Monday, January 31, 2011

Our latest Sunday adventure

We all went as a family to the meeting of the Allen County Christian Fellowship yesterday. Very interesting meeting, quite a bit different from any other meeting we have been to. As I mentioned we live in an area with a dense population of Amish folks and the gathering at Allen County Christian Fellowship is made up largely of people who have left the Amish after embracing a more evangelical, faith based justification but they retain many of the mannerism of the Amish. I might have been the only, or at least one of the few, adult men without a beard (mostly with no mustache as is traditional with the Amish). Every woman in the place and most of the girls covered their heads and all wore dresses. A few of the men greeted one another with a holy kiss, which is perfectly Scriptural but is a bit odd to see. I know the German Baptist Brethren practice the kiss, so maybe some of the men there are from that tradition.

A quick excursus if I may (and since it is my blog, I may!). The holy kiss is one of those things that shows up frequently in Scripture (four places I believe, Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12 and 1 Thess 5:26) where Paul exhorts his readers to greet one another with a holy kiss. It is not practiced in the church in any places I know of outside of the most conservative Anabaptist traditions and I am not sure when the practice died out. Certainly it seems odd in our culture for adult men with beards to kiss one another and the connotations are a big stumbling block, but I wonder if the holy kiss is like foot washing, something that Scripture models but that we have abandoned because of our culture. I need to think about it more, it is an easy thing to make light of but since it appears in Scripture I think we need to be very careful with mocking the practice. Does a handshake replace it? I am not certain because we do see handshakes elsewhere in Scripture (Gal 2:9) and this seems different. Most people greet one another with a handshake, believers or not, so does it fulfill the same purpose? The ESV Study Bible notes kind of dismiss the practice:

Like some other practices with symbolic meanings that change from culture to culture (such as footwashing, or head covering for wives; see note on 1 Cor. 11:5–6), a “holy kiss” would not convey the same meaning today that it did in the first century, and in most cultures it would be seriously misunderstood. Such commands are best obeyed by substituting an action (such as a handshake or hug or bow, varying by culture) that would convey the same meaning in a modern culture.

Meh. When did we start modifying our practices because the culture would misunderstand them? I recall that the early church was accused of cannibalism because of the Lord’s Supper but that didn’t lead them to stop observing it. I guess we could argue that a lot of things were culture. After all, wine was a cultural drink in that time, why not use beer for the Lord’s Supper? Baptism resembles ceremonial washing, so maybe we can replace that with something more cultural appropriate like slathering hand sanitizer all over a new convert? Silly? Of course. There is a meaning involved in the Supper and baptism that are specific and transcend culture so I have to wonder why some practices are dismissed as “cultural” and that we are free to replace (or completely ignore them) like the holy kiss, headcovering, footwashing, men raising their hands in prayer (1 Tim 2:9) while others are more sacrosanct. Just another example of a lack of consistency I think. Anyway, back to my report….

We arrived at 9:30 and were in session until a little after 12:30. No Sunday school, no children’s church and there were a TON of little kids in the place. The parking lot must have had a dozen 15 passenger vans parked somewhat haphazardly. We got blocked in and couldn’t leave until someone moved their van from in front of us (the someone was a maybe 11 year old boy moving his families 15 passenger van, which was kinda scary!). We sang for about half an hour, no piano or anything else for accompaniment, and the songs we sang we selected by brothers from the assembly. In other words there was not a prepared “worship” line-up selected ahead of time. I don’t typically enjoy singing but I loved the time of singing simple songs at a deliberate tempo. I can’t recall being as blessed by singing as I was yesterday for a very long time.

One of the brothers brought all of the kids up front and did a children’s lesson. It was on the idea of filters that we use around the house and then taking that idea and showing how the Scriptures are the filter we use in our lives. It took him a very long time to get to the point but he isn’t a professional and was clearly not super comfortable. Nevertheless he was trying and his message made a lot of sense. Then one of the elders got up and kind of went through the order of service. He was acting as a “moderator” which is a term I haven’t heard before. That also took a long time. There was a noticeable lack of smooth orators in the building and since most of these brothers came from the Amish, English is something of a second language. Since they grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch they tend to speak very slowly and pause often, probably translating a bit in their heads. At about 11:00 one of the brothers, not an elder just one of the men, came up and spoke for almost an hour. It would not have gotten a passing grade in a seminary homiletics course but he stayed in the Scriptures and spoke from the heart. When he was done, the moderator came up and commented on some of what the speaker had shared and then they opened the floor for anyone else. Several brothers made some points or comments which was a refreshing change. The speaker also made a point of asking others to correct him if he misspoke at any point, a sign of humility that runs contrary to what we are used to. This group of Christians has a meal together three Sundays at month in their modest building ( there is a serious lack of parking with all of the big vans and a similarly serious lack of restrooms, hence the porta-potties outside!) and then on the fourth Sunday they invite one another to homes to fellowship. It is a wonderful group meeting in a simple fashion, kind of big for a true participatory meeting (there were well over 100 people, perhaps 150 or more with the little kids) but there is a great deal of emphasis on fellowship and on smaller groups meeting in homes as an integral part of the community. There is a noticeable lack of professionalism or polish but I think that would certainly have been true in the first century as well. There is also a real zeal for evangelism and mission, perhaps a symptom of a regenerate body that came out of a very insular Amish culture. They are heavily involved in evangelism and service, making regular mission trips to Chicago as well as mission work in Ghana, South America and Haiti. So we liked it a lot.

We also had visitors stop by our home Sunday afternoon. The Miller’s (a pretty common name around here!) are part of Cuba Mennonite Church in neighboring Harlan and we met them last week. What a great family and an encouraging visit. I like that we are meeting lots of people in the area and that many of these brothers and sisters feel welcome to stop by our home. Wherever we end up formally meeting with the church, it is my hope and prayer that our home will constantly have visitors and that many people will feel encouraged to spend time with us. Hospitality is a lost art form in the West and especially in the church. We desire to see that change, at least in our home. So that is what this last Sunday brought. We met lots of other Christians, we spent time together as a family, we were uplifted and encouraged and edified, we spent time in fellowship in our home with another Christian family. All in all a pretty great Sunday!

Tomorrow I am having lunch with one of the leaders of a local house church network, I am hoping to learn from him and start to make contact with Christians in our area who are struggling with trying to find Biblical fellowship and community. We have had coffee before and I was blessed by our time together and expect more of the same tomorrow. I am not sure what this will lead to. Will we have an actual “house church” or will we have fellowship with other Christians in our house as well as in more traditional settings? I am not sure but I am looking forward to finding out. I am really trying to stay open to what God has planned instead of mapping out what I want and then expecting God to provide the rest. I guarantee this, it will be exciting and a blessing no matter what. How can spending time with my adoptive brothers and sisters in Christ be anything else?

A great and encouraging read

I read a great, great article by Wayne Jacobson this morning. I don’t know anything about him but I liked what he had to say in his article The Church Jesus is Building. He hits a lot of topics but this was a great encouragement for those who have abandoned the religious institutions and are accused of being “churchless” and forsaking the assembling of the saints.

If your connection to Jesus is growing, you are not scattered at all. You are simply finding that the voices of religious performance no longer hold the same weight and you are no longer getting the same validation you became accustomed to. Your passion to live inside his affection is drawing you to a greater gathering of believers tha you cannot yet see. Don't be afraid. You are not alone. Jesus is building a people in the earth who can live as his body in these days. You won't miss out. You are simply transitioning from religious obligation to a relational reality, and no one I've met on this journey has ever regretted the cost to do so.

I don’t think I have heard of a better way of describing it, transitioning from a religious obligation to a relational reality. Many people are finding religious validation in the traditional church and not in their walk with Christ and their relationship with other believers. Here is another thing I liked, a response to the common assetion that somehow being “anti-structure” equals “anti-church” (you can also insert hierarchy, authority, clergy, etc. in place of structure)

I am often accused of being anti-structure. I'm not. I'm against structure as a substitute for relationship. I'm all for structure that facilitates whatever God asks us to do together. There is a huge difference. Over the past few years I've been part of some international efforts that have had widespread impact just because some friends cooperated together and God has continued to open some amazing doors.

That really hits it on the head. Structure is not in and of itself evil. Where the problem comes from is when the structure substitutes for relationship. I have written about this before, the idea that we use “church” as a safe substitute for community, where we put on our Sunday best and our happy faces and sit in silence watching someone else before shaking hands and going home. We don’t let anyone in and because of that we never really live as the family of God. Standing in church and singing about being the family of God in a room full of people that are basically strangers is like having a family reunion made up of people you picked at random from a phone book. We must, as the church, be willing to examine all of our assumptions, compare them to Scripture and reject anything that impedes our disciple making, our community and our witness to the world.

What a great article! Again, I don’t know a thing about Wayne Jacobson other than this article so I am not endorsing him but I found that he really seems to “get it” from this essay. Give it a read, I found it both encouraging and convicting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What is a real church?

There is another conversation I am watching where the idea of “real” versus “unreal” churches is being bandied about. It is a common topic among my brothers in the reformed camp. We love to spend time quibbling over confessions and creeds and “marks” of a true church. I have written about this before, in fact this may be a poorly worded rehash of those prior posts, but I feel compelled to work through my thoughts here again.

Most groups of people assembling together (i.e. “local churches”) are a mix of believers (i.e. the church) and unbelievers (i.e. the world). There may be some smaller gatherings where everyone in the room is a born-again believer. There almost certainly are gatherings where no one, from the pulpit to the back pew, is a believer. By and large though there is a mixture.

The presence of a majority of believers in a given assembly doesn’t make that group a “real church”. Nor does the reality of an apostate organization make the believers assembled in that group not part of the church. Likewise, being a part or a “member” of a group of people consisting primarily of believers doesn’t make an unbeliever part of God’s covenant people. If you are a believer, you are the church regardless of where and with whom you meet on Sunday. If you are an unbeliever you are not part of the church, no matter how shiny your dress shoes are or what title or office you hold in a particular church.

The church is the church and that truth has nothing to do with liturgical/non-liturgical, Calvinist/Arminian, Presbyterian/Episcopalian/Congregational, simple church/house church/institutional church. A basic truism of the doctrine of predestination and election is that we didn’t choose to join His church, He chose us to be in His church and likewise He chose others to also be part of His church. We have no more say in passing approval on who is or is not in the church than we did in being made part of His church in the first place. So the whole exercise of the presence of this mark is the mark of a “true church” and the absence of this mark makes it a “false church” needs to get chucked out of the window. Few things weaken the efficacy of the witness of the church like dividing ourselves into little camps of believers that set ourselves against all other camps in our area.

If you want to know what a true church is, look to the Scriptures. There you will find a noticeable absence of denomination, of local churches competing for members and money, of holding up a list of secondary doctrines to grant or withhold the stamp of “true church”. The only mark of a true church is the presence of those bought by the blood of the Lamb. Adding anything else to that is foolish and is a return to the dividing wall between people that Christ destroyed with His flesh.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2: 14)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Urgent Prayer Request

The Global Orphan Project is reporting that the cholera epidemic has hit one of the orphanages they support and two children have died as a result:

What appears to be a cholera outbreak in Jeremie, Haiti, is impacting the children’s village we support there. I do know that all children who’ve fallen sick have received and will continue to receive immediate medical care. However, I am also sad to report that two of the precious little ones could not endure the strain and have gone to be with the Lord. This is a dynamic situation that’s being closely monitored. We’ll update you as we responsibly can.

See the whole post here. Please join me in prayer for these children.

Hiding behind our suits and smiles and status updates

Dr. Moore has a great post today, Why Facebook (and Your Church) Might Be Making You Sad. His point? When we see people that are unnaturally happy and upbeat, it makes us depressed to compare them to our own wounds and scars. They all seem so happy! Everyone at church smiles and looks and acts their best, they all have it together and I am such a wreck. What is wrong with me?

I loved this part…

Nobody is as happy as he seems on Facebook. And no one is as “spiritual” as he seems in what we deem as “spiritual” enough for Christian worship. Maybe what we need in our churches is more tears, more failure, more confession of sin, more prayers of desperation that are too deep for words.

Maybe then the lonely and the guilty and the desperate among us will see that the gospel has come not for the happy, but for the brokenhearted; not for the well, but for the sick; not for the found, but for the lost.


The way we do church, gathering on schedule for an hour to “worship” leads to people hiding their hurting behind smiling faces and their Sunday best. We are rarely honest with each other because we spend so little time together. We need to get out of the pew and get into the lives and homes and families of other believers. We need to see what is going on behind the smiles because no one I have ever met really has it as together as they seem “in church”. Brothers sharing over a cup of coffee, mothers sharing during a playdate, families spending time with other families. That is fellowship and community. Almost anyone can fake it for an hour and look happy. Those who can’t won’t come because they feel out of place. We need to shed the artificial world of church and get the church out of the building so we can see one another at our worst, not just at our best.

A great word from Dr. Moore. You should go read the whole article!

Making disciples of all nations (as long as they act like us)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make Presbyterian disciples of all nations, baptizing them and their infant children but only by a properly ordained Presbyterian elder in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you as well as the Westminster Confession. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age but while I am gone the Presbytery will be watching.” (Matthew 28: 18-20 , re-mix)

In a misguided attempt to figure out the very confusing world of intra-Presbyterian family feuding over the “Federal Vision” issue, I came across an unrelated post by one Wes White regarding the proper goal of mission work from a reformed and Presbyterian standpoint, Wedding Our Missiology & Reformed Ecclesiology :

Of course, we want to start the kind of church that will endure. So it is not enough to get Christian converts merely assembled into communities; they need to be discipled and they need faithful shepherds according to God’s design. They need spirit-filled shepherds who know their Bibles, submit to their Bibles and effectively apply God’s Word. Therefore we need to focus our energies on starting reformed and presbyterian churches.

The work of missions should lead to church planting and the ordination of elders in every church started. As the churches are organized and the elders shepherd the churches, then the spread of the Gospel in that nation will continue long after the missionaries are dead. That nation’s churches will themselves begin to send missionaries around the world.

The point bears repeating: Churches need to conduct missionary work in such a way that the end result is to organize reformed and presbyterian churches in the different nations and among the different language groups.


So an overarching concern is that reformed and Presbyterian missions be focused on planting reformed and Presbyterian churches. We certainly cannot have missionaries making disciples who turn into Baptists!

On a more serious note, this is not simply an opportunity to poke fun at my Presbyterian brothers, as amusing as that is for me. This seems to be commonplace across denominations.

I fear that we often are seeking to make disciples in our own image, an image that is based on our cultural understanding of what “church” should look like. We go beyond going to the nations, teaching all men about Jesus Christ, calling them to repent and discipling those God regenerates. We seem to be more interested in spreading the Western church culture than we are in preaching the Good News to the lost and seeing the captives set free. Not just that but spreading our own particular flavor of Western Christianity seems to be of paramount importance.

What is the goal of missions? What are we seeking to accomplish? Is it to replicate American Christianity to the far reaches of the world? Or is it to proclaim Christ to the lost and get the Word of God into their hands and hearts? If a Presbyterian mission agency sends missionaries to a far away land and the Spirit moves and people are saved but end up gathering in a congregational church that only baptizes believers, is that a failure? If a Southern Baptist IMB appointed missionary sees great fruit from his labors but the believers decide to form a local church with an Episcopal church government, is that a failure?

When I was in Haiti we drank water that was purified by a reverse osmosis water purification system. I have no idea what that means, is reverse osmosis better than regular osmosis? The group that installed the system was Living Waters for the World and they are associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), a notably liberal denomination that I have taken shots at before because of their erroneous view of human sexuality and marriage. I stand by my concerns regarding the PC (USA), if not the tone I used in addressing them. Having said that, I applaud the efforts of those in the PC (USA) who are seeking to bring fresh drinking water to Haitian orphans. Do I agree with their theology, their ecclesiology, much of anything about them? Nope. Do I think that the doctrines I take issue with are unimportant? Not at all. Does an orphan drinking water that is not going to give them cholera and kill them care if the denomination that installed their filter believes in Presbyterian church government, infant baptism and marriage between “two persons”? I would think not. A person who dies from contaminated water before hearing the Gospel is still lost.

Sometimes it might be necessary to set aside our prideful doctrinal distinctives in order to care for the least of these. I am not saying that we should be joined with unbelievers. Mission efforts with mormons are obviously not appropriate. Nor am I saying we should gloss over sin or not confront gross error in fellow believers or that holding fast to the truth is unimportant. I am saying that if our purpose in missions is to replicate ourselves in other lands, we are missing the point by a mile. I am happy to work with other believers in the effort to take the message of the Gospel to the lost and to care for widows and orphans in their affliction and provide clean water to people who otherwise would certainly become ill and die from tainted water. We can argue about theology at our local Starbucks a different day. After all, they use filtered water.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The gift of gender

From the very beginning, gender was pivotal to Creation and the plan of redemption. God created man first. Scripture is clear about this. That doesn’t mean man is better or superior, it means what it means: God made man first. But man was created, by a perfect God, purposefully incomplete. That was God’s intent as was His solution to provide a complementary partner for him. We see the origin of women early on in the second chapter of Genesis.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

In that one verse we see gender explained Biblically. Every conversation about gender needs to be framed by that verse. While some people are gifted with singleness, the normative state is not to be alone. Men are formed intentionally incomplete and God in His infinite mercy and wisdom created woman from man to be a helper and a compliment to men. God did not say that Adam was just lonely and needed someone else to keep him company so he made another person who was just like Adam. God made man a helper fit for him, a helper that was different and complementary. Men and women are made differently for a reason and neither is complete alone. Both are of equal value in the eyes of God even, and perhaps especially, though they are made differently and called differently. This theme runs throughout the Bible and culminates in the Son of God being born of a woman and in the picture of Christ and the church, the Bridegroom and the Bride.

Unfortunately, instead of rejoicing that God in His infinite and holy wisdom created men and women with a purpose and for a purpose, many have decided to rewrite the Script to suit our cultural standards or worse yet to appease that same culture out of fear of ridicule and being called “backwards”.

What is ironic is that so many of the advocates of gender equality or egalitarianism or whatever they call it are also the most anti-hierarchical people around. In spite of the distrust of hierarchy and clericalism, many advocates of egalitarianism seem to be unable to view women as serving equally in the church unless they are filling traditional leadership roles. The idea that if a woman is not recognized as an elder in the church or if she does not teach men or hold the title “pastor”, she is somehow inferior and being oppressed is completely without Scriptural warrant and a gross misunderstanding of the idea of leadership, service and discipleship in the Bible.

Jesus is the King of what many rightly describe as an upside-down Kingdom, where the great are brought low and the lowly are lifted up, where the greatest among us are the least among us and where being a servant is the highest calling. When I read Scripture and look around the church, I don’t see the “great” Christians among us as the leading theologians or the famous pastors that everyone wants to endorse their book. I see the women taking meals to people recovering from surgery or the older men who share their simple wisdom with the younger. I think we all get that but once you make a suggestion that God has fenced certain functions in the church and home based on gender, our theology goes flying out the window.

This is a tragic shame because the message women hear is that the callings of a woman are inferior. That message comes not from the ogres who advocate complementarianism, if comes from egalitarians who are unable to see the value in a woman unless she is functioning in a traditional male role. Taking a page from the handbook of the prevailing culture, womanhood is discounted. How ironic that this comes from those who wish to liberate women from patriarchy!

A woman’s strength is not found in demands to be treated like a man. The strength of women, which is considerable and formidable and found throughout the Bible, is a different kind of strength. While we see the male leaders of the church out preaching the Gospel on the street to crowds, we get a different picture of women. Peter writes that women are powerful influencers in a completely different way. Not an inferior way, a different way and one that is honoring to God.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3: 1-2)

An unbelieving husband who has his heart softened to the Gospel by the working of the Holy Spirit and the quiet, submissive conduct of his wife is redeemed the same as someone who comes to faith under the authoritative teaching of a man. What is missed by so many is that this is not a “woman submitting to man” thing. It is a woman submitting to God thing. God created women for a specific purpose, to carry and bear children and to raise those children to honor their parents and above all honor God. That is a glorious and wonderful purpose and we would see a far greater impact on the wellbeing of the church if more women embraced this truth. We have plenty of teachers and pastors and preachers but we certainly need more women committed to fulfilling the calling God has made them for.

Ultimately when it comes to gender roles in the church, there is really only one thing to ask. Doesn’t God get to determine what the full role of anyone is in the Body of Christ? If God calls you to minister in Africa because He chose for you to be born there, that is His calling. If God calls you to minister to children and care for your household because He made you a woman, that is a noble and righteous calling. Certainly the world would not agree but I didn’t think we were supposed to take our cues from the world. The picture of the relationship between men and women is the relationship between Christ and the church. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would suggest that the church should usurp the role of Christ as mediator of the New Covenant, as King of Kings, as the propitiation for sins. Why would we then suggest that the relationship between men and women is subject to reinterpretation at the whim of the prevailing culture?

Women are precious in the sight of Christ and have a wonderful calling and role in the home and in the church. It is simple pride and dare I say sin to say to God that women deserve more. God made men and God made women and I think He gets to determine how His creatures should serve Him. I thank God for a wife who loves me and loves my children, who walks in an attitude of submission to my flawed leadership because she is confident in God, a woman who doesn’t see her role at home or in the church to be inferior because she isn’t the center of attention. You won’t see her at the front of the church but never assume that means she isn’t ministering to others and serving her Lord.

This promises to be interesting

Frank Turk over at the Team Pyro blog has penned an open letter to Michael Horton of White Horse Inn fame, questioning the tendency of the WHI crew to emphasize the “Law and Gospel” distinction to the exclusion of almost everything else. I stopped listening to the White Horse Inn some time ago because I simply grew tired of the “everyone in the church is stoopid and what we need is more Word and Sacrament” as if listening to sermons and nibbling a cracker/sipping a tiny cup of wine is going to fix all of the problem in the church. Frank’s post Open Letter to Michael Horton is sure to draw a spirited response, probably not from Dr. Horton but certainly from his surrogates. I can think of one in particular that is going to have a fit. Much energy will be spent and many keys will be furiously tapped in this debate.

Meanwhile, the lost world is still lost. Orphans are still orphans. Widows are still widows. The hungry still don’t have food.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As I wrote earlier, each of the 90+ orphans we spent most of our time with in Haiti has a story and none of them are happy tales. There simply are not happy stories that lead to a child living in an orphanage. We know that by virtue of them being where they are that something bad had happened but we didn’t really know what that story was.

I think it made it a little easier on us that we couldn’t speak with the children. Our inability to communicate beyond hugs and smiles sheltered us from their stories and to be sure they had some heartbreaking stories to share. For me at least, they were orphans but in an anonymous sort of way.

There were a few exceptions. Some of the older children and some of the children with a background where they received an education spoke some English. One of those children latched on to me from the first night. His name is Beoda and he is the young man sitting next to me in the picture above. Each day when we went to visit the orphans, Beoda would seek me out. We didn’t ever do much, he was seemingly content to stand by or sit next to me. We did play some soccer and toss around a football now and then but mostly we just spent time sitting or standing with each other.

Near the end of our time in Haiti, Beoda pointed out one of the house momma’s who care for the orphans and said “My mother”. It turned out that Beoda’s mom lived in the orphanage with him and helped care for the orphans. I asked what her name was and he replied “Selene”. I remember that as we talked about her, she turned and looked over at us and her face just lit up with joy at her son, the look only a mother can get on her face. Then I asked the question that was obvious. I simply said “Your father?” As matter-of-factly as you can imagine Beoda said “Father dead”. Afraid to ask but needing to know, I asked if he had brothers or sisters. The response? “Dead”. I asked “earthquake?” and he somberly nodded. In those few halting exchanges I learned a little bit about how Beoda came to live with his mom in an orphanage.

Sure Beoda is not technically an orphan. His mom was still alive and he lived with her. But you can’t mistake the fact that for Beoda his whole life had been shattered. At 4:52 PM on January 12, 2010 he had a mom and a dad, brothers and sisters. He had a life, even one that likely would have seemed poor in our pampered American eyes but a life nevertheless. In the blink of an eye, in a matter of seconds, that all changed. I don’t know the details but I know that it can be summarized in a few short words “Father dead”. Like the other house momma’s, Beoda’s mom Selene works very, very hard to care for 90 children six days a week, making sure they are fed, keeping them safe, washing a ton of clothes by hand with rocks and lye soap. Beoda shares his mom with 90 other children.

Beoda is 11. I have a son who is 10 and another who turns 12 in a week. My children have a warm home where they are loved, a mom who is home with them all day to care for them and educate them as best we can. They have a father who in spite of my flaws comes home every night. I can’t imagine how they would respond to losing their comfortable existence and finding themselves living on rickety bunk beds with 90 other children, no Xbox, no DVDs, no toys, not even clothes of their own. As a Christian parent I don’t think I have done a very good job of preparing my kids to live without while I proclaim to them a Christ who calls on us to give up everything. I have to wonder if the Christians among these orphans are not far better prepared to be witnesses to the world than my own children. Have I, in my eminently American quest to provide for my children by fulfilling their every whim, actually made sacrificial discipleship more difficult for those I am tasked with raising?

I found very few answers and even fewer solutions in Haiti. Quite the contrary, I am finding that the time I spent among the least of these has raised many troubling questions for me. One thing I know for certain. I promised Beoda that I would come visit him again and unless God calls one of us home before I can fulfill that promise, I will see him again.

I asked Beoda and another young boy, Stevenson, to write their names in the small Bible I brought with me on the page facing the first chapter of James to remind me that James is not speaking of theological concepts to be debated in the ivy covered halls of academia.
He was speaking of real people, real orphans who had their lives turned upside down. Real widows who lost their husband and often had children to care for in a very different, very difficult world. James was writing about Beoda and Selene, about Stevenson, about Kimberly. I don’t know the story of most of the orphans I met last week but I do know what God has called us to do, each and every one of us. Visit and care for the widow and the orphan in their affliction. If we aren’t willing to do that most simple of callings, what is all of our religion and piety and learning good for?

More fruit of borrowing for buildings

Another article this morning from the Wall Street Journal on the serious issue of local churches foreclosing on sizeable loans taken out to build bigger and grander buildings in boom times, Churches Find End Is Nigh. The article is littered with examples of poor stewardship and even graces us with a quote from “The Reverend” Jesse Jackson.

The article cites this example, one I am afraid is all too common across the American church landscape:

In many cases, churches ran into trouble after borrowing to build bigger houses of worship needed to accommodate growing congregations in once-booming housing markets.

Pastors Rich and Lindy Oliver decided their Family Christian Center needed more space after their congregation rose from a few hundred in the early 1990s to 650 by 2002. The church borrowed $4.2 million and began building a new 1,000-person sanctuary on 11 acres in Orangevale, Calif., including classrooms and a space for adult learning.

Shockingly, the can't pay the mortgage now. Compounding bad stewardship with bad theology, we get this line:

Bankers and lenders typically are reluctant to "foreclose on God" and seek to work out deals with churches. But none proved possible in the Olivers' case.

Borrowing $4,200,000 to build a building has nothing to do with God. Foreclose away!

I know, I know. Don’t judge these people, you don’t know their hearts, etc. I do know a little bit about what the Bible says about the church and about how Christians should view money and I have spent most of my adult life in business focusing on finance and banking. Everything about this notion of borrowing millions and going into debt to pay for extravagant buildings and then expecting Christians to “tithe” to pay for it is foolish, prideful and sinful.

If you think that your contribution to the Kingdom is so valuable that you need to build a bigger building to showcase your talents, you need a reality check from the Word. God doesn’t really need you all that much and certainly doesn’t need the local church to finance a multi-million dollar loan to showcase your ministry.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hokey Pokey Haiti Style!

The Haitian Hokey Pokey from Arthur Sido on Vimeo.

One of the local leaders in the orphanage Joseph Volcy leading the children in a rendition of the hokey pokey!


My wife and I stopped by a couple of church gatherings yesterday to meet some other Christians in the area and see what God was doing in their assemblies. Both of them were ostensibly Mennonite (we have a TON of Mennonites in the area along with the large Amish population, they seem to go together) but they were “night and day” different.

The first gathering we stopped at, our intended destination for the morning, was a place I had come across on the webpage of the Conservative Mennonite Conference. That turned out to be odd because it quickly became apparent that they were neither especially conservative nor much interested in being Mennonite! Now we haven’t been in a traditional Western church service in a while so we were a bit rusty but about half an hour after we started there had been lots of talking about a variety of business items and birthdays. Nothing resembling traditional worship and nothing particularly edifying. Then at last the “worship leader” went up front. Thinking we were going to sing a few songs, we were taken aback at what he was “led” to do. In lieu of leading a few prepared hymns, he called on the congregation to express themselves however they felt led to do. All at once.

Without being overly critical, what was going on was kind of a chaotic scene of a few of the leaders of the group randomly spouting off songs, Scripture and prayers while the vast majority of the rest of the gathering stood in uncomfortable silence. All I could think of was 1 Corinthians 14. While I am an advocate of participatory meetings, I am also an advocate of some semblance of orderliness and people taking turns so that the participation is edifying. I am all for the congregation participating but when you try to force participation in the midst of a traditional church scene, you are going to get predictable results. What was going on was not a movement of the Spirit, it was pure and simple showmanship and stagecraft. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental but that is what I saw going on.

That is when we did something I am pretty sure I have never done before. Got up and walked out. As I helped my wife put on her coat in the foyer, a man from the assembly walked over to us to apologize after following us out of the “sanctuary”. It sounds like things have been changing and many of the Christians who gather in this assembly are unhappy and uncertain what to do. The "leadership team" has a vision and the rest of the assembly is being dragged along for the ride. He seemed desperate to talk to someone and we plan on stopping by his home at his invitation and we will also praying for the brothers and sisters at this gathering. They are headed for an ugly split.

So rather than drive home, we went to one of the other Mennonite gatherings in town. They were in the middle of their meeting but one of their elders was out in the foyer with his baby son so we got to speak with him. This group is a lot more of what I expected to find. Very simple, very plain. Humble, unassuming people in a humble, unassuming building. Because they were finishing up, the elder invited us back for the evening meeting which we happily told him we would come to. So around six we went back and had a very nice time. A brother from Goshen, Indiana came down with a pretty awesome testimony. Afterward we spent almost an hour and a half just hanging around talking with the brethren.

One brother we spoke with used to be an Amish bishop but came to understand the gracious nature of the Gospel that cannot be earned or kept by works of righteousness. We also met a wonderful brother who is leaving in a week from tomorrow with his wife and three very small children to go to Haiti to help construct homes. They will be staying in Haiti for three months which is a far cry from my brief visit last week. Several couples invited us to their homes which we plan on taking them up on.

I still plan on having a simple, likely home based fellowship in our new house with our new neighbors. That of necessity must include getting to know our neighbors, something my wife is doing a much better job of than I am. Many of the brethren we met Sunday evening live very close to us (close in a rural sense), fellow believers we would not have met if we hung around our house waiting for a house church to spring up. So I expect we will spend time meeting with other Christians, not in the hopes of luring them away from their local church but in the hope of developing relationships with them. I am not sure yet how this will all look but I am excited to see what God has planned for us.

Step back in line whippersnapper!

There is a bit of a kerfuffle in the blogosphere over a comment made by John MacArthur. Dr. MacArthur took offense something in Darrin Patrick’s book Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission . Dr. MacArthur found something Darrin said to be a dangerous call for “radical individualism”. Because he expressed his concerns during an interview, there has been a bit of a stir and led to a couple of competing camps so Dr. MacArthur posted a follow-up to clarify what he said: Radical Individualism: A Good Trait for Young Pastors? Here is a snippet:

Meanwhile, let me clarify my remark: I was not questioning Darrin’s personal orthodoxy – his theology is clear in the book. The issue is rather the danger of developing a unique theology and a radically individualistic philosophy of church leadership. When one’s “own theological beliefs” are self-styled and unique, those beliefs need to be questioned. Protecting the soundness of our theological convictions is a commitment that we all must make. It is increasingly clear that the vanguard of evangelical Christianity is intent upon actively promoting change at every level within the church, and young men in particular should not be encouraged to think radical individualism is a positive mindset for church leadership and ministry style.

Good ecclesiology demands that there exist an awareness of, appreciation for, and deliberate connection to the flow of redemptive history. Patrick’s statement, it seems to me, is quite out of harmony with Paul’s charge to Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The goal certainly should not be to encourage young pastors to distrust or remodel what they have learned from faithful men.
(emphasis in original)

That is a pretty strong reprimand, one that suggests a rejection of the historical stream in the church. Of course for about 1000 years or so the “flow of redemptive history” was running through Rome and controlled by the pope. I would also say that we actually do need change at every level within the church and that this change is about five hundred years overdue. But I digress.

What exactly did Darrin Patrick say that lead to this charge of undermining the flow of redemptive history and radical individualism? Dr. MacArthur helpfully reprinted the quote for us and here it is (prepare yourself for this shocking statement):

“One of the common errors of young men who surrender to ministry is to simply adopt the model of a church that they have experienced or idolized. A similar mistake is to blindly accept the ministry philosophy and practice of a ministry hero. The man who is experiencing head confirmation is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities, and desires. In short, there is uniqueness to the way he wants to do ministry.”

THAT is radical individualism? The idea that a young man should not simply accept the practice and philosophy of ministry that a man they look up to holds? To me what Darrin is saying makes perfect sense. The men that I respect, a list that includes Dr. MacArthur, should desire that those who appreciate their ministry also search the Scriptures to see if these things are true. Just because Dr. MacArthur or Al Mohler or Charles Spurgeon or John Calvin spoke on a topic doesn’t place that topic on a shelf labeled “Settled Matters: Do Not Touch”. Calvin was wrong on a number of issue ranging from baptism to the relation between the church and the state. That doesn’t make what he wrote unprofitable but it does mean that just because Calvin or Sproul or Edwards or Dever says something, we shouldn't accept it without question. I have not read Darrin Patrick’s book but I think that is what he is saying and it seems to me that a lot of young leaders are trying to replicate the model of ministry utilized by their favorite hero-theologian because they assume that if Dr. X does it this way, it must be right.

With all due respect, I think that what MacArthur is saying is far more dangerous than Mr. Patrick’s brief blurb in a book on church planting. There are many “settled” theological issues that are anything but. It strikes me that in many places, especially in matters of ecclesiology, we are expected to just accept what we have been told the Bible says and not question the prevailing traditional interpretation. Dr. MacArthur said: When one’s “own theological beliefs” are self-styled and unique, those beliefs need to be questioned.. I would suggest that when one’s theological beliefs are tradition based and inherited, they likewise need to be questioned.

What this seems to encourage is young leaders in the church who only frame their theology and especially ecclesiology based on what older men have taught. This perpetuates the model of ministry that we so often associate with "church" and is rampant in reformed circles. Often a topic is broached through the framework of a) is this interpretation of the topic “reformed”?, b) how does this fit in with our confession? and c) what did *insert name of famous theologian here* teach about this issue? There is a serious issue of theological incest among this camp where the same men read books written the same small pool of authors who often recommend books written by one another and no one dares ask a question for fear of being tossed off the Reformed reservation. That is theologically unhealthy and leads to theologically immature believers.

I am not suggesting that we reinvent the theological wheel over and over again nor am I suggesting that because something is new, it is right. What I am saying is that the church would be a lot healthier if we didn’t merely absorb what our pet theologian says without first struggling with and studying through the issues ourselves.

If Martin Luther had believed as MacArthur seems to be implying we should, we would all still be bowing the knee before a pope and trying to earn our justification by works. Praise God for intellectually curious men who turn to Scripture, not an ecclesiastical authority, for the answers to the great questions in the church.

I think we might have a solution!

Our neighbor recommended looking at Virgin Air for a wi-fi hotspot. It looks like we are in their coverage area (it is actually the Sprint network) so for $40 a month I can get a wi-fi hotspot with unlimited data and connect up to five devices. I am sure that hooking five devices up at the same time is not a good idea but it might be a solution for us and the cost is acceptable. Watching streaming video may be out of the question but I should think for things like casual web-browsing, email, Facebook, blogging, etc it should work fine. Feeling pretty hopeful on this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So apparently..

no one goes to the library for books anymore. We are here to get online and of the dozen patrons in the library virtually all of them are on the library computers or their laptops. Books? Pshaw! How old fashioned!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One is a horror, one is a “choice”

The story of the arrest of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Barron Gosnell has been all over the news since yesterday including this CNN story with the ironic title: Philadelphia doctor accused of murdering patient, newborns. Ironic because I would make the same accusation of every “doctor” who performs abortion.

There is a great deal of controversy about this arrest because the perpetrator is clearly a crackpot and the depictions of his offices are so macabre:

Williams provided a grisly scenario of the shuttered abortion clinic: A search of the office last year by authorities found bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was blood-stained, dusty and broken.

Certainly horrifying and this man is deserving of arrest and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. I sincerely pray that he comes to know Christ before his end because the full reckoning of his crimes will come not from a human magistrate but the King of Kings. But here is my question.

If it is done in a sterile, clinical manner, is infanticide somehow less grotesque?

What is happening every day in nice, brightly lit abortion clinics is every bit as horrific as what was going on in this house of horrors. Perhaps the murder was covered up by sterility and professionalism and a waiting room full of pamphlets but the end result was the same: a woman and a child walked in and (except in one case) only the woman leaves. The perverse logic that our laws operate under says that a baby in the womb is fair game for an abortionist but that once she passes through the birth canal she is all of a sudden legally protected.

Let’s skip all of the feigned horror here because the only difference between what was happening in the clinic of Kermit Barron Gosnell and your local Planned Parenthood is a difference in hygiene, not in function.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doing Church Haitian Style

I have only been a born again believer in Jesus Christ for around 9 years. In that time I have attended a whole bunch of church services in a variety of traditions and denominations. The bulk have been in Baptist-ish, evangelical gatherings which have the advantage of predictability. I have also spent the last year or so in a Plymouth Brethren assembly which is far more open and participatory. Here and there I have been to different styles of meetings including a few different Orthodox Presbyterian church meetings and some other random gatherings. So I have seen a lot of churches but they have been pretty similar and I always knew what was going on.

Then I went to Haiti…

First let me say something that I always sort of knew was important but that really struck home for me last Sunday. The churches I have gone to have always been overwhelmingly white. I would conservatively say that most of the time when I was with the church on a Sunday morning, it was at least 95% white and very often was 100%. I never realized how odd it felt to be a stranger in a church especially when your skin color makes you stand out. We all sat in the front corner and were the only white people in the crowd of some 600 or so. You can’t really understand how hard that is until you are on the other side of it and it is something that all gatherings of the church need to be aware of. It is sinful that the church is divided over so many relatively minor theological points and it is equally sinful that we are so divided by race. I will state unequivocally that when a visitor who doesn’t look like everyone else shows up, whether because of skin color or denomination or attire or social class, it is incumbent on those who normally gather in that group to welcome them and do what they can to make them feel at home. That requires a bit more effort than a perfunctory handshake and handing them a bulletin. I have more to say about that issue and how we build cultures and traditions in the church that serve as barriers to fellowship but that is not my point today.

So here is kind of how the church meeting went at Source de la Grace church in Port-Au-Prince…

When we walked in, it was pretty empty. Being good evangelical Americans we were sort of on time but most of the Haitians weren’t there yet. Having a Haitian driver who is has mad driving skillz drop you off at the front door has its advantages. When we walked in a woman was up front on the platform praying, eyes closed and speaking loudly and a million miles a minute. I talk fast and sometimes without taking a breath but this lady put me to shame. She was praying in Creole for like half an hour (and that is assuming she started shortly before we arrived) hardly taking a breath and not so much as a sip of water. No idea what she was saying of course, I did recognize “merci” on a regular basis but that was it.

After she finished, about twenty minutes after I would have collapsed, a group of young women got up and sang for a while, maybe half an hour. No idea what they were singing but it was very nice. At some point, I am a little fuzzy on this, they took up an offering. People came forward and dropped what they could into three large boxes. It was pretty amazing to see so many people coming up to drop money in the box given the devastation of the city all around us. Les, our trip leader from the Haiti Orphan Project, was asked to come up and speak briefly so he gave greetings to our brothers and sisters in Christ and asked for God’s blessing on the people of Haiti.

At this point Moise Vaval, the pastor of the church, got up and delivered his message. We had a translator who was broadcasting to headsets we were wearing so we could get most of his message. It was a pretty sweeping sermon, he talked about hope amidst the ruin, praised God for the rebuilt church where we met holding its first Sunday services since the earthquake. He railed against the apparent prevailing attitudes toward sexuality and the need for people to come to Christ. Probably not a textbook example of homiletics but it was passionate and very real. Moise was very grateful for the generous financial contributions given by American Christians that have helped to rebuild their church building, giving them a place to worship in the midst of despair.

Moise ended with the equivalent of an altar call and then folks came forward to pray. It got a little crazy at that point, there was some ruckus on the other side of the building and one person was booted by the security guard. It was also getting pretty hot at that point, needless to say they don’t have air conditioning! The whole experience was very exciting, different and a little confusing because of language barriers and cultural differences.

Now, if you read here very often you might be saying to yourself: Self, that sounds like a whole litany of things that he is on record as being opposed to. For example…

Hey, don’t you think women shouldn’t lead in the church? Here is a women praying from the pulpit for half an hour, with her head uncovered to boot!


What is this about spending a bunch of money on a building, aren’t you always crabbing about that?


Altar calls? Aren’t you on record against those?


What about monologue sermons? There are quite a few posts against those!


There was a time when I would have spent most of the two and a half hours finding ways to criticize the church service at Source de la Grace. A Reformed church service it was not. It was loud, it was emotional, it was a little chaotic at points. The sermon Moise delivered was not a neatly drawn up expository sermon. There would be lots of criticize if that was what I was still interested in. Nor was it a simple/organic meeting. Pretty much Moise spoke and everyone else listened.

Now? Now I see this gathering as an imperfect group of imperfect redeemed sinners praising God in the way they know how. Is it how I would choose to meet? Probably not but then again I live in America and not in the ruins of a city where hundreds of thousands died in the blink of an eye and where rebuilding is happening not in massive public works but one cinder block at a time.

Most of my criticisms of the church are addressed at the Western church, in lands where Christianity is commonplace, accepted and often culturally embraced. Lands where jobs are, in spite of the poor economy, plentiful and ministers of Christ can and should obtain employment easily to avoid being a burden to the church. Places where we spend most of our time dividing ourselves into competing fiefdoms trying to carve up our little corner of Christendom instead of scrabbling for survival. I believe my criticisms of the church are Scripturally based and perfectly warranted. I also think that in Haiti they have bigger fish to fry. I am likewise concerned about the Western church exporting our understanding of how to “do church” to other regions but at least people are hearing the Gospel in Source de la Grace.

Moise Vaval is in the midst of something many pastors have little or no experience with: outright spiritual warfare on a massive and systemic scale. Moise has to deal with people who frankly are openly involved in dark spiritual forces like voodoo and other deeply dangerous and frankly Satanic practices. Saying “brother get a job!” is fine when getting a job is possible but I don’t see that as an option for Moise Vaval. I have no problem with financially supporting this brother in Christ as he labors in a field that is full of hope but also on the frontlines of a war against Satan. This is not a struggle to score points in a theological argument, this is life and death.

It is my prayer that the ministry that Moise is involved in is fruitful and leads to many mature believers, that God strengthens and protects this brother. When we get to that point, when the streets of Port-Au-Prince are not filled with rubble and tents, when the water the people drink is not going to kill them, when the hundreds of thousands of orphans are fed and cared for, then we can have conversations about the deeper points of theology over coffee at the Starbucks in Port-Au-Prince. Today? Today I have no interest in criticizing a brother who puts his life literally on the line everyday for the cause of the Gospel, proclaiming Christ and caring for orphans. I am only interested in praying for him and praising God for raising up faithful men like him in the hardest places in the world.

The greatest obstacle to missionary work

From Dave Black:

The biggest hindrance to missionary work is not persecution. The biggest hindrance to mission work is self. Self that refuses to go or to give or to pray or to sacrifice – or to die.

(Tuesday, January 19, 8:45 PM)

An additional bonus of going to Haiti

While in Haiti I got an answer to a question that has deeply troubled my spirit for some time:

Why do Auburn fans say “War Eagle!’ when their mascot is a tiger?

It would be analogous to Michigan Wolverine fans shouting “Grocery store chipmunk!”. I was despairing of figuring this out (being too lazy to google it) and assuming it was a product of living in the south and suffering from heat stroke. Riding to the rescue was Les “Did you hear that Auburn won the national championship” Prouty. His explanation of the whole “War Eagle!” thing was lucid and reasonable. So not only did I get to love some orphans and meet a bunch of great fellow Christians, I also got the answer to one of the great mysteries of sports. It still doesn’t make much sense but at least I know the reasoning behind it.

OK I surrender

I have to admit to defeat in the war to obtain internet for our house. AT&T finally admitted that they cannot provide service at this time. Mediacom, the local cable provider, also cannot service our house. Hughes probably can but the cost is outrageous and they have somewhat draconian limits on how much you can access in a day. I find dial-up to be pretty expensive for what you get. So it looks like we are going to be an internet-free zone at our new home. That is in almost every way a good thing. The expense of internet is quite high and the value of the content is quite low. There has never been a better time waster, even more so than TV.

That doesn’t mean we won’t ever be online. I have access at work and we have access through our phone, as long as we are standing in the right place in our house. We also plan on making regular visits in the evening or perhaps during the day to the “local” library which is ten miles away. So we will stay connected. Having said that, being online is going to be a lot less convenient. Trying to do much on my phone is pretty cumbersome. Driving to a library ten miles away? Ditto. I think this will be helpful for us and especially me. It is really easy for me to get lost reading stuff online and end up spending hours in front of the computer doing nothing and especially doing nothing with the kids. We have been doing just fine without it, so I think that at the end of the day it will be a good change for us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


If you have some cheese, grab it now because I am about to whine.

I got back from Haiti at around 2 AM. It was a pretty shaky drive back, staying awake was hard after a poor nights sleep Sunday and a very long day of travel on Monday including a 2 hour bus ride in Port-Au-Prince rush hour, a flight to Miami followed by a six hour layover, a flight to Detroit and then a two and a half hour drive back home. I did the old “crank up the radio, drive with the window down, get out and run around the car” routine to stay awake. Luckily we missed the ominous arrival of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier but the ramifications we pretty apparent in Port-Au-Prince given the enormous armed UN presence on the roads and at the airport. My stomach is in knots and I can barely eat anything. I am on the brink emotionally and having a hard time keeping it together.

Sounds like a tough trip?

Absolutely and I can’t wait to go again. If I can swing it financially I would love to take my older two children the next time.

(I think I need to get in better shape before the next trip though….just saying.)

I never expected this to be an easy trip or a vacation. I was completely disinterested in having a “great experience”. I sorta had the vision. I certainly felt pretty solid in the theology. Nothing could prepare me for the realty, for going from orphans as a theological concept to actual little people desperate for love. I met an 11 year old young man, who I will write about more soon, who gravitated to me on the first night and was quite content to just sit by me, sometimes with his hand on my shoulder, often very quiet but enjoying spending time just sitting with me and occasionally playing football or soccer. I held a six month old little girl who was not an orphan but her mom was, a 14 year old girl who gave birth to a beautiful little girl after one of the most heart wrenching stories I have ever heard. I met a different young man who was from a relatively prosperous family, an athletic and bright young man who likely had what we would consider to be a great future ahead of him and now finds himself at 14 in a home with 90 other orphans. There were lots of others and I don’t know their stories, like the little boy who sat next to one of the young women and just stared off into space. He had the stare of an adult who has seen horrible things and yet he was just a little guy. Every one of these kids has a story and none of them are happy ones but most of them loved us, loved to sing for us and play with us. Many offered to pray for us. Imagine that, an orphaned child in the poorest country in this hemisphere, wrecked by corruption, an earthquake and a cholera epidemic and they were going to pray for us!

My thoughts are still pretty jumbled. I plan on blogging quite a bit more about ministering to these precious children soon but until I can get my head right I don’t think it makes much sense to write too much

For a little more detail, check out the village we stayed at: Source de la Grace Jumecourt

If you would like to see some great pictures of orphans and a couple of really unflattering pictures of me, check out:

While you are browsing at the Haiti Orphan Project and the Global Orphan project, how about you maybe click that “Donate” button or buy some stuffz from the GO Project store to help support this Biblically mandated work?

Friday, January 14, 2011

So here is a question

In the quest to find a more Biblical form of “church”, I am concerned that in that quest I will divide myself from the rest of the Body of Christ.

I worry that in seeking to meet more simply, more Biblically if you will, I am denying fellowship with other believers who don’t agree with the way I interpret Scripture. They probably won’t come to my home to meet and I probably won’t go to their traditional “worship service”.

For those of you who meet in a simple or house church type format, how do you maintain community and fellowship with other believers who meet in a more traditional church setting?

Thursday, January 13, 2011


IF, and this is a big IF, everything is going according to plan, I should be on the ground in Port Au Prince, Haiti and am probably suffering heat stroke already!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tolerance of religious minorities

Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict, spoke out recently about the spate of violence against Christian minorities….

In his annual "State of the World" address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Benedict XVI spoke Monday about religious intolerance and discrimination toward Christian minorities around the world.

The pope voiced concern about the recent attacks against Christians in the Middle East and urged the region's leaders to take stronger safeguard measures.

"Looking to the east, the attacks which brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries, has troubled us deeply. To the authorities of that country and to the Muslim religious leaders, I renew my heartfelt appeal that their Christian fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members."

The pope repeated his call for religious tolerance in Egypt. He said an attack on Christians as they prayed in church was another example of the need for governments to protect their religious minorities.

Michael Sattler and his wife Margaretha were unavailable for comment.

Comment Moderation

I am going to lose any and all access to the internet in just a few hours. Please feel free to leave comments but if it takes a while to show up, please know that I am not censoring you.

In weather news

My flight tomorrow leaves at 6 AM from Detroit. The temperature in Romulus, Michigan will be a balmy 13 degrees.

My flight arrives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti at 4:15 PM. The temperature will be around 89 degrees.

Thinking I may need to change into shorts in Miami...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wise words from a wise woman

I found this interesting and refreshing comment regarding women and mission work from Elizabeth Elliot. She affirms that women have a pivotal role in missions but also affirms the God ordained calling of women.

You read in your Bible study booklets this morning from Romans 12: "All members do not have the same function." There is nothing interchangeable about the sexes, and there is nothing interchangeable about Christians. God has given gifts that differ. They differ according to the grace given to us. You and I, whether we are men or women, have nothing to do with the choice of the gift. We have everything to do with the use of the gift.

There are diversities of operations, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of personalities, but all are made in the image of God. As a woman I find clear guidance in Scripture about my position in church and home. I find no exemption from the obligations of commitment and obedience.

That is a refreshingly honest viewpoint from a woman who knows a little something about mission work having picked up the work after her husband laid down his life rather than killing unbelievers. I think she strikes the right tone. Obeying Scripture in these matters is not about obedience to your husband, it is about obedience to God.

Asking questions is OK

Thinking about questions today. Christopher Dryden, writing from across the pond as it were, has been asking some great questions that I have enjoyed reading even though he spells favorite wrong and doesn’t seem to understand football. I really liked a recent post that asks questions about the church and whether it should be about observing or participating. Interesting questions to be sure and I like the analogy he uses. I am hearing people asking these questions more and more and as people ask these questions publicly, it spurs even more people to start asking questions.

I like it when people ask questions. When people ask questions it shows that they are thinking about issues even if, or perhaps especially if, they don’t have all of the answers. I find myself writing from a “here is what is wrong and here is why” standpoint when I probably should be asking more questions because I certainly don’t have all of the answers.

As healthy as asking question is, it doesn’t seem that a lot of people will ask them, especially regarding the church. People “change churches” all the time and they do so for lots of reasons but rarely because they are questioning the form of the church gathering at a fundamental level. Why is this?

There are a several reasons why people don’t ask questions when it comes to the church.

One, they don’t know what questions to ask or even that they should be asking questions (see an Alan Knox’s great post I didn’t know something was missing). We are so conditioned to see church as it traditionally exists that to question it seems ludicrous. Compounding the problem is a lack of honest reflection about the church in the majority of church leadership. The way we do church is how Calvin did it, it is how Spurgeon did it, it is how dad and mom did it and by goodness that is good enough for me. The idea that maybe something has been off kilter for over 1000 years never even comes up. Most towns have several or more churches so if something isn’t right you can try a different one and keep doing this for years.

Two, asking questions is honestly frowned upon. Start questioning the way things are and you might find yourself accused of being divisive or rebellious or refusing to submit to authority. I remember one event quite clearly. It was a Sunday after church and my friend James and I were hanging around in Detroit with the pastor of the church we attended. We were eating some lunch when James started to ask a question. I even remember what the question was about, it was an inquiry about tithing. As soon as he started, you could see the pastor start to tense up and get defensive. Granted James, love you buddy!, can sometimes be a bit blunt but the question was pretty innocuous. Asking questions that challenge the assumptions and status quo is not a way to win friends and get asked to teach Sunday school.

Three, people don’t ask questions because they don’t really want to hear the answer. That is the more troubling possibility. I read this the other day at Dan Edelen’s blog and it really resonated with me:

I fear that too many of us not only hate the questions, but we can’t stand the answers, either. We have become a status quo people who do not want to be broken out of whatever reverie we’ve created for ourselves.

In short, too many of us don’t care about improving anything, much less the way the Church functions. As long as we have a paycheck and can buy stuff, put our kids through some elite school, and retire in peace, stop bothering us with questions. And answers bug us too.

I understand much of what Dan is talking about. Asking questions is often going to get people irate because far too many of us, myself included, are pretty comfortable with the status quo. It can be easy as a Christian in America to wander through life, get up on Monday, go to work, do your job, run your kids to activities, grab a quick dinner, collapse in front of the TV for a few hours, go to bed and get up to do it all over again. We similarly sleep walk through the church, week after week, month after month of listening to sermons that blur together, singing the same songs, shaking the same hands. Before you know it, years have gone by and like me you find yourself wondering how you have impacted the world for Christ.

It is a dangerous thing to ask questions. Start asking questions and you might find yourself resigning your position as a paid minister like Eric Carpenter. You might find yourself called to make enormous financial sacrifices. You might have to get out of our comfortable life. You also might find that there is more to this life as a Christian than our culture has led us to believe. You might find some people no longer like having you around but you might also meet lots of new people, people who are OK with asking questions.

So go ahead. Ask some questions. It is not only OK, it is a healthy thing!

Book Review: The Next Christians

I can sum up Gabe Lyon's book The Next Christians in one word: disappointing

I found it disappointing because I was really looking forward to it. I had reserved it from the library before I got my copy from Blogging for Books. I was hoping for an interesting look at Christian discipleship in a post-“Christian America” setting. What I found instead was a fairly typical “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, the youngsters have it all figured out and are gonna fix what the old fogies messed up" book.

I can’t stand name dropping. I also can’t stand Christians who go to great efforts to demonstrate how hip and culturally attuned they are. Both of these are in The Next Christians in copious quantities. I am frankly completely disinterested in the famous people you have met, the fabulous places you have visited or the cutting edge cultural sensitivity that you possess. Make your case from Scripture and from plain logic. I am not impressed by the rest of that stuff and there was way too much in the way of fluff, self-promotion and meandering anecdotes for such a small book.

There is a powerful case to be made about the role of the Church is a culture that is no longer culturally accepting and embracing of a vague form of tradition-laden Christianity. I have a great deal of sympathy for the idea of ministering to unbelievers in a “post-Christian America” and I not only don’t lament the end of civic religion, I embrace and cheer it. This book could have been a great platform for starting a real and honest conversation about it. Alas, that was not what I found.

I found The Next Christians to be a laborious read. Not that it was a long book or especially meaty or difficult but because there was so much that was repetitive or simply uninteresting. It was a chore to read and that for a book this small that is not a good thing. It is doubly disappointing because I really was looking forward to this book and came away discouraged. Would I recommend it to you? Not really.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program)

What does that question mean?

John Piper asked and answered this question on the Desiring God blog:

Should the Church Work on Social and Political Problems?

Here is his two part answer:

Yes . . .

If you mean: Should ten million Christians take 10 hours a week spent watching TV, and give that time to worthy social and political engagement.

No . . .

If you mean: The pastors should leave their Bible study and pulpits and counseling and evangelism, and put that time into politics and social ministries.

So here is the problem before we even get to his answer. What does that question mean? If working on social problems means working to alleviate suffering and caring for the needs of widows and orphans, caring for and feeding the poor, doing those things that Paul was eager to do as part of his commission as an apostle:

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)

….then I can’t help but think this is a priority for the church. I especially was troubled by the idea that pastors shouldn’t be consumed with caring for the poor because it would interfere with their Bible study and sermon preparation. The Bible speaks quite frequently about the priority of caring for the needy but never once mentions or commends delivering a sermon to believers.

I guess I don’t see a division between caring for the needy and evangelism, between doing good works and proclaiming the Gospel. In fact it seems to me that the gospel proclamation and works of mercy (i.e. solving social problems) are not enemies but friends. I do think that anyone who thinks that he is too busy or that his sermons are too important to leave his study to go out among those who have spiritual and material needs is grossly misunderstanding Acts 6: 2. I would go further and say that any pastor who sees caring for the material needs of people as less important than studying in his office is no pastor at all, no matter what the sign in front of "his" church says.

What do you think? Is Piper right here?

Why Haiti?

So why Haiti of all places? There are needs all over the world, why this one country, why this particular cause? Why the Haiti Orphan Project?

Well there are lots of reasons.

First, because this cause is better than none. Let me explain. It is easy to talk about caring for the least of these in an academic sense. Putting forth a solid theology of orphan care is nice but we are not called to be a people of talk, but of action. God saved us and He saved us for a specific purpose:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We are not saved by good works but we most certainly are saved to them. As I will mention below, I believe that this cause is one of those “good works” that God has prepared for me long before I was born to carry out as His child and to bring honor and glory to the name of His Son. God did not predestine us just to salvation but to good works as well. There are no sidelines in the Kingdom of God.

Second, because I sort of know someone who is involved. I “know” Les Prouty, the executive director of the Haiti Orphan Project because we have run into one another over the internet (in a non-creepy way), initially from good natured but spirited arguments with Les regarding his erroneous view of baptism. He is someone I respect and trust so when I saw that he was involved in this cause, I decided to look a little closer. You have to be careful with that because you never know what that will get you into. In my case it is getting me into a plane and leaving the country. Considering that I have never been to a foreign country before (I don’t consider Canada to be a real country), this is going to be a jarring experience but one that I pray will stretch me and fill me with zeal for His Kingdom.

Third, the need is so great. This is a tragic situation the scope of which we cannot even imagine as Americans. With literally hundreds of thousands of orphans how can it be otherwise? In a country with it’s act together that would be a staggering number but Haiti has been basically adrift since the earthquake last January and even before that has been going from one crisis and upheaval to another for 200 years. Haiti is parked just a short flight from Miami and in the middle of the Caribbean. By all rights Haiti should be a lush tropical paradise and a destination for tourists but of all of the nations in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is generally considered the worst off and the events of the last year have made it so much worse. Every child we can impact will hopefully grow into an adult who will first and foremost know Jesus Christ and also be equipped to lead this nation out of the bondage of two hundred years of mismanagement, corruption and violence. It can seem hopeless but if something isn’t done in Haiti from the ground up the same problems will still be in place two hundred years from now.

Fourth, 100% of the funds raised go directly to ministry. This is a small group but one that has an outsized impact. Because of the way the Haiti Orphan Project is structured, there is no overhead. The individuals going all raise all of their own funds for these trips (thanks mom!) and unlike some of the huge mercy ministry organizations none of the funds given to the Haiti Orphan Project go to pay for staff or overhead. From the webpage of the HOP:

1. 100% of your tax-deductible gifts are used to care for orphans. Care includes housing, food & water, clothing and school, as well as the local Haitian people actually caring for these children. NONE of your contributions are used to cover overhead here in the US such as salaries, administrative costs, supplies, printing, etc. The overhead is funded from generous donors to ensure that your gifts go entirely to orphan care.

I am leery of donating to places that spend a large percentage of their costs on overhead. I understand why it can be necessary but I prefer to give where my donation goes right to the need instead of paying the light bill in an office in Dallas or Portland.

Fifth, I feel called. I say that cautiously because I think it is an overused term in the church. “I feel called” often really means “This is what I decided to do and I hope God is OK with it” but in this case I think it really applies. From the beginning I was shaken by the catastrophic earthquake and aftermath of Haiti. As I watched in dismay over what was happening, I began to understand the impact this was having on Haitians in general but especially on the children. With some 750,000 orphans the need is immediate and severe and it was something that really stuck with me in a way that other catastrophes didn’t. There was just something about this country, something about the pictures of the children with smiles and faces full of hope in a country where by rights they have precious little expectation of anything good that draws me in.

If you are working with and actively supporting a mercy ministry, whether it involves you traveling to Ethiopia or Brazil or some other far away land or whether you are involved in a local ministry like a homeless shelter or crisis pregnancy center, God be with you. If you are a follower of Christ and haven’t really gotten directly involved with ministry outside of your local church, please prayerfully consider supporting and advocating for Haiti’s orphans. If you are so led, please check out their webpage here. If you have any questions, there is a contact form on the webpage and you can expect to hear back from Les in a hurry (unless he is in Haiti at the time!).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crisis Averted

I waited until the last second to check into using my cell phone in Haiti (I have a Droid ERIS) and found out this morning that it will not work there. Luckily Verizon has a deal where I rent a phone that will work that they are express shipping to $10 to me and all I have to pay is any actual roaming charges. The bad news is that calls to the U.S. are $2.89 a minute so conversations with my wife will be "Hi, I am still alive, love you, bye".

Something is missing

I am working through my list of things to prepare for our impending trip to Haiti. I can hardly believe it is a few days away. It seemed like a distant event that has all of a sudden rushed up on us. Changing jobs, buying a house and moving my entire family over the last month or so might have something to do with that! But here we are and I am leaving this week. I wonder if I have everything I am going to need? Let me think…

Pre-Haiti very short haircut?


Caucasian, middle-class Teva touristy sandals that I have been wearing around the house to break in?


Books for reading during the long layover in Miami both directions (The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction To Sixteenth Century Anabaptism by William Estep and Republocrat by Carl Trueman)?


Hepatitis shots and malaria medication regime?

Check, check.

An assortment of shirts from Monergism to impress the Haitian orphans who can’t read English with my theological acumen?



Ah ha. Need more of that. Lots more.

I know a fair number of people read here on a semi-regular basis and many are not in a position to contribute financially to the Haiti Orphan Project or they are already investing in a ministry that has similar goals. I would certainly encourage you to consider giving to this particular ministry, not because I or anyone I know financially benefits from it but because the need is so enormous and so overwhelming. More on this in a post tomorrow.

What you can do, even if you are not in a position to help financially, is to pray. I truly mean that and not just in a “pray while you are filling out your check” kind of way. I would ask for you to pray for me, for my family while I am gone, for my fellow travelers and for the people and especially the orphans of Haiti. Pray that God will rouse His people to a holy indignation at the conditions of these children and that we will be roused to seek to minister to these children in Haiti as well as for the orphans and widows around the world and in our own towns.

If you are a church leader, please pray regarding support for the orphans of Haiti. Expect to hear from me directly if I know you to see about visiting the Body of Christ in your area to raise support after I get back. I am uncomfortable trying to raise money for myself but I have no qualms about raising money that goes to orphans. You have been warned.

Seriously though. Please pray.

Friday, January 07, 2011

In New York City babies have a three in five chance of surviving to birth

I saw this in the Wall Street Journal and even as cynical as I am, I was frankly stunned.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan joined other religious leaders Thursday vowing to work to reduce the number of abortions in New York City.

Leaders of various faiths denounced figures that showed that 41% of pregnancies in the city were terminated in 2009. They also criticized sex-education programs in the public school system that include distributing condoms.

“That 41% of New York babies are aborted, a percentage even higher in the Bronx and among our African-American babies in the womb, is downright chilling,” said the archbishop, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in New York City. “I invite all to come together to make abortion rare,” he added.

There is a webpage devoted to this issue, . 2 out of 5 children in New York City are murdered before they even make it to their birthday. I am physically ill thinking about that. How cleverly has Satan convinced so many people that children are disposable, that aborting your child is an acceptable choice.

Please pray for the unborn in New York City. 40% of will never even have a chance at life.

When is a spending cut not a spending cut?

The Arsenal of Liberty: Defending ourselves or projecting American power?

When did unquestioning pork laden spending become conservative?

Selective Application?

I often see people reference Acts 2:42 and apply it to their local church…

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

That seems to be a good summary of how the early church functioned and how the church today should function. I don’t think you would get much disagreement from anyone on that although we certainly can dispute over how that should look! That raises a question for me, one I have raised before. If Acts 2: 42 is a guide for the church (I agree that it is), what about Acts 2: 44-45, just two verses later and clearly part of the same thought…

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2: 44-45)

If Acts 2:42 summarizes how the church should function, shouldn’t Acts 2:44-45 likewise guide our practice? Is there a difference in application from verse 42 to verses 44 and 45? If Acts 2:42 is applicable as a guide to the church, should Acts 2: 44-45 also be our guide?

What are the differences or aren’t there any? Even the most tradition bound and institutionalized local church typically does something that fulfills, at least in name, “The Big Four” in Acts 2:42 but I have yet to find too many Christians that function even in a peripheral sense what we see in 44-45.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

It's not me, it's you

So I just gave up on AT&T after a long, frustrating call where my order that was supposed to be completed no later than today has mysteriously disappeared from the order system. Really how hard is it to install service at a place you can see on Google maps clear as a bell? For an exisiting and long-time customer who is switching an existing AT&T internet service from one location to another? I even have my AT&T modem and everything. Every time I called it was the same hassle of providing all of my information over again, giving them the address five times, being placed on hold again and again before being assured that service would be forthcoming only to get, on the same day, two letters: one a welcome to AT&T letter and one a letter saying they can't provide service at our location. So I will have to find someone else which is not going to be easy in a rural area but I refuse to be put on hold by someone who has no idea where Indiana is on a map.

What is good theology?

That was a question that occupied my mind a lot a few years ago and I have written about it before. The right theology, the right doctrines that were put into practice in the right way in a local church was the answer to our ills. I still am a big fan of good theology and I still love the grand themes of theology that I used to blog about a lot. I have also come to a point where I see a lot of things as “good theology” that I didn’t formerly give much thought to and I find myself weary and disinterested in winning debates with other believers while the world is full of lost sinners and children starving to death every hour. I am more concerned with the church living as a Biblical community of faith that equips all believers to minister to others than I am with showing off my argumentation skills and converting other believers to my theological camp.

So here are some of my ideas for what qualifies as “good theology” (assuming that the person in question is a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ)

Putting down your books to help a neighbor in need is good theology.

Visiting a lonely widow of your own volition is good theology.

Caring for the needs of an orphan is good theology.

Working for a living so as not to be a burden on anyone else and to provide for the needy is good theology.

A willingness to suffer reproach, persecution, shame and even death without defending your “rights” is good theology.

Loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor which includes being in community with them, even when they disagree with you on finer points of doctrine, is good theology.

Standing unwaveringly for the truth while being meek and humble is good theology.

Being content in what God has graciously allotted to you, whether in finances or health or anything else, is good theology.

Telling others about Jesus even if you don’t have a certificate authorizing you to do so and even if you aren’t very good at it and even if you don’t really understand all of those big theological terms is good theology.

No talk about the ordo salutis? What about proper eschatology? Monergistic regeneration? Important truths yes but frankly I have encountered a lot of genuine Christian believers who couldn’t explain their way out of a theological paper bag doing a lot of God’s work for others and unfortunately I have met a few theologically rock solid guys who are so concerned with “being right” on this matter of doctrine or that point of theology that they don’t even notice that they are being contentious, divisive and frankly un-Christlike in behavior. I want to me more like the humble servants who love God and are driven by that love for God to love others and less like the self-appointed theology bouncers who keep the rabble out of the church.

A widow all alone in her home surrounded by memories and despair doesn’t much care how many chapters of Calvin’s Institutes you read that morning. Good theology is not about winning debates with other believers, good theology is taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost and caring for those that are most in need.