we know. The conversation is not about him, it is about Christ, about Christ being merciful on an undeserving sinner. In a day when “me, me and me” is the new Trinity, when we wonder what God can do for us, when we seek as much as we ever have to stand insolently before God and claim our reward based on our works and our righteousness , this anonymous thief reminds us all that each of us has a cross we should have faced, but that in the case of redeemed Christian He faced it for us so that we wouldn’t have to.

Whenever you hear someone say that it is our works that save us, remember this lowly thief who brought nothing to the cross but his sin, but today dwells with the Lord in paradise and remember that we can do nothing to save ourselves. That's O.K. though, because Jesus has paid for it all with His blood and that was good enough for this thief and it is good enough for us. Praise God for His mercy and praise God for recording the story of this thief in His Word to set to rest the question of who and what saves us!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A million here, a million there...pretty soon you are talking real money!

In the times of rapid economic expansion and easy credit that we are paying for now, many people and businesses overextended themselves with debt. Unfortunately, that also holds true for many churches, including quite a few megachurches and other larger congregations that find themselves in foreclosure or with half-finished building projects. I read an article about church foreclosures recently and the numbers being thrown about were disturbing. I work in banking and financial services, so talking about millions or billions of dollars doesn’t faze me, but even still I found the topic of this article disturbing. Here are some quotes from the article Boom-years borrowing hits churches (even the title is distasteful).

In 2006, construction began on the congregation's (Metropolitan Baptist Church) dream complex in Largo, Md. - a $30 million campus with a 3,000-seat church, an education center and an 1,100-car parking lot.

Seabreeze (Church in Huntington, Calif.) spent about $12 million on a new complex that was completed in 2007. But a drop in donations, partly due to a rift between the pastor and some church members, forced the church to renegotiate for an interest-only mortgage. Stoffel said Seabreeze hasn't missed a payment, yet the mortgage is far from the church's only debt. The church also owes $1.2 million - due this year - on bonds that helped finance the project, and must repay a $200,000 loan that a couple took out on their house to help Seabreeze cover its costs.

The 3,500-member Pentecostal church (New Life Anointed Ministries International) near Washington needs a couple million dollars to finish its new $19 million complex. Construction stopped last spring when New Life's lender said it would make no new loans to the church, Reeves said…"We now have children who don't have classrooms to get into, adults who have to go to an overflow room," Reeves said.

Millions of dollars to build churches, likely to replace existing buildings, that are sitting empty for the majority of the week? Even if your local body could afford to service that debt, is it wise to spend eight figures on a building? Using a simple calculator, a $1 million loan at 6% interest over 30 years is a monthly payment of about $6000 or over the course of a year about $1400 a week. If an average family gives $50/Sunday (which I think is high), you need 28 families to give every week without fail just to service a note of $1,000,000. Tell me that doesn’t have an impact on preaching and ministry to know that before you pay your pastor or support missionary #1 or pay the light bill or anything else, you need (given a family size of 4) 100 people to come every week just to pay the mortgage note. Little wonder churches have turned to the business world to find marketing and leadership strategies. Servicing millions in debt is a full time job!

How far we have come from a simple gathering of our Lord and His disciples in a borrowed room to today and million dollar gleaming edifices. Is this progress?

(I have a couple other posts about this issue of churches and building debt here and here)

Serving and loving

In the liturgical calendar, today is known as Maundy Thursday. I am not a huge fan of those liturgical calendars, but there is a lot going on in the Bible on the day before Christ was crucified (I know these are arbitrary dates, go with it). First a little trivia. I wondered what in the world “Maundy” meant, so I looked it up on wikipedia:

The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

So that explains that mystery.

I think that when we look at the day before Jesus went to the cross, we need to examine one major question: How did Jesus spend His last day with His disciples before the cross? Lets look at some of the major events of the day before the crucifixion…

The Last Supper

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matt 26: 26-29)

When we observe the Lord’s Supper today, it tends to be a formalized, ritualistic event. From those simple words spoken by our Lord and reiterated in 1 Corinthians 11 a whole system of ritual has been created. In many Protestant churches it has been turned into a choreographed event, something separate from the “worship” service. In Roman churches it is that and much more. The notion of transubstantiation makes the ritual into something far beyond what we read in the Gospels. When Jesus says ““Take, eat; this is my body.””, clearly He doesn’t intend those words to mean that the bread was His actual body. His body was present and reclining at the table. Nor is the wine literally His blood. In both cases the Supper has become a formalized, rote ritual.

That is not how it was instituted, and I don’t believe that it was intended to be that way. The Supper was an intimate, personal affair. Christ with his disciples, breaking bread and eating with one another. Christ ministering to His disciples by washing their feet. The simplicity of it stands in jarring contrast to the pageantry of modern church life.

The Washing of the Apostles feet

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13: 3-17)

This raises an interesting question. Why is this not done now? I always hesitate to discount commandments like this. Do we fulfill this command by serving one another? Is this merely an example of service or is it something we ought to do today? I am quite certain that we are not fulfilling the spirit of this commandment by an annual ritualistic foot washing. Granted, we don’t wear sandals today so is the command even applicable? How does this question mesh with headcovering? If we don’t wash feet, how do the leaders of the church serve the church in such a self-denying, humble way? Again, I don’t see that we are being faithful to this by making it into an “ordinance” where we ritualistically wash people’s feet in a ceremony so that we can tick off another box on our checklist.

It troubles me because I feel like I am missing something and I need to ponder and study it a LOT more.

The New Commandment

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 31-35)

It is interesting the timing here. Jesus waits until the betrayer Judas leaves to say this to the other eleven disciples. Of all the teachings that He gave the disciples in the presence of the one He knew would betray Him, this one He holds off on until Judas leaves. I just found that interesting.

I find this passage fascinating. What is the mark of the Christian? How does someone know that a person is a Christian? Well by their fruit, but what does that mean? It strikes me that the mark of a Christian, how someone knows that a person is a follower of Christ, is that we love one another. Not that we can recite the Heidelberg Catechism from memory, or that we are “members” of a good church or that we follow this rule or that. It is that we love one another. That is not to negate the need for solid doctrine, for the great truths of the Gospel. Jesus told the woman at the well that God is seeking worshippers who worship Him in spirit and truth. We read in the Gospel of John that Jesus in His High Priestly prayer prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Jesus also said that abiding in the truth is a mark of a disciple: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) So truth is important. We cannot love one another without the truth, and we cannot truly have the truth if we do not love one another. But I think that what Jesus is conveying here is that when unbelievers look at us, they will not be impressed with the breadth of our doctrinal knowledge but what will stand out for them is our love for one another.


39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22: 39-46)

In the period of time covering the Thursday and Friday before the substitutionary death of Christ, we see Jesus at His most human and His most divine all in one. One the one hand, we see Christ in the garden asking for the cup to be taken away and we see an angel strengthening Him (which I hadn’t noticed before). We see Christ crying out to the Father: “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” But we also see Christ in His greatest glory, more so than in the miracles, carrying a cross through the streets and the Creator of the Universe deigning to allow sinners to drive nails in His hands and feet to purchase with His blood the redemption of His sheep. Jesus, who created all things, allowed His creatures to kill Him.

What was in that cup? Victory? Glory? I don’t think so, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t be asking for the cup to be taken from Him. The cup Jesus was to drink was the cup of the Father’s wrath, His righteous punishment of sins, imminently to be poured out on Christ on the cross. In that hour in the Garden, Christ knew that as onerous as that cup would be, there was no other way. It was love that caused Him to allow the events in motion to take place.

At the end of this day we see two betrayals. Judas betrays the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denies the Lord three times out of self-preservation. What a perfect way to end the day, with the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of sinners and denied by Simon Peter. As He was being betrayed and tried, we see His disciples fleeing, denying Him, sleeping through His ordeal, cutting a guys ear off, betraying Him for money. Not their finest hour. In their time of greatest failure, Christ shows Himself to be God in His fullest manifestation, the Creator dying for His creatures, redeeming the unredeemable and meeting the demands of the very Laws He revealed.

So what then do we see on this Thursday, just hours away from the cross? We see the Christ with His disciples, serving and loving them and calling on them (and on us) to serve and love one another as well. Not to create institutions and programs and rituals and organizations. To love one another and serve one another, abiding in His truth, proclaiming His Gospel, calling sinners to repentance. How have we lost the simplicity of these truths!?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Home Cookin’

I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.