Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on home-cooked elders

Matt Schmucker, writing for 9 Marks, posted an article a few months ago aimed at pastors. The gist of the article was how a pastor can prepare the church for “the next guy” when the current pastors is “called” to a different church, Prepare the Church for the Next Guy.

I found an interesting assumption in this article. It assumes that the next pastor of a given church will be a stranger, recruited and hired in from the outside. Is that the way it worked in the New Testament? Not at all. Men were appointed from within the local body to minister within that body (Acts 14:23). I left this comment on the 9 Marks page and on Facebook…

If pastors are doing the task they are called to (Eph 4:11-16) this won’t be a problem because men in the local church would already been doing the work of ministry and that church wouldn’t have to hire a stranger to come in and minister to people he doesn’t know. Nothing beats home-cooking,whether in the kitchen or in the church!
I stand by that statement 100%. While there will always be bumps in the road with any church, I firmly believe that men who are discipled and equipped to minister in a given local church will best serve the Body of Christ in that local church. It makes no sense to send men away to minister among strangers and then hiring strangers to come in to minister locally. Equip and empower men, new Christians and more mature, so that they can minister to the local body. If we do that, we wouldn’t need to hire in professionals from outside of the local body.

Pie in the sky? Perhaps but it is also in keeping with the letter and spirit of what we have in the New Testament.

A deep and fascinating discussion on ecclesiology

Often the comments sections of a blog reveal more than the post itself. That is the case with a guest post from a few weeks ago over at Alan's blog. The guest post is from a friend of Alan Knox who happens to be Roman Catholic and his post is on Roman Catholic ecclesiology. While the comments started out kind of slow, they have really picked up and now number over 100! If you haven't already, you should check it out and read the comments. It will take you a while but I think it is worth your time. Grab a cup of coffee and check out Guest Blogger: A Focus on Catholic Ecclesiology . You will be glad you did!

A broken heart trumps a church bulletin

A lot of us write about simple church, about why this form of gathering is more Biblical, healthier even, than the traditional meeting. There are lots of posts full of assertions and copious Scripture references that make a compelling case. By and large though it is all theoretical. Last Sunday I saw an example of what a simpler, more familial gathering looks like when someone is in need. This is where it becomes real, when a brother or sister is in need.

One of the sisters that gathers with us is a native of Syria. If you have been watching the news closely you will know that Syria is having protests like those happening all over the Middle East as part of the “Arab Spring”. In Syria the news has been less frequent, partly because of government control and partly because people have grown tired of the stories. This sister is still paying attention and ran across a video shot from her home country. She described what she saw to us and broke down as she shared. The video showed a young boy who was part of a protest, taken from his father and brutally tortured and murdered on film. The brutality and horror of what she saw led my sister to come before the church and share this experience.

This sister was brokenhearted, just pouring out the hurt she was feeling. We heard what she had to say, let her speak what was on her heart and then prayed for her. We ran over the time we normally stop by almost half an hour but that was OK because one of us needed the rest of us. As she wept and told us what she had witnessed, we listened and then one person after another encouraged her, asked us to sing hymns of praise for our Lord, prayed for her and turned to the Word of God for words of encouragement. Not everyone spoke but everyone could have. Rather than bottling up her anguish and putting on a happy face for “church”, she was able to expose her broken heart to her family and be lifted up and loved.

If she was in a traditional church, how would this have looked? Would she have been able to share her anguish with the church? Perhaps she could have spoken to the pastor and had a special prayer request made from the pulpit. Not quite the same thing as hearing her making herself vulnerable because she knew that she would be loved. Would she have been encouraged, prayed for, had Scripture quoted by the entire gathered Body? Probably not. She would have likely been like so many others in churches across the world on Sunday, sitting in her pew in her Sunday best, putting a smile on her face, telling people she was fine while being broken hearted inside. I am NOT saying that people don’t love one another deeply in traditional churches but I am suggesting that the structures and rituals we have put in place in those traditional gatherings make it difficult or even impossible for the church to function like a family.

When we treat the church as family, the needs of one another take precedence over the performance. There isn’t a schedule or liturgy needed to love one another and it is more likely that those structures prevent us from being encouraged and edified in the way the church was intended. Anyone who has a family knows that you cannot schedule, control or contain family. Family is family even when they annoy or hurt you and especially when they are hurt and need you.

Our group is not perfect. There are lots of personalities, lots of people coming from all over the place in terms of background, doctrinal stances, traditions. We need to intentionally find ways to be more in community with one another beyond Sunday morning. Coming from a pretty conservative viewpoint there are things that concern me with where some people are doctrinally. I sometimes wonder “where is this going?”. But I also see God at work and I see His people starting to function as a family. Most importantly I see people who love one another more than they love their traditions and that means we are generally as willing to be as flexible as we need to be. For example one sister offered to help with our little ones on Sunday so that my wife could just relax and be part of the group. This sister normally plays the piano for the group but this week we went without the piano. That would be unthinkable in most traditional churches. It is the little things like that that give me hope and encouragement for what God is doing.

If you are so led, please pray for this sister that God would lift her up, comfort and strengthen her and give her peace in her heart. Also I would ask you to ask yourself. What if she had come to your gathering of the church? Would she have been able to pour herself out and expose how wounded she was or would she have shaken your hand and replied “Fine!” when asked how she was doing?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Some other Americans to remember today

So I did a little legwork (using Wikipedia so take it with a grain of salt) regarding the number of American soldiers killed in major war operations in our nations history. Here is what I came up:

Revolutionary War 5000
War of 1812 2200
Spanish American War 3000
Civil War 365,000
World War I 117,000
World War II 418,000
Korean War 39,000
Vietnam War 60,000
First Gulf War 150
Operation Iraqi Freedom 4500
Afghanistan 1514

Grand total 1,015,364
That number is only those killed in action and it is a huge number. Over 1 million young men primarily, killed in the prime of their lives over the course of 235 years.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of Americans aborted in 2008:
So if my numbers are correct, that means that in one year we killed more Americans through abortion than have been killed in action in every war we have ever fought over 200 years.

If we are going to remember Americans who have lost their lives today, we should also remember the most innocent, sacrificed not for freedom and liberty but under the banner of "choice".

Unity through differences

Deconstructing Neverland: Maturing through our differences

Bobby Auner is talking about unity and differences this morning and it is good stuff:
"I'm all for confessions and doctrines. I'm all for convictions and passion. Like I said, these things define who we are and what we believe and stand for. But what they do not provide is a sufficient basis for unity. That is Christ's place. Therefore one confession should not assume to speak for an entire group of believers. A gathering should not be based on a confessional statement. It should be based on our love for Christ and our love for one another in Christ."
Exactly. Christ and Christ alone is the basis for our unity.

Freedom doesn't come at the end of a gun

Today is Memorial Day in the United Sates and as a people we are going to be remembering those who died fighting for America.

Let those of us who know and are known by Christ remember that our freedom was not won or preserved by those buried under a field of crosses in Normandy Cemetery in France, as noble and heroic as their sacrifice was. Our freedom was won on a single cross on Calvary. Our declaration of independence is not found on a parchment in Washington, D.C., it is in the words cried out by our Savior "It is finished!"

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

We are family

A Pilgrim's Progress: On Being Siblings and the Priesthood of Believers

When we call one another "brothers" and "sisters", do we really mean it or are they just religious words we say? Check out Eric's post, see how the Bible describes family relationships and then think about that question again.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marrying a farmers daughter does not make you a farmer

My wife is a farm girl, through and through. Gotta a piece of farm equipment? She can drive it. Got some sort of critter? She can butcher it. Have some work to be done? She can work most men into the ground.

Me? Not so much. I grew up in the home of a doctor. I read dozens of books in summer and rarely went outside if I could avoid it. I did "raise" pigs for the fair as a teen but that meant I bought them and a friend kept them at his place until they were delivered for the fair where I would show them.

Anyway long story short, we met (at the county fair no less!), fell in love and got married, a marriage that is going on twenty years next February and has resulted in eight kids, lots of laughing and lots of crying and growing closer over the years that I never would have imagined as a teenager hanging out with my girlfriend. For years we dreamed of having a little farm and we finally have one, just four acres but just about right.

So I am married to a farmers daughter, have helped out on my in-laws farm a time or two and have a little farm. Ergo, I am a farmer. Right? Well, you tell me...

So I woke up a little later than normal this morning, being Saturday and all. I had great intentions for getting some done 'round the farm. The sheep fence needed fixing after part of it got torn up by our stallion, so that was my first task. I showered of course because it is important to be well groomed before doing any farm work, as everyone knows. I strapped on my boots and headed on out to do some manly stuffz.

Uh oh, the new mare was loose and hanging around the stallion. You would think a mare of her age (over 20 years old) would show some diginity and decorum but she is not exactly a model of restraint, chasing after that three year old stallion. I wondered how she got out and so after I caught her I went to the other barn to find out. The picture in this case is indeed worth a thousand words. Looks like she tried to jump out, made it halfway and squished the gate. Those tubes are made of steel by the way. She really likes that young fella.

Well, we were in a pickle. The horse barn had the stallion in it, so we couldn't put her there. When we tied her up outside, she just got wound up and kept trying to get over to the stud. So I had a great idea (and it actually was a good idea). We would put her out in the far pasture and shut her in. There would be another pasture between her and the stallion and they would be far enough apart to not go crazy. Plus the electric fence discourages even the most...eager of horses.

Here is the problem. To get her from here to there, I had to lead her down the narrow path from the horse barns to the pastures. It would likely be muddy. Had to be done though so I figured, why not? Sure we have had torrential rain the last few days but how muddy could it be?

Oh. It was THAT muddy. That was OK though. I had my knee high rubber boots on and a tight grip on the mare's lead. All I had to do was walk her through the mud and once we got to the pasture, it would be smooth sailing. That plan seemed quite solid until I actually got into the mud. About halfway down the path, I noticed that I was a) sinking into the mud deeper and deeper with each step and b) the mud was causing a suction that made it harder to lift my feet. When the mare started refusing to keep walking, I suddenly realized I had a problem. I had stopped and a serious suction had formed around both feet. I had a tight hold on the lead but at the other end was a pretty strong mare who had an equally strong desire to go the other way. In the middle of the mud, with one hand on the lead and nothing to brace myself against, I was sinking deeper and deeper into the Indiana clay mud. Then the mare decided to bump into me.


I am now flat on my back in mud, feet stuck like they were in concrete. Still had the horse though! Luckily my wife and my 16 year old son were outside of the fence. While I laid in the mud, they ran back and turned off the electric fence. I tossed the lead to my wife and she lead the mare the rest of the way from the outside of the fence, the method she had suggested initially that I rejected. My son helped me to stand up (try standing up with your legs immobilized from the knee down with nothing to prop yourself up with) and now he was coated in mud as well. I was upright but absolutely couldn't lift my feet out of the mud. So I had him run back to the barn and get a shovel. Once I had that I was able to dig down around my right foot until I could get my heel to lift just enough to break the suction. Schlurp! Out came one boot. But the left foot was still stuck.

Here is the quandary. I was digging the left boot out and trying to lift it, but doing so was making my right boot sink deeper and deeper into the mud so I had to keep pulling it out and adjusting. I finally got both feet out and using the shovel as a brace managed to get to the fence where I promptly rolled under the bottom wire and out to freedom! At that point I looked down and saw just how muddy I was. I was coated in mud (which FYI is mixed with another, more...organic...material that originated from the business end of the horses). My wife wanted to take a picture. I gently declined.

I am sure I made a lovely sight. I was standing in the driveway getting hosed off fully dressed, mud sluicing off me. I was muddy in my boots, up the back of my shirt (the sight of which reminded my wife of changing a really bad diaper), on my arms and a bit on my face. Good thing I showered before I went out today! Soaking wet I dragged myself into the basement where I dropped my still kind of muddy and somewhat smelly clothes. Time for another shower!

So what was the net result of my labors on the farm? I managed to hammer in one fence staple, part of the way into the wood. The mare was out in the pasture where she belonged. It had been a pretty full day for me, so I decided to call it a day, go back in the house and do some blogging where I was unlikely to get stuck in the mud. It is safer in front of my computer. I think I am better off blogging about farming than I am actually doing it.

Pride marches on deep in the heart of Texas

Eric at Pilgrim's Progress wrote a post this morning, How Is This Justifiable? regarding the new campus for First Baptist Dallas that is going to cost well over $100,000,000. The easy answer to Eric's question is that you cannot justify it. I first heard about this in 2009 and was similarly nauseated by the idea of spending that sort of sum on a new campus. I wrote about it a couple of times in 2009, the first post was Does God need a $130 million edifice to be glorified? and then I followed it up with How is First Baptist Dallas different? I would also point you to a great post on the subject from Guy Muse, FBC Dallas launches $130M Building Campaign

As I think about this, it is easy to get outraged because of the sum involved. $100,000,000 is a huge amount of money. But as I wondered in my second post, How is First Baptist Dallas different?, there is a similar mindset going on in churches all across America. Here is part of what I wrote:
The number of decimal places is different but how many millions do local churches spend to upgrade perfectly serviceable buildings for purely aesthetic reasons? Our neighbors are losing their jobs and their homes, Christians around the world are starving for the Word of God, missionaries are stuck in place for a lack of funding, orphans languish without homes and we spend untold sums of money to build, maintain and upgrade our buildings that we use for a couple of hours a week. Whenever a church spends unnecessary money on their building (and lets be honest, much of the spending in the local church is unnecessary) they are invoking the same spirit of worldliness, covetousness and pride as FBD. So what if the carpet is ugly or the lighting is not perfect? Ought we not focus on what is the true focus, our Lord, and not on what is merely a convenience, the meeting place? The local church meeting house is not a temple, not the “house of the Lord”. It is a place where we gather and that building is not the church. Our buildings should be about the last place we spend a bunch of money. It might do us some good to sacrifice a bit instead of demanding every creature comfort before we will deign to spend a few hours in "worship".
Enormous sums are spent across this country on upkeep, decorations, utilities, comforts and entertainment in churches. The amount of money spent is different but the motivation is often the same. I have been in more lavish buildings than I can count, all allegedly glorifying God. When I used to sit in them, I was envious and covetous, thinking one day I would pastor a fancy suburban church with a huge sanctuary. Now when I sit in them I think of orphans in Haiti, grateful for a couple of bowls of rice each day. I think of people dying around the world, having never heard the sweet and precious name of Christ. I think of couples who would love to live out a picture of the Gospel by adopting a child but cannot afford to do so.

I also think of all of the weekly attenders in these churches who vote Republican faithfully and rail against the welfare state but think that spending money on buildings and programs and professional ministers is worthwhile. If we quit spending so much money on glorifying ourselves and spent it helping those in need, maybe it would be easier to get rid of welfare in this country? I am all for lowering taxes, slashing government spending and sharply reducing the size and scope of the Federal government but I fear that given more money in their pockets, many church goers would spend that money on their churches or themselves instead of on those in need.

Wonder why people look at Christians and see hypocrites? We say "God bless America" but we ought to be careful. I think if God truly blessed America, Christians in this country would experience persecution like nothing we have ever seen. Our faith would be tested, our buildings destroyed, our leader jailed, our lives would often be forfeit. I don't think people really want God to bless America, I think they want God to bless them with more "security", more riches and less worries. When I read the Bible, that doesn't seem to be how it works.

This sounds familiar

Deliver Detroit: Could someone please tell me where fellowship is?

My friend James recounts his journey into "simple church". It sounds like the same journey many of us have taken. As I read what James wrote, I could easily replace his name with mine in many places. It also makes me wonder, how many other Christians feel the same way, Sunday after Sunday, but are so culturally conditioned to "church as we know it" that even though they know something is wrong, they don't know what to do about it.

Give this post a read and see if it sounds familiar to you as well...

The Danger of American Exceptionalism

Walter Russell Mean published a scorching essay regarding President Obama’s new Middle East peace framework and the fiery speech of Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the U.S. Congress: The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count. I heard portions of Netayahu’s speech and it was quite stirring and a marked contrast to Obama’s “nuanced” lecture on a subject he seems to know very little about. I am less interested in those speeches and what Mead had to say about them than I am about something he ended his essay with.

Near the end of his cutting essay on Netanyahu’s dismantling of President Obama’s ill-conceived comments on Mideast “peace” came these three paragraphs:
As the stunning and overwhelming response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Congress showed, Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.

It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted.

Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God. Obama’s political isolation on this issue, and the haste with which liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi left the embattled President to take the heat alone, testify to the pervasive sense in American politics that Israel is an American value. Said the Minority Leader to the Prime Minister: “I think it’s clear that both sides of the Capitol believe you advance the cause of peace.”
I find that language all very troubling. I don’t believe that God “favors” or protects America nor do I think that His favor extends in a particular fashion to the modern Jewish nation of Israel over other nations. The idea that God has taken sides and picked America to shower His blessings on has zero, I mean zero, Biblical support. I likewise find that the creation of the modern Jewish homeland in the Middle East had far more to do with post-World War II political pragmatism than it did with some sort of divine restorative program. God has not promised His blessings under the New Covenant on any particular nation and in many ways I find the cultural religion of America to be more of an impediment to disciple making than a blessing.

American exceptionalism is a poison to the church in America in large part because it colors our understanding of missions. Subtly and perhaps unconsciously Christians in America see our mission to the world as two-fold: proclaim the Gospel and replicate the American religious culture. It is tinged with a not so subtle arrogance, assuming that America is has most favored nation status with God. So we go about planting American style churches with American style worship and American style clergy. This walks hand in hand with spreading American values to the world. We assume that if we can make unbelievers in exotic lands look and act more like Americans, they will naturally be easier to convert. Our call is not to make Asian unbelievers in American Christians, it is to see Asian unbelievers become Asian Christians. We are not called to enact cultural transformation, we are called to “be all things to all people”, taking the Gospel to them whatever their context or culture might be.

Don't get me wrong, I recognize the freedoms we have in America. I love the diverse landscapes and natural beauty of this land, the regional variety that gives us more flavor than any other land. I also recognize that we can worship all sorts of ways without fear of persecution. I also notice that God did not establish His church in America where it would be welcome, He established His church in the Middle East under and during the terror of the Roman empire. I think there are some valuable lessons to learn if we ponder what that means.

How did I miss this?!

Thanks to Cory Pampalone for passing this on, I can't believe I missed it.

The New York Times Priesthood

Good thing we have guys like Nicholas Kristof to explain to the church what the Bible really says. Otherwise we would have to read it for ourselves! Mr. Kristof has done all of Christendom a great favor by publishing what at first blush appears to be a straight up copy and paste of a book, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire by Jennifer Knust. Get it, unprotected texts! It sounds like….well, never mind. If I have to explain it, it stops being funny. Anyway, his essay in the NY Times (an excellent source for Biblical exegesis) is titled Religion and Sex Quiz. I thought I would pass on a few of his quiz questions and subsequent answers, just for grins and all.

On abortion here is his clever question designed to “get ya!”

1. The Bible’s position on abortion is:
a. Never mentioned.
b. To forbid it along with all forms of artificial birth control.
c. Condemnatory, except to save the life of the mother.

His answer:

1. A. Abortion is never mentioned as such.

Ah ha! Got ya! Or maybe not. It is true, abortion is never mention “as such” by name. Neither is “drive by shooting” or “using gas chambers to kill Jews” or “beating someone to death with a baseball bat”. What is mentioned of course is that God condemns murder. Also noted is that human beings are human beings in the womb. Ergo, killing an unborn child is murder and is condemned. You see, sometimes you need to actually read what is written instead of relying on someone else. Then there is this one:

2. The Bible suggests “marriage” is:

a. The lifelong union of one man and one woman.

b. The union of one man and up to 700 wives.

c. Often undesirable, because it distracts from service to the Lord.

So what is the answer? Wait for it!

2. A, B and C.

The Bible limits women to one husband, but other than that is all over the map. Mark 10 envisions a lifelong marriage of one man and one woman. But King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:3). And Matthew (Matthew 19:10-12) and St. Paul (I Corinthians 7) both seem to suggest that the ideal approach is to remain celibate and avoid marriage if possible, while focusing on serving God. Jesus (Matthew 19:12) even seems to suggest that men make themselves eunuchs, leading the early church to ban enthusiasts from self-castration.

Ah, yeah except no. The Bible is clear that marriage is a one man, one woman for life thing. Did Solomon have lots of wives (and other men in the Bible did as well)? Of course. Does the Bible speak approvingly of his polygamy? Not really. This is the same argument you get from mormons to explain away Joseph Smith’s lecherous behavior. Both Paul and Jesus had positive things to say about those who stayed celibate for the sake of the Gospel but those same two had a lot of positive things to say about marriage. Kristof attempts to obscure this with the random account of some men taking things too literally but the big point he is trying to hide is that while singleness is a gift for some people, the expected state of man and woman is one man married to one woman for life.

Of course what would a secular mocking of Christian attitudes about sex be without the obligatory attempt to suggest the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.

3. The Bible says of homosexuality:

a. Leviticus describes male sexual pairing as an abomination.

b. A lesbian should be stoned at her father’s doorstep.

c. There’s plenty of ambiguity and no indication of physical intimacy, but some readers point to Ruth and Naomi’s love as suspiciously close, or to King David declaring to Jonathan: “Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (II Samuel 1:23-26)

Is the tension killing you? I know I am on pins and needles here, waiting to find out what nugget of wisdom Mr. Kristof has come up with to explain why the church has been wrong about this for thousands of years…his answer is...

3. A and C.

As for stoning on a father’s doorstep, that is the fate not of lesbians but of non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13).

Shocking! Who knew that David and Jonathan were closeted homosexuals? Apparently no one until Mr. Kristof! This is a case of trying to find perversity in events that have nothing to do with homosexuality. David was clearly heterosexual, something that got him into a great deal of trouble with Bathsheba. Likewise Naomi was Ruth’s mother in law. Naomi was the widow of a dude, Elimelech. Ruth was the widow of Naomi’s son Mahlon and eventually married another man, Boaz. Not exactly the plot of an episode of “The L Word”. We unfortunately live in a world where ungodliness and immorality is so prevalent that we find it everywhere. If a man expresses his love for another man, they must be homosexual. If a woman deeply loves another woman, they must be lesbians. We have allowed the secular world to so ingrain this in our culture that men are virtually unable to express love for one another without someone suggesting it is homosexual desire.

This is another tired one, the old “the sin in Sodom wasn’t sexual!” (a necessary corollary to the idea that the Bible isn’t really that condemnatory of homosexuality)

7. The people of Sodom were condemned principally for:

a. Homosexuality.
b. Blasphemy.
c. Lack of compassion for the poor and needy.

Well you already know what Kristof is going to say but here it is anyway.

7. C.

“Sodomy” as a term for gay male sex began to be commonly used only in the 11th century and would have surprised early religious commentators. They attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden. Ezekiel 16:49 suggests that Sodomites “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Was homosexuality their only sin? Of course not but it was one of their sins and an abomination. It is apparent that crowds of homosexuals seeking men to rape was but one of the many sins but it was their behavior that precipitated the final destruction of Sodom.

A couple of things. These angels were going to Sodom to confirm the extent of their sin (Gen 18: 20-21) and the events of that evening, a crowd of men seeking to sexually assault these men, confirmed the wickedness of Sodom. These men were not even interested in satiating their lust on Lot’s virgin daughters (Gen 19: 6-9), their desire was only for these men. Kristof likewise conveniently fails to reference Jude 1:7: just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire but I assume that is because he didn’t bother to investigate what the text says for himself.

Kristof sets the whole thing up by saying admitting up front that his answers are questionable but that is apparently OK because he thinks the Bible is ambigious on these issues too…

Professor Knust’s point is that the Bible’s teachings about sexuality are murky and inconsistent and prone to being hijacked by ideologues (this quiz involves some cherry-picking of my own). There’s also lots we just don’t understand: What exactly is the offense of “arsenokoitai” or “man beds” that St. Paul proscribes? It is often translated as a reference to homosexuality, but it more plausibly relates to male prostitution or pimping. Ambiguity is everywhere, which is why some of you will surely harrumph at my quiz answers
Try reading Romans 1: 24-32 and telling me that Paul was actually talking about male prostitution.

There can be a case made that Christians have sometimes been overzealous and even unloving in our approach to sexual immorality. That fault, if there is any, lies with us. What is not flawed is Scripture and it is crystal clear when it comes to sins like homosexuality, adultery, marriage and divorce. If anything the Bible is far more strict on these issues than the church usually is. Homosexuality and adultery are condemned but sins like hatred, lust and divorce get short changed. I would say the church is far too soft on sin, not that we are too mean about it.

Can God save a homosexual or someone who is promiscuous or a murderer from their sins and create a new heart in them? Of course He can and does, otherwise I wouldn’t be a Christian and neither would anyone else.

Of course ultimately this is all a part of the attempt by the media to undermine authority structures, primarily the family and for Christian the Scriptures. This is not to “free” people to think for themselves but rather so that they can supplant these authority sources as the arbiters of what is true and what is not, what is commendable and what is to be condemned. Our media has slowly morphed into a self-appointed priesthood, a secular priesthood to be sure but a priesthood nevertheless. Just try crossing our newly appointed priestly caste and see what happens to you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Anonymous Fellowship

Over the weekend I was at a training class and I overheard a couple of the other guys talking about what Christians always talk about when they get together: “Where do you go to church”. The one guy mentioned the name of his church, a large evangelical church in our area. He said they had been there for almost four years and then he said something else. He said he and his wife still meet, outside of the church, people that they “go to church with” and never realized they went there. Imagine being in the same church body for years and having a sizeable population of people you hadn’t even met, much less gotten to know!

That is hardly a unique story. We were “members” of a largish Southern Baptist Church in Kentucky (they still send me the member bulletins and have tracked us down after a bunch of moves and in spite of me gently letting them know we were not likely to ever set foot in that church again). We sat in the same basic place every Sunday. So did many other families. We sort of knew the people who sat around us and some of the people in our Sunday school class. The people on the other side of the “sanctuary” (we sat to the right of the pulpit)? Didn’t know except maybe by sight. In fact I was talking to one of my clients in a business meeting and found out that he and his family were also members there. We never crossed paths and believe me we were there every Sunday.

I wonder how many Christians spend time every week with people who identify with the same local congregation but don’t know them at all. I don’t mean don’t know their names or know them by sight, although there is lots of that, but I mean don’t really know them at all. We always used to be identified as “the people who used to be mormons” and “the family with 5 (then 6, then 7) kids”. Many people could have probably picked us out of a police line-up because they had our kids in Sunday school or children’s church. Perhaps they had seen us a time or two in our Sunday best. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. Worse, no one seemed to think it was a problem.

I know that at its core, this is an issue with us. We were not making the effort to meet others. We were content to show up and “worship” and then make a mad dash for the parking lot to beat the post-worship service rush (we never beat it because we had to round up our kids). The problem was that we never saw the disconnect and apparently nobody else did either.

It would seem to be obvious that if you don’t know the people you go to church with, you by definition cannot truly be in fellowship with them. I am not in fellowship with strangers in an elevator nor am I in fellowship with strangers in a “sanctuary”. Little wonder people are leaving churches in droves. They are told that going to church is how they fellowship with others and they walk away each Sunday thinking “That was it? That is all there is to the Christian life?”. Yet another reason that I think that in the long term, the collapse of Christendom and the cultural religion of America will be an enormously positive change in the church.

Help me out here again

So a girl who is 17 years old can walk into a pharmacy and buy the "Plan B" emergency contraceptive without a prescription and subject her body to a massive dose of hormones into her body. We assume that there are no long term side effects but do we really know?

But if a dairy farmer tries to sell raw milk, you know milk that comes from a cow before being processed, he is subject to fines, seizure of his product and arrest.


A different perspective on sermons

Most of the time we see advocacy or defenses of sermons coming from pastors of traditional churches where the sermon is the focal point of the gathering. I read a post on sermons (and a follow-up post in response to a question about the original post) with interest because the author is part of, for lack of a more precise term, a house church group in the home of the college football team with the more wins than any other program, i.e. Ann Arbor, Michigan.. The author, Van Parunak, is a great guy and his wife is one of the nicest people I know.

Van starts off his post, In Defense of the Sermon, with this:

Traditionally, the sermon has been an important feature of the assemblies of God’s people. The sermon is so central to many groups that its delivery is one of the main duties of a professionally trained and salaried individual, the pastor.

The sermon is coming under attack in many quarters as ineffective and out of date. Yet the practice of delivering material through an extended, carefully prepared verbal presentation has strong biblical precedent. Before abandoning serious expository preaching, let’s think more carefully.

To be clear: what I mean by “sermon” is an extended lecture on a biblical text or theme, prepared in advance by one individual who delivers it orally to a group of people. Unlike a discussion, the presentation is asymmetric (primarily from the teacher to the congregation, though it may be interrupted by questions). Unlike a meditation, it develops its content with an argument that usually takes some time to present. Unlike an extemporaneous address, the teacher devotes effort to preparing it in advance.
I will cautiously say that this stance is something of an outlier among house/simple church folks. That doesn’t mean it is wrong of course just kind of unusual. Also note that in this group, as I understand it, questions are welcome and different brothers often deliver the sermon so it is not like a monologue delivered by the same guy to a mute audience of observers week after week. Again, I haven't had the chance to meet with this group but I do know several people who are part of Washtenaw Independent Bible Church.

I would like you to read both posts, first his post In Defense of the Sermon and then his follow-up to my question regarding Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter’s Planned Presentation. Be warned, they are lengthy and detailed. Let me know what you think!

That sound you hear...

....is the sound of watchbloggers sharpening their long knives in eager anticipation of going after John Piper for having the audacity to have a lengthy, civil conversation with Rick Warren. This sort of thing should keep many a blogger in business for weeks to come.

Methinks many a watchblogger is secretly longing for the days of Calvin's Geneva when we could deal with heretics by lopping their heads off.

Religion is easy, relationships are hard

Deconstructing Neverland: Simple church is anything but simple

Another great post from Bobby Auner this morning. Turns out being in a simple church is often not very simple. It seems people are still people even when you take away the pews and pulpits! I loved this paragraph near the end of the post (you should read the whole thing tho)

All of this is necessary if we are going to be a family. As the saying goes: "you can't pick your family". I think if we could, we would pick the people who think like us, act like us, and hide their struggles and sins from us as best they can. That way we could feel like we had a lasting relationship but it would only last until someone rocked the boat. Then it would be time to find a new "family" which shouldn't be hard because we haven't left the shallow waters.
That is a really great observation, maybe one of the best I have ever read. It is “easier” to find groups of people who look like us, act like us and think like us. Denominations and the various doctrinal statements and creeds make it even easier. With the internet we don’t even have to show up. I could probably find a Baptistic church in our area that has a plurality of elders and holds to the doctrine of grace in about 5-10 minutes of looking without ever leaving my chair. Groups like 9 Marks, Together for the Gospel, Founders Ministries, etc provide lists of “good” churches on their webpage and I have used those lists to pick out churches in the past, long before I ever darkened their door. In doing so I intentionally if not consciously was cutting myself off from lots of other Christians that I will now likely never meet this side of eternity because they went to churches in the “wrong” denomination or they were insufficiently Reformed or any of a slew of disqualifiers.

When we stop looking at the church as a bunch of competing demographic groups to pick and choose from and start looking at the church as a family formed and selected by God, we start to realize that there is something inherently wrong with dividing ourselves up into subgroups to match our preferences and simultaneously keeping out people we might disagree with or not get along with. The result of that is having relationships with people because God has made them part of our family, not because we chose them to associate with because they are like us, and that is going to make life difficult just like it is in any family.

In spite of that, it is well worth the effort and frequent messiness. It is far easier and more sterile to gather with people that look, think and act just like us for an hour and call it church but along with the stress and messiness of simple church comes real, rich relationships.

What is easy is rarely what is best.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More thoughts on every member ministry

I read an interesting blog post at 9 Marks this morning by Thabiti Anyabwile regarding the tragic statistics regarding pastoral burnout: Don't Make Your Pastor A Statistic. Some of the highlights are numbers I am sure you have seen before, from a Schaeffer Institute study:

  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

    80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.

    50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

    Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.

    Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

Those are staggering numbers and when you realize that many of the men who are chewed up and spit out by the clerical system are the most enthusiastic and zealous men. These same men are the ones who get burned out and they are the men we need more of but the system they are pushed into has the opposite effect of what is intended. There is clearly a major problem. The question becomes what to do about it. Thabiti’s response is the traditional “are you honoring your pastor” issue.

So, I'm hopeful at least some of God's people would consider these statistics, reflect upon their church's treatment of their pastors, and perhaps lead a conspiracy to make sure faithful elders receive "double honor" from those they teach and lead. Let's face it: we can't get survey statistics like these unless it has become an unchecked commonplace among congregations to gossip and gripe rather than to breathe grace toward church leaders. These statistics indicate a pandemic culture of disregard and dishonor aimed at pastors. That's to the church's shame.

I'm praying that Hebrews 13:17--rather than rejected as giving too much authority to leaders--might be embraced by individual members and congregations as one means to growth in Christ and deeper joy as the family of God. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
Fairly standard stuff. This was my response in the comments:

Perhaps the problem is not that we fail to properly “honor” pastors. Perhaps it is that the church has inherited a clergy-laity schism that places a small minority of men in a position where they are expected to bear what is an unbearable responsibility. What if, instead of trying to make the best of an untenable situation, we instead sought to have every brother in the church do the work of ministry, sharing the privilege and burden of ministry rather than subcontracting it to one or a few men.

The solution is not to give pastors more time off or to pay them better. The solution is found in a functional rather than theoretical priesthood of every believer where the work of ministry is shared among all of the brothers in the church. A solution where we change our focus from performance on Sunday morning to serving others throughout the week. Seeing elders as servant-leaders who labor alongside other believers instead of an employee-employer relationship. The strange symbiotic relationship between clergy and laity makes a mockery of Biblical ministry and it must be abandoned rather than modified.

This of course would require a radical rethinking of ministry in the local church. The alternative is more of the same: young men zealous for the Lord being shuffled off to get an expensive seminary education, moving to a new town and a church full of strangers who expect him to do everything for them and then watching the meat grinder of professional ministry chew them up and spit them out at a 50% “failure” rate in five years. No amount of pay or vacation time or sabbaticals is going to offset the enormous burden of the clerical system that is killing our most zealous young men and making apathetic spectators out of the rest.

Ministry is something no single man can handle on his own, no matter how good his benefit package is. Furthermore the picture Scripture paints for us is a “one another” ministry, not a “one and all the others” model. If you truly want to honor your pastor, come alongside him and shoulder the burden of ministry.
That kind of summarizes where I am on this, nothing new of course. The problem with the professional clerical system is not in how we “honor” our pastors, it is the system itself that is flawed and unscriptural. I am grieved to read statistics like those Thabiti referenced because it was never supposed to be like this. Is ministry hard, frustrating work? Absolutely but it is infinitely more so when you try to shoulder the burden by yourself. Until we abandon this whole system and start equipping, empowering and encouraging every Christian in the church to do the work of ministry, we will continue to see the tragic fallout in burned out men, neglected families and apathetic congregations.

Horton is a'feerd of the church planting movement

Watch this video, pay special attention right at the two minute mark.

There are two things going on here.

One is the obvious reaction of a seminary guy who thinks anyone in a "serious" ministry role needs to go to seminary. How can you possibly plant a church and minister to people without having formal, expensive training in the original languages? There will always be a subsection of the church that cannot envision faithful ministry that does not include formal academic vocational training despite seeing nothing of the sort in the Bible.

The other response is the ongoing backlash against those who embrace God's sovereign grace, i.e. Calvinism, but don't toe the line on the traditions that surround it. I think that some in the “Truly Reformed” camp are victims of their own success. They have done a great job propagating the doctrines of grace and they have rightly gained a large and enthusiastic following. Then something odd and unexpected happened along the way. As many Christians embraced these doctrines, they did not flood into the traditional “Reformed” churches. They are finding new ways of expressing the church gathering and they are moving past the traditions of the Reformed wing of the church. In doing so they are finding that the more seriously they take the Scripture and the more they study it, the easier it becomes to jettison the traditions that have surrounded being “Reformed” since the 16th century.

When God is moving among His people, it is impossible and foolhardy for some men to try to dictate terms or control that movement. That has never stopped them from trying!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who knew being a Missionary came with so many Perks?!

The M Blog: Missionary Perks

Guy makes being a missionary sound like a perpetual vacation! Funny stuff!

A new stallion on the farm

We brought over my in-laws Percheron stallion Joe. He will be...getting acquainted with our mare once he settles in.

A need for prayer

I received news this morning that the new pastor of Indian River Baptist Church in Indian River, Michigan went home to Christ late last night following an accident. He was scheduled to be installed as the new pastor of IRBC this upcoming Sunday. My family attended Indian River Baptist when my friend Josh Gelatt was still the pastor there during a very difficult time for us as a family and were loved by the people there. I am certain that they are surrounding the family in this time of heartache. Please be in prayer for the Rapa family and for our brothers and sisters in Indian River, Michigan who will be called on to minister to that family in this time.

What is the primary purpose of pastors?

That is a question culturally we think we know the answer to, or at least have a set pool of answers to pick from depending on your church traditions. Maybe you think the primary purpose of pastors is preaching. Or perhaps it is administering the sacraments. Or counseling or weddings/funerals or any of the other myriad functions that we assume pastors should do based exclusively on our cultural traditions.

Dave Black has a very different answer (May 25th, 9:18 AM):

A mutual ministry is possible only when pastors realize that their main responsibility is to guide members toward pastoral care of each other.

Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Pastors have as their primary purpose equipping the entire Body to pastor one another. There is no other way to read Ephesians 4: 11-16 than to see it as pastors equipping everyone in the Body to do what pastors do.

So why don’t we do that? A lot of it has to do with losing control and not trusting God to work in the “laity”. In our performance oriented church, the idea that someone will “do it wrong” or “say the wrong thing” has paralyzed the church. So we assign all of the ministry to one guy and expect him to do it for us. Not just that but we expect him to do it perfectly every time and in a way that keeps us entertained and engaged (and let’s be honest, those who love expository sermons are just as entertained by them as people who love praise music). We need to make it a top priority of the church to get away from a performance mentality that freezes the Body of Christ into inaction and get to a real, functioning priesthood of every believer. To do that, pastors need to equip people to do the work of ministry, bless and encourage them to do that work and then get out of the way and let them make mistakes. Otherwise we will be perpetually trapped in our system with one guy running on a hamster wheel while the rest of us watch.

By the way, I am rereading Dr. Black’s excellent book, The Jesus Paradigm. If you haven’t read it, you should get yourself a copy and give it a read. One of the wonders of the internet age is that we can hear from and learn from those who have gone before so we are not always forced to recreate the wheel again and again. Dr. Black is always a source of encouragement to me and often a rebuke against my own pride and laziness. I love sitting at the virtual feet of men like him and others, men I would not have the opportunity to learn from a few decades ago.

(For my review of The Jesus Paradigm, click here)

The elusive goal of community

Deconstructing Neverland: Craving for community

Great post from Bobby Auner this morning on craving community. This desire for genuine community is, from my vantage point, the big sticking point for most organic/simple church groups. We have started a real movement to shed the institutionalization of the church and gather in a simpler manner, which is healthy and Biblical, but we still seem stuck focusing on the gathering and that makes it hard to take the next step and get to actual community. Obviously community goes way beyond the Sunday morning meeting and we all seem to know that but getting from “here” to “there” is problematic.

I am constantly trying to figure this out. How do we have genuine community among believers when everything that our culture teaches us about the church and every aspect of our modern society (with its busy-ness, constant racket from social media and entertainment, etc.) seems to conspire to prevent this community from being realized?

I still don’t have the answer to that. Some suggest that community will just form if we let it and stop trying so hard but I find that sort of pie in the sky Pollyannaish simplicity to be naïve. I don’t think community just happened in the first century and I don’t see it happening now. Community and fellowship requires effort and dedication.

So I appreciate Bobby raising this question yet again. I think that this drive for community will be something I will wrestle with the rest of my life and never truly achieve this side of eternity but the reward is worth the effort.

Unless of course I can convince Bobby and all of my other internet friends to move to Indiana…

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Help me out here

I got an email with the following subject line:

Patriots: Honor God with "God Bless America" T-Shirt

They are hawking a “God Bless America” T-shirt (to the exclusion of other nations I assume). How exactly is buying and wearing this particular T-shirt going to honor God? If someone living in Iran wears a “God Bless Iran” T-shirt, is he also honoring God? What about "God Bless Liechtenstein"?

Ah the media

Double standard much?

When a religious figure falsely predicts global calamity, the media trips over themselves covering it and giggling when it is proven false.

When the United Nations Environment Program predicts global calamity including 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010 and nothing of the sort happens, the media reaction?


Gee, why am I so jaded about the media?

Our nation's capital...of death

Al Mohler sent out a link to an article in the Washington Times this morning by Deborah Simmons. The article itself, SIMMONS: Time to blunt pro-choicers’ new ‘initiative’, is quite interesting. Apparently the pro-abortion forces in America are targeting pregnancy resource centers. Little wonder. When women come to pregnancy centers and receive love and care from those who are willing to support mother and child in the decision to choose life, they are overwhelmingly likely to carry to term. In the center that I volunteer at over 93% of women who received a free ultrasound chose life for their child and carried to term. That sort of success comes from women having all of the tools and information available to make an actual informed choice and it certainly cuts into the profits of abortionists.

What really struck me and the reason Dr. Mohler forwarded the link was a staggering and macabre statistic in the middle of Ms. Simmons essay:

…the nations capital has one of the highest abortion rates in the country: 265 abortions for every 100 live births.
Read that again. A child conceived in Washington D.C., the capital of the land of the free and the home of the brave, is 2.5 times more likely to be aborted than be carried to term.

Abortion has already killed off a generation of Americans to the tune of tens of millions of lives lost on the bloody altar of choice and convenience. As I mentioned in a previous post, based on the reality of nearly 50,000,000 abortions in America, nearly one out of seven Americans who should be alive today are not. 50,000,000 Americans who will never buy a car, will never have a job, will never pay a single penny in taxes, will not be around to support America’s burgeoning elderly population that will rely on the younger generation to fund Social Security and Medicare. It is insane that in the midst of a budget crisis, some on the Left want to keep subsidizing with Federal tax dollars those organizations that are engaged in killing off future tax payers.

Being deceived by a cult is no laughing matter

Lots of people had quite a few chuckles over the last few weeks at the expense of Harold Camping and his followers. Jokes were flying and tweets making fun of Camping were plentiful. I intentionally didn't blog anything about Camping. His error and spiritual deceit were obvious and didn't really warrant piling on. I did make a few snide tweets regarding his false prophecy and frankly I feel kind of bad about that.

Being deceived by a false prophet and cultist is no laughing matter. It is of deadly serious eternal significance.

First, Jesus is coming back and while we don't know the details and are not intended to, we do know that Christ will return. Engaging in mockery of Camping alongside those that deny that Christ arose or that He will return is counterproductive.

Second, having once been involved in a cult group I can tell you that what Camping and his followers need is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and mockery of them is about the worst and least God honoring way to evangelize them. Mocking Muslims or Buddhists for their beliefs is unlikely to win any of them to Christ. The same holds true with Camping's followers. I would hate to think that we are setting aside the command to love others and proclaim the Gospel for the sake of a few chortles and retweets.

Harold Camping and his followers are lost, deceived people just like those caught up in mormonism or the Jehovah's Witnesses or those deluded people who died following Jim Jones and David Koresh. We need to refute such false prophets and compare what they say to the truth of the Gospel, in love but without compromise. What we don't need to do is use their lostness to get a laugh or drive blog hits. I sincerely hope that God's people will reach out to Camping's followers with the Gospel of Christ and that God will call as many of them to His Son as He has decreed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A different perspective on the five points

Bobby Auner recently put together a nice series of post on the "Five Points of Calvinism". I thought the series was excellent and it is more than the usual "here is my list of proof texts to prove my point you stinkin' Arminian!" style that often accompanies such discussions. Bobby dug a little deeper into the five points. Here is his series...

Calvinism and God's eternal purpose: introduction...

Calvinism and God's eternal purpose: "T" is for treasure

Calvinism and God's eternal purpose: U is for unity

Calvinism and God's eternal purpose: "L" is for liberty

Part 5: "I" is for infatuated

Part 6: "P" is for plural

He kind of dropped part of the title on the last two. Just saying. Anyway, I am sure some of the self-appointed guardians of what is or is not Reformed would quibble about some of what he wrote but no one really cares what they think anyway! Check out his series, whether you are a Calvinist or not (or agree with Calvinism and reject the label as many people are starting to do). Hopefully it will give you a different perspective on Calvinism and show that you can hold to the Five Points without a lot of the traditions that come along with the Reformed theology culture.

Ministry is a task for all of us

Dave Black has penned an excellent essay on Ordinary Missionaries and he is right on the money, as usual:
For several years now I've been studying the missionary movement in North America. I believe we are on the cusp of an era when insourcing missions will become the strategy for achieving global evangelization. A strategy that depends on outsourcing the work to paid professionals is not going to get the job done. Outsourcing will be around for a while longer because it is what everyone is used to. But insourcing will require a wholly different mindset. It's not just about producing more missionaries. It's about creating a completely different kind of environment -- a collaborative environment in which everyday people like you and me are constantly thinking about how to generate towel and basin ministries both at home and around the globe.
The future of ministry, missions, evangelism, the church itself, will rely on ordinary Christians. That is as it should be because that is how Christ designed it. We are not changing our methods because the way that Christ set it up failed, we are changing our methods to reflect what Christ intended in the first place!

I think this statement is the key:
Moreover, the more you are seen as insourcing, the more people will want to get involved as they begin to realize that they too can play a part in global missions.
What a simple and obvious statement but one that is both overlooked and in fact tacitly discouraged in the church! The key to missions in the future will be lots and lots of “regular” people getting involved and getting involved more than making a contribution to the Lottie Moon offering. The mission field is not “out there”, the mission field often is “right here” but the church has done a pretty poor job of equipping itself to respond to the ministry opportunities that are all around us. The task is too big for 1% or 5% of Christians, it requires every single one of us. That might mean going overseas. It might be ministering locally. It might be as simple as rearing and instructing our own children but however it looks it requires 100% participation. There isn't a sideline or a bench in ministry, we are all called to be on the field.

The day of “Stand back sir, we are professionals!” ministry is over in the West. As Dr. Black wrote, it will linger for a while because we by and large don’t know anything else but as Europe is demonstrating this change is inevitable. I can only hope that we can avoid exporting our mistakes of the last millennium to China and Africa and Haiti and Ecuador. There is no need for them to go through a professional ministry stage and repeat our mistakes. The church in developing countries, in the mission field, doesn’t need to “grow up” and adopt Western practices. Their practices are just fine. In fact it is the Western church that can learn a lot from the mission field in this respect.

Dave concludes with this paragraph:
How can the church in North America get to the place where we will launch out into action instead of merely talking about the millions of lost people all around us? The answer is very simple. There will be no change until we change our attitude from that of a hireling to that of a bondservant. We must turn our backs on all of our excuses and voluntarily live a life that is totally separated unto the Gospel. As the great British athlete C. T. Studd once put it, "Some want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell." It was because of His great love for people that Jesus deliberately reached out to the lost, sick, and dying people of His day. If we are truly born-again Christians, if we have truly come to grips with the terms of "costly discipleship" (Bonhoeffer), how can we possibly do anything less?
I love that. Being part of the church means more than hanging around with the church in the church doing church stuff. Someone this weekend described crisis pregnancy centers as “frontline” missions. The same is true in food pantries, rescue missions, prison ministry, orphanages, etc. That is where ministry happens because that is where those who need to be ministered to and hear about Jesus are. Christians sitting in Sunday school learning about being Christians is not ministry. Christians sitting in a pew week after week listening to sermons is not ministry nor is it equipping them for the work of ministry. Ministry requires standing up, getting out and getting dirty and most of it is "on the job" training.

Face it, most of those who most need to hear about Jesus and see His love lived out by His people are also the least likely to come to church. Our response cannot be “tough luck sinners, you gotta come to church. We are here every Sunday from 11 top 12!”. Our response must be to go to them. Jesus didn’t wait for sinners to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. If He had, He would still be waiting in vain. He came to us while we were yet sinners, dead in our sins and by nature His enemies. How can we as His redeemed people do anything less? How can we hide in our churches and send a handful of professionals out to do this task and still say we are being faithful to what He has called us to?

We cannot and we must not.

(My) New Perspective on Paul

Paul is one of the defining figures in the church, second only to Christ Himself in the New Testament. How you view Paul and what he taught and how he lived will impact in every respect how you view all sorts of issues: the church, ministry, justification, gender, missions, on and on.

My view of Paul has taken something of a radical change from how I viewed him a few years ago. Back them I saw Paul as this powerful pastor-theologian figure, smiting unbelievers and false teachers alike with reckless abandon and fiery polemics. He was the epitome of a theologian and apoplogist, a man who formed a picture of church leadership and ministry that those men called to the ministry should emulate. In many ways I saw Paul as someone who had a lot more to say to pastors than he did to the laity.

Today I see Paul as a man who recognized and embraced his own weakness, his own inadequacy. In everything that Paul wrote I see a man who has come face to face with his own insufficiency and that reality has impacted how he views just about everything. I don't see Paul as a leader and a theologian who had to work, but as someone who was a simple servant of Christ and who labored at work and in ministry. In fact it was his work and his service that formed who Paul was and he didn't see the two as separate but rather saw working and laboring for and among the people of God as his ministry. He knew people in the church intimately and loved them. He labored and ministered alongside them (Phil 4:3), not over them. He saw himself the chiefest of sinners, not the greatest of saints. He strikes me as a man continually surprised to be used of God in the way he was.

That doesn't mean Paul wasn't a theologian or a leader. He certainly was! Just not in the way we traditionally understand him. Paul is not a man I would expect to find in his study, poring over the Scriptures and penning lengthy treatises or in church gatherings delivering a soaring oration but rather a man with dirty hands who wrote when he had time (often when he was in prison!) to those he knew and loved to encourage them. Paul was in every way a remarkable man because of how God used him, not because of what he accomplished or wrote. Paul is a great encouragement to me not because of how powerfully he wrote but because of how mightily God used a flawed, weak sinner to accomplish His glorious purposes. If God can use Paul in spite of his flaws and weaknesses, then God can use me as well.

Paul the scholar, Paul the pastor-theologian appeals to me but it was Paul the weak and inadequate servant and laborer that God used.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tell me your story

The M Blog: Listening one another's stories:

Another good post from Guy. As he says, "listen to one anothers story" is not a Biblical exhortation but it is a great way to really get to know someone. With so many superficial relationships in the church we could all stand to listen to one another and hear one anothers story. God has been good to so many people and what could be more encouraging to let them tell you about it in their own words?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What in the world....

...would possess someone to "pray" this?

Mayer Rep. Ernie Leidiger Invited Controversial Pastor: MyFoxTWINCITIES.com

A perverse hypocrisy

In America a woman can abort her unborn child for essentially any or no reason and the father of that child has no say at all.

But if that same woman wants to place her child in a loving family via adoption, all of a sudden the father has a say and must agree to place the child.

Kill a child and a father has no rights.

Place a child in a loving home and all of a sudden he gets a say.

Sustainability in Haiti

Building Sustainability in Haiti, and Other Parts of the World-Part 2

Check out this latest post from the Haiti Orphan Project on sustainability in Haiti. The long term goal is not a perpetual state of dependence on the charity of others but is rather a sustained self-sufficiency in Haiti. There is a long way to go but caring for orphans is a great first step!

What do you think of this?

I know it is a book promotion but it is getting lots of buzz on the internet...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who is crazier, Glenn Beck or Harold Camping?

The Fo-Mo Chronicles: Who is crazier, Glenn Beck or Harold Camping?

Some excellent questions

The M Blog: Things I wonder about:

Guy Muse asks some really good questions. Take a look and ask yourself how you would answer (or if you would!)

A great post on leadership in the home

A few days ago I posted a link to a great post on what submission is not. This morning I came across a nice companion piece, Ten Things Leadership Is NOT (specifically speaking of male leadership in the home). This was my favorite....

8. Weakening

Strength gives birth to strength. A husband’s whose leadership is humble, caring, loving and self-sacrificing will not weaken his wife but strengthen her. As she observes his loving, selfless leadership it will not reduce her to doormat status but instead will encourage her to continue to trust herself to his care and direction. A good leader will strengthen his followers in a way that encourages them to willingly be placed under the authority of another.
I think that is an excellent statement. A wife's submission doesn't make her weak anymore than Christ's submission to the Father made Him weak. Good stuff, check it out!

(HT: Tim Challies)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pauline Dialogical Liberty

Check out the new and excellent essay from Dave Black on what Zwingli described as "The Rule of Paul". The more I read the New Testament, the less I see the church as established by Christ and led by the apostles in American Christianity. We use the same words that we see in Scripture but the results look strange and disconnected when viewed through the lens of Scripture. As Dr. Black writes, the recovery of the New Testament church is one of the great challenges set before us, a task we are called to that dwarfs many of the other less pressing issues that seem to dominate our time and attention.

This task of rebuilding the church is an urgent mandate for our generation. Are we willing to embrace a community in which kingdom citizens can participate as the Spirit leads them? Or are we using our positions of authority to perpetuate inequity? Are we building pyramids of power that Jesus cannot bless because His kingdom is flat? Do we allow edification to gravitate to the hands of a few? Do we work hard to decentralize ministry as much as possible? These questions cut to the core of our identity as followers of Jesus. His way unnerved the religious authorities of His day, and it will do the same thing today. His life and message assaulted the status quo. Likewise, Paul's appeal to every-member ministry offers an alternative model of community. Paul isn't just teaching church polity. He's unpacking bigger things. He asks us to remove the handcuffs that limit service to paid professionals. He invites kingdom citizens to become blind to status differences. He teaches that pastors are not to monopolize ministry but to equip others for works of service. He urges us to see others as more important than ourselves.
Those are important questions. Are we ready for the answers? This is a task that can only be accomplished through prayer and God's providence. We must make much of Christ and be willing to have our own role and acclaim diminished. For the glory of Christ to be demonstrated in His church, He must indeed increase and our pet traditions, power struggles, pride and power must decrease.

Simple church on Sunday is just the start

I like “simple church”. I like meeting with other believers in a simple, open setting where every brother has a voice, everyone is “permitted” and even expected to participate. I like the general lack of formality and ritual. I like that the overriding sense during the meeting is of God’s people in relationship with one another rather than a sense of showing up by obligation to observe a religious ritual. If we get to that point, a simple expression of the church, is that enough? Have we "arrived"? I don’t think so, not by a long shot.

Meeting on Sunday morning in a simple/house church setting is a good thing, provided of course that the meeting is not just a traditional church meeting that happens in a house! It is not an end in and of itself though, which is why there is an inherent danger in seeing this move to simpler form of church as a “house church movement”. The goal should not be to have the church meet in a home, the goal is a true Christian community.

Granted, I think that simple church is not only the best way to gather, it is also a necessary first step towards community by breaking the shackles of religion and formalism that hamper community in the church. While even I, a man given to hyperbole, would not go so far as to say that community is always impossible within the confines of a traditional church setting, I would say that by its very nature traditional church settings erect enormous barriers (by design perhaps) to community in the Body of Christ. Relationship is replaced by ritual. Fellowship is replaced by formalism. Mutual uplifting and edification is replaced by performance. The New Covenant priesthood of every believer is replaced by a professional clerical subcontracting system. Many, many inherent characteristics of the traditional church impede community and that is why I am convinced that as the traditional church crumbles, community in the Body of Christ will become more prevalent.

So what does all of this mean? If a simple church gathering on Sunday is a necessary first step but only a first step, what do the “next” steps look like? How do we go from a simple church meeting to a Biblical community?

That is a great question. I don’t think that given the realities of life in America in the 21st century that community must precisely resemble the first century in every respect. Nor do I think that community will necessarily resemble more communal historical Christian groups like the Hutterites. So I think it will look quite different in different contexts. Where I live out in the country, perhaps we meet as families in one place or another on a regular basis (other than the Sunday meeting!). Maybe BBQ on a Saturday where we spend the day together. I am really interested in getting a Bible study going in our area, I know enough people to make it work. We already have a connection with a youth group that is not affiliated with a particular church that meets a lot. Even something as simple as intentional visits to other Christians would foster a sense of community. Of course having the weather lighten up would be nice, we have had almost ten inches of rain in the last month or so! Even out where we live I could see families buying property or houses near one another to increase proximity although a lot of us have more or less established roots so that may not be as feasible.

Now in an urban area, maybe a group of families could buy/rent homes or apartments in close proximity, even walking distance. Those families could share meals on a rotating basis or at least a regular basis. That would have the advantage of being in regular contact with each other and that community would also serve as a witness to the surrounding unbelieving neighbors. I am aware of groups that have done this with varying degrees of success. As more and more people abandon the institutional church, I think that sort of scenario in an urban area gets more likely. 7 or 8 families could buy homes in Detroit for next to nothing and be a Gospel witness and a supportive community. One family moving by themselves into an inner city can be hard but if you can move a number of families into an area for support, just think what a great witness that would be!

Community gardens to share with other believers as well as the needy (physical and spiritual). Community homeschooling co-ops. Community meals. The possibilities are endless and enticing! So of course are the pitfalls like losing the urgency to be “on mission” and the danger of insularity but I think the potential blessings make this well worth it.

Again, I don’t have the answer but I definitely see that simple church, while valuable and worthwhile, is not the endgame but rather a means to an end. What do you think Christian community stemming from a simple church expression might look like?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Unity because of differences

Unity in the church is often framed in terms of “Unity in spite of our differences”. We need to be unified even though it is hard sometimes because we believe different things. We just have to buck up and deal with other Christians (who are wrong by the way) for the sake of unity, kind of like the way we steel ourselves to go to the dentist no matter how much we hate it because we know it is necessary and allegedly “good for us”. I think we need a new mindset. Unity with one another is not something we have to choke down like brussel sprouts (full disclosure, I have never eaten a one, never will and I have never been to Belgium). It should be something that actually enriches our relationship in the church!

As we look into the Bible, God seems quite concerned that we be united because of our differences. The “dividing wall of hostility” has been removed and God uses all sorts of images and examples (Jesus among the formerly untouchable, Peter going to the home of a Gentile and the image of “unclean” animals on the sheet, “there is neither Jew nor Greek”). One of the key features of the Old Covenant was dividing the people of God from everyone else. Under the New, we are still separate from the world but we are united together by our common salvation. Yet we for some reason still seek every opportunity to find ways to argue endlessly with one another, divide from those who disagree with us and develop a bunker mentality that keeps most Christians at arms length from one another.

When we embrace our differences, we gain important perspective on all sorts of stuff. One very important thing I have learned over the last decade is that only seeing things in one perspective, even if it is the “right” perspective, leads to insular and sometimes cultish thought patterns. I say that carefully having some experience in the world of cults myself but I am also afraid that it is quite true. If the only people we deal with are “Reformed” and all of the books we read and conferences we attend are “Reformed”, if we view everything with the question “But is it Reformed?” and we stalk the world and the internet seeking those who are “not Reformed” in order to engage, convert or defeat them, pretty soon we lose perspective on the reality that much of the church is not “Reformed”, is unconvinced by our arguments in favor of becoming “Reformed” and golly gee that is actually not just OK, it is healthy! It challenges us, it refines our viewpoints and framework, it helps us to really determine what is true and what is not. If your cherished traditions or doctrines or practices cannot stand up to disagreement and scrutiny, what good are they? I found myself on firmest ground in Reformed theology when I spent a few years as the only person who held to that position in a group of believers. What is good and what is true does not shy away from disagreement and debate, it embraces it and grows stronger!

You see, God not only made us different in terms of height and skin color and gender, He also gave us different perspectives and backgrounds. Someone who grew up his whole life in a Southern Baptist church in Mississippi is probably going to have a different perspective on the church from what I have or a woman who is part of a Mennonite church that grew up with hippie parents in California might have. We see things differently and approach subjects from different directions. That variety, provided of course it is anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and presented by regenerate people, enriches church life. There is nothing especially godly in conformity and uniformity although there certainly is something quite godly in proper unity.

I love Reformed theology. I love football. I love cheesecake. LOVE. IT! Even as delightful as cheesecake is (and with a fruit drizzle it is actually a complete meal according to the USDA food pyramid. Look it up.), if all I ever eat is cheesecake I am going to get sick of it really soon. The church is the same way. If all you ever experience are people who believe the same way you do, the church is necessarily going to be less vibrant, less rich. You can spend your whole life in a particular kind of “church” doing things the way that church does things your entire life and never realize what you are missing.

So find some other Christians who disagree with you (not to fight with them or convert them!). Get to know them. Let them get to know you. See what happens. I can virtually guarantee you that your life in the Body of Christ will be richer for it!