Thursday, June 30, 2011

Budget priorities reveal heart priorities

A Pilgrim's Progress: Church Budgets and the Great Commission

True with people but also true with churches. Where does your budget focus? Is it on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every tribe, nation, people, tongue? Is it on maintaining and operating the local church each Sunday. If your answer is the latter, does that disturb you? Check out Eric's post, good stuff.

Mission? Edification? Both?

There is an interesting conversation going on between Eric Carpenter, Alan Knox and Dave Black. First Eric posted No Guarantee which is a call for mutual edification in the church. Dave Black responded with a call to prioritize mission. Then Alan posted a "both and" post arguing for both mission and edifiction, Which is important for the church: edification or mission? ...
So, is edification important for the church or is mission important for the church? The answer is, obviously, YES! Both edification and mission are important – and vital and necessary – for the church.
Very true. Dave responded with yet another (very lengthy and excellent) post today. I liked this part...

It is the Great Commission that ought to drive everything we do as followers of Jesus. Some people think they can be good Christians by attending the fellowship, singing songs, praying prayers, teaching one another, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must return to Jesus' revolutionary, cross-based ministry. How different is this kind of self-sacrificing Christianity from the comfort-seeking, self-serving, ingrown religion so often practiced in our churches! This Jesus who humbled Himself as a servant and who died as a criminal -- this same Jesus is the One who was always pressing on to preach the Gospel in the next village. His heart's cry was for the dead and the dying, for the lost, the sick, the undone. He was willing to let everything go for the sake of lost souls. When I finally came to understand that this very same Jesus was desiring to live His missional life through me, I felt as if He had shoved a knife into my heart. But finally I knew the work he had for me. The true test of my commitment is not how much I give or even what I believe but how I live. God is not just asking us to give our money to missions but to make missions the core of our lives, the central passion in all we do.
That is powerful, not because it is passionately and eloquently written but because it comes from a lifetime of experience. the exchange is a great one, passionate without being angry because it is a conversation between brothers and friends who have the same Savior and are called to the same mission. It is perhaps a needed corrective. I know I can get so concerned with "doing church" the right way that I forget what Christ has called His people to do as the church in the first place.

So which is it? I think both. Mission is the purpose of the church, we are sent to make disciples. We also are called within the context of the church to gather with one another for the purpose of edification and equipping for the work of ministry. Being willing to go does not always mean being called to go to Ethiopia or Haiti or Russia. We can be called to go to a prison, to go downtown or to go across the street. Whatever and wherever, the call is to go to those who need Christ and being willing to go wherever He calls. I don't condemn those who don't travel to the far away lands but I do question those who don't go anywhere but "to church". That is what our religious culture tells us, go to church and maybe invite people to come with you, and you are being faithful. Christ calls us to a higher standard and a more glorious mission than attending, contributing and observing. It is call to gather together to equip us to go to the world. That is what it is all about and that is what Eric, Dave and Alan are striving to do.

Communion with the Most High in a box?

How can you "break bread" when it is already pre-formed into tiny, uniform little pieces?

The calamity of the institutionalization of sin

“My Eyes Shed Streams of Tears”—br /Thoughts on the New Calamity

Powerful words from John Piper this morning. Here is part of what he wrote:

My sense is that we do not realize what a calamity is happening around us. The new thing—new for America, and new for history—is not homosexuality. That brokenness has been here since we were all broken in the fall of man. (And there is a great distinction between the orientation and the act—just like there is a great difference between my orientation to pride and the act of boasting.)

What’s new is not even the celebration of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and reveled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.
What is even more important than those sobering and vital words is what he wrote next:

My main reason for writing is not to mount a political counter-assault. I don’t think that is the calling of the church as such. My reason for writing is to help the church feel the sorrow of these days. And the magnitude of the assault on God and his image in man.
Those are wise words. Our reaction as the church is not to rally to “recover America” by political force. It is to be broken hearted over the consequences of sin and the calamity sin has had and continues to have on men. It is to feel the urgency of the mission of God’s people to declare both the wrath that is to come and the forgiveness uniquely found in Christ. Where it comes to those who claim to be part of God’s people and yet embrace sin and indeed celebrate sin, the stance must be different (1 Cor 5: 9-13). There must be no compromise, no hint of looking the other way on that, but our reaction to the sin of the world must be of sorrow and tears that leads to boldness and humility in declaring the Gospel of Christ.

I heart books

Especially "free" books. I got my latest debit card reward in the form of an Amazon gift card and used it to buy three books:

The Upside-Down Kingdom

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table (RE: Lit) 

The Normal Christian Life The Normal Christian Life

Free books are fun! Thanks to the lobbyists for Wal-Mart defeating the lobbyists for banks, the government is mandating lower interchange rates on card transactions and thus my debit card no longer will earn rewards. Bummer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is conservatism incompatible with Christianity? - Biblical reflections on faith, life, and culture: Conservatism's Reliance on Ayn Rand

That is the claim made by my friend Josh Gelatt. Josh and I both read a CNN piece today about conservative/libertarian icon Ayn Rand and the favor shown her by a great many Christians. Josh sez:
What is shocking, however, is how very few Christians seem to see the inherent conflict of political conservativism with biblical Christianity. Not that I am advocating socialism or communism, but are so we blind to the teachings of Jesus that we cannot discern that profit-motivated capitalism is self-serving and therefore evil? Rand at least has the intellectual honesty to admit that Christianity and Capitalism are inherently incompatible.
What do you think of that? I was going to write a post on this at some point but I am curious to see what your responses are. Read Josh's whole post (he rightly points out that political liberalism is no more compatible with Christianity than conservatism) and comment here or there (or both!).

Strength through weakness

From Christianity Today, Poll: Evangelicals See Declining Influence in U.S.

Are U.S. evangelicals losing their influence on America? A new poll released Wednesday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seems to say just that, with the vast majority -- 82 percent -- of U.S. evangelical leaders saying their influence on the country is declining.

At the same time, their counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are far more optimistic.
I think that is correct but that doesn’t get to the main point. Is the loss of evangelical influence in America a bad thing? Should we lament and wring our hands at losing the culture wars and being shut out of the halls of power? Is this the end of evangelicalism in America?

I am not sure that it is.

The church, or at least the culturally understood expression of the church as we know it, has been very influential and powerful in America for centuries. The church is held to a separate standard in America versus any other organization. Clerical employees of churches get special tax treatment on their compensation. The state recognizes the right of churches to conduct wedding ceremonies. Clergy get special privileges at hospitals and prison. We even have a special clerical class in the armed forces in the form of military chaplains. Throughout American history, the culturally accepted visible expression of Christianity has had an outsized influence on the secular culture.

Today? That influence is clearly waning. The New York decision to solemnize homosexual relationships by declaring them to be eligible for the same treatment as heterosexual marriages is a sign of the future. The religious right might be able to stem the tide for a while but the end result is already determined. For many Christians this is reason to push the panic button because everyone knows that America used to be a Christian nation and these godless commies are trying to subvert that. For example this statistic from the same article…

The perception of declining influence comes as the nation has become both more pluralistic and more secular. The vast majority of U.S. leaders surveyed -- 92 percent -- called secularism a major threat to evangelical Christianity.
Cultural religion masked as Christianity may produce outwardly more pious people but it is every bit as dangerous as secularism to the Gospel witness, perhaps more. In a truly secular society people are under no illusion that they are Christians based on praying a prayer or walking an aisle or being baptized as an infant or having their name on a membership roll. A non-religious person knows they are not “religious” or “spiritual” or whatever. A “revival” preacher who declares sinners saved based on their response to an emotional sermon with no evidence of a changed life are far more dangerous to the church than Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. The church in American has been struggling against the wrong foes for a long time and likewise has been striving for the wrong kingdom.

Are we called to preach Christ and Him crucified or are we called to also try to enforce particularly Christian values on unregenerate people by means of coercion and legislation? Do we see any hint in the New Testament that the disciples were trying to reform the culture they lived in? The Gospel is a message that changes hearts which changes behavior. You cannot change behavior and assume that the heart will follow. For example, while I certainly would love to see abortion legally outlawed in America and that desire impacts my vote above any other consideration, I am not as sure that seeing that happen is a mission of the church. Caring for women who choose to carry to term, ministering to those wounded by abortion, witnessing to the truth of the value of unborn children as human beings deserving of protection? Absolutely. But seeking political power and influence to try to pass laws to make people stop having abortions? I am leery of that.

Christianity simply cannot be proclaimed properly when ensconced in the seat of power. A message of weakness and helplessness is incompatible with a position of influence. Seeking worldly power, even for the best of motivations, is invariably going to pervert and corrupt the church rather than improve and “Christianize” the world. The Bible tells us that when we are weak is when we are truly strong. We seem to have lost that message of strength through weakness over the last 1700 years.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just wondering

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)

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)
So in the first century when wealth was far more concentrated than it is today, under a repressive regime that actively was persecuting the fledgling church, Christians took steps to ensure that no one in the Body had any unmet needs. In the midst of persecution like none of my likely readers can even begin to imagine, the church was caring for one another materially, one heart and one soul, and even as a matter of historical facts were materially aiding not just Christians but also non-believers. Love lived out in generosity was the defining characteristic of the church.

Fast forward two thousand years to America. Here in this country the church is culturally accepted, free to operate and worship, with millions of professing adherents.
Setting aside the quaint idea of the church being “of one heart and soul” which we know is not true in any sense, how is it that we find ourselves as comfortable, affluent and powerful as we are and yet there are so many Christians in need? I am not talking about “lazy” Christians who refuse to work and are looking for a hand out (2 Thess 3:7-10). I am talking about Christians who are working hard, trying to make ends meet and still falling short. I am talking about brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors and family, people who are losing their homes or have children who need food or clothing. These brothers and sisters often are shuffled off to be cared for by the state but that is not the job of the state. Caring for our brothers and sisters is our calling and it is non-negotiable and not something we can subcontract to some faceless, godless bureaucracy that we will likely complain about taking "our money " anyway.

How can we read the New Testament and then blithely overlook our brothers and sisters in need while hoarding money in church bank accounts, repaving parking lots or re-carpeting sanctuaries, upgrading our existing audio visual systems to an even better audio visual system to entertain the goats, or raising millions of dollars to remodel church buildings that sit mostly empty during the week? How can we open our Bibles and not be forced to turn away in tears, red-faced with shame at how willfully unfaithful we are?

The first great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and mind and the second great commandment is that we love another (Matthew 22: 37-40). People know we are Christian by the witness of our love for one another (John 13:35). In 1 John 2: 4-6 we are taught that we show that we love God by keeping His commandments. How can we seriously stand before God and say we are Christians while at the same time ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters? I love you but I can’t spare a nickel to help you out? I love you and I know you are in need but that money is set aside for a future operating expense or to add a new wing onto the building? Seriously? That is a lie and it is high time that the church in America faces up to the fact that for all of our high minded theology, our overt religious lifestyle, our pious bleating, we regularly lie to others and to ourselves and even to God by claiming the benefits of the name of Christ while refusing to love one another as He commands.

Our brothers and sisters in distress don’t need more sermons or better worship experiences or new painted lines in the parking lot. They need us to show sacrificial love to them. We aren’t doing that and by and large we haven’t for a long, long time. God is not impressed by our religion. He is not impressed by our political influence. He is not impressed by our manmade whitewashed temples that ostensibly honor Him but actually become idols to stoke the fires of our vanity. When the end comes, what will tell Him when we are faced with the reality of our disinterest in loving others other than on our terms? What will the “church” say to Christ when He separates the sheep from the goats and tells religious professors that He never knew them? Will they point to their churches? Will they show off the new sanctuary? Will they try to curry favor with how impressive their attendance numbers were or how much they had saved away in the bank? The words of Christ in Matthew 7: 21-23 and Matthew 25: 31-46 should shake the foundations of our religious establishment but that same establishment assumes that those on His left will be Muslims and atheists. Those people. When I read it, His words seem to be saying that those on His left will include many of the religious folks throughout the ages who were too busy heading somewhere to be religious to worry about a brother or sister in need. The wrath to come will fall just as heavily on the theologian and clergyman who doesn’t love others as it will on the Muslim, Buddhist or agnostic.

We need prophetic voices to call the church to account, to call us to repent in sackcloth and ashes and fasting for our unfaithfulness in this matter. What we get instead is exactly what we want, masters of self-promotion who care little for the downtrodden and the least of these except when it suits them and fits into their schedule.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:16-24)

Where the unity rubber meets the road

The chain blog that Alan started on unity has had lots of great conversations. If you haven’t read through it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so (see links at the bottom of the post). The most recent post, No, We can’t just get along, gets to a key issue in any conversations about unity. What are the legitimate reasons for separation because there clearly are some Scriptural reasons where we can and indeed must separate? Alan lists a few out:

1. Unrepentant Sin (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-5)
2. Disorderliness (2 Thess 3:6)
3. Refusal to Work (2 Thess 3:7-10)
4. False Teaching (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11)
5. Divisiveness (Rom 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11)

Of those, number four is the tough one. I commented on his post with this:
#4 is the real crux of it, isn’t it? What is a “false teaching”? There was a time when I would have inclulded “Arminianism”, dispensationalism and infant baptism in that category. I still diasgree with all three of those but do they rise to the level of false teaching? I certainly wouldn’t let someone baptize my unregenerate child for the sake of unity but I wouldn’t see them baptizing their infant children as reason to break fellowship, even if I think they were wrong to do so. I spent the last couple of years in Michigan in a group that held more or less to a dispensational hermeneutic, which I likewise disagree with but we still had wonderful fellowship with them.

So what then? Certainly any teaching that denies the Gospel by either subtracting from it or adding to it rises to the level of false teaching. What about presuming to speak for God where He has not spoken (false prophecy?) This is a tough one.
What do you think? What are the legitimate reasons to separate from other Christians? Jump over to No, We can’t just get along and weigh in on the conversation…

Chain blog rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.


Here are the other posts...

“Links” in this chain blog:

1. “Chain Blog: Dealing with Divisive Issues Introduction” by Alan

2. “Chain Blog: Dealing with divisive issues starts with love” by Arthur

3. “I am divisive” by Jeremy

4. “Chain Blog: Please agree with me” by Jon

5. “Division and our shared humanity” by Andy

6. “Chain Blog: solving the problem” by Bobby

7. “Divisiveness: Acts 2 & Ugly Carpet” by fallenpastor

8. “Stimulating our Collective Memory” by Trista

9. “No, we can’t just get along” by Alan

10. Who will write the next “link” post in the chain?

Monday, June 27, 2011

What did the early church fight about during business meetings?

Jon's Journey: Early Church Financial Statement Discovered

Check out the above link, this is an important archaeological discovery!

Some good news from Haiti

Haiti Has Hope...espwa pou Ayiti

It has been a pretty grim, serious day on the blog so I am happy to link to some encouraging news that Les and company bring back from Haiti. Praise God that He empowers His servants to do His will!

Abortion as gendercide

Watch this video speaking further about the trend to abort female babies because parents don't want little girls.

Murdering little girls in favor of little boys. The terrible irony of abortion as the signature position of feminism.

Speaking of money and the local church

It seems to be a theme today. Alan posted a quick look at examples of the New Testament church pooling its resources: Pooling Resources for General Church Purposes? . There is precedence for doing so but not to pay mortgages on church buildings or salaries for staff members. Here is what Alan wrote after looking at two examples of the church pooling resources:
In each of these cases, believers were pooling their money together. But, they were doing so for a particular reason: to help those in need.

They did not store the money and decide later how to spend it. And, more importantly, they did not spend it on themselves – even for “ministry” purposes. The money was give to people who were in need.

This is quite different than the way that money is used in the church today.
Quite different indeed and not for the better.

Asking the wrong questions and completely missing the point

Saw a link today to the blog of the Gospel Coalition and if you know me, you know I was going to check it out: You Asked: Should a Church Invest?

The impetus was a question the Gospel Coalition received regarding money in the local church. Here is the question:
In this first installment, a reader in Texas writes:

- I would like something that gives biblical direction as to how much money a church should keep and how it should be invested. I am on the finance committee of my church. They saved up a considerable sum of money and recently invested in long term debt instruments and stocks in hopes of gaining a greater return. I think this money was given for ministry, and my mother suggested, “If they have that much money and can play the stock market, then I will give my tithe to someone else with a greater need.” Any good ideas on how we should proceed? Thanks for your help.
Oh my.

Here is my answer to this write from Texas. Listen to your mother!

The bigger problem is that this misunderstands money in general. Giving in the New Testament was not to fund the operations of a local church organization or to save up for a "rainy day" so the local church wouldn't fail to meet its fixed organizational expenses. Christians joyfully sold what they owned and gave to those in need (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4: 34-35). They took up collections for the material needs of the saints in Jerusalem. They helped itinerant workers who were ministering in far away lands. If you were to ask Paul "Hey, we have a half a million just sitting around, should we invest that money to get a bigger return?" he would likely smack you upside the head and tell you to use that money to minister to people, not fund endowments. If a church has obligations that cause them to save up money for a rainy day, they need to find a way to get rid of those obligations to free money up for ministering to people, not perpetuating institutions.

It is heartbreaking to think about investing endowments and having savings accounts at churches in light of orphans and widows around the world who need food and shelter, to think of those lost without the Gospel around the world while we cut back on missions, to think of our neighbors out of work and losing their home. There are very real needs TODAY. This is no time for churches to be hoarding money to spend on themselves in the future.

Separating the Gospel from the necessary results of the Gospel?

Can we properly understand the Gospel apart from the necessary results of the Gospel? Check out this quote from War, Peace and Nonresistance by Guy Hershberger....
What is the Gospel? It is the story of the redemptive work of Christ which makes men to be the sons of God with a mind like that of Christ, constraining them to be humble, loving, blameless, harmless, peaceful, and nonresistant. All of this, and not part of it, is the Gospel. The preacher who omits the doctrine of love and non-resistance from his sermons is not preaching the Gospel as it is given in the New Testament. Nonresistance is not something added to the Gospel. It is an integral part of the Gospel, and when it is omitted that which remains is something far less than the Gospel. (Hershberger, War, Peace and Nonresistance, pg. 60)
That sort of writing makes us nervous. In our hyper-sensitivity to anything that smacks of works-based righteousness (an understandable sensitivity), have we pushed the results of the Gospel in terms of a transformed life to the side? Is what he is describing "adding" to the Gospel? To flip it around, if you take away the transformed life have you taken away from the Gospel? A "Gospel" that doesn't lead to transformed lives is not a Gospel that saves, which raises the question. Where does the Gospel proper (justification by faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone) end and the resulting transformed life begin? Can we even make that distinction?

What do you think?

Loving our enemies

Good thoughts from John Piper this morning on loving our enemies: It’s Now or Never: Love Your Enemies . Here is a snippet:

Today is the day God has appointed to love our enemies. Either we will do it in this life, or we will never do it. But Jesus commands it to be done. It is a revelation of his glory in this world. Loving our enemies is one of the good deeds people see and give glory to God (Matthew 5:16). It is an echo of his cross (Ephesians 4:32). This is the only world where this demonstration of God’s glory can happen.
Loving our enemies is not optional.

Sticking to the simple stuff

The message of the Bible is described in many ways but one of my favorites is that it is simple enough for a child to understand and yet so gloriously deep as to keep a man occupied in study for a lifetime. I think we can ponder and likewise live out the simple truths of a lifetime and never grow bored or weary. For some reason, somehow, the simple truth of the Gospel is not enough for us. We want something more complex, something sexier, something...more.

Just repeating and living out the truths of the Gospel is not very impressive by worldly standards. Standing firm in the faith, loving the Lord our God and loving one another as ourselves, preaching Christ and Him crucified to a world that is lost, showing mercy to the least of these as Christ has shown mercy to us. That all seems so pedestrian. Who is going to buy a book that deals with that sort of stuff?

I got to thinking about this based on a comment on the prior post. It doesn't seem like people get into "trouble" when they stick with the basics of the Gospel. When people get bored with that and run off into new and more exciting theological adventures, watch out! So much error has crept in when men decide that the Gospel is kind of uninteresting and makes for poor intellectual conversations and start wandering off into vain and hypothetical musings. When men get to arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and the simple truth of the Gospel is subordinate to the theological speculations, error and division is right around the corner. The doctrine of election is a precious and important truth but really a broken-hearted sinner who is crying out for Jesus really doesn't care if you are supralapsarian or infralapsarian, or even whether you are a Calvinist or Arminian. What they want to know is "what must I do to be saved?" If you are more interested in pondering deep theological truths instead of answering that question from sinners, your heart is likely far from God.

Simply proclaiming and living out the "basics" of the Gospel is not very interesting to the wise of the world, nor is it very entertaining to a world always looking for something new to occupy itself. That sort of simple, "foolish" teaching is not going to sell a lot of books nor is it going to pack conference halls. It is a great way to avoid both dangerous speculation and divisiveness. If we would all major in the main things instead of majoring in the minors, I think we would be amazed at how much more sound our theology would be. A simple church without speculation and without all of the division. Isn't that something we all should long for?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The best defense against heresy

A Pilgrim's Progress: The Safeguard of Multiple Voices

Eric Carpenter wrote a great post today. The traditional understanding is that the way you avoid heresy and false teaching is to have one guy appointed as the doctrinal watchdog. As long as he approves of a teaching, it must be OK and conversely if he declares something heretical, it also must be. We have created a de facto Protestant imprimatur. There is a real problem with this idea, an idea sadly demonstrated over and over throughout history: men are prone to wander into false teachings and pastors/elders are not any less likely (and in some ways perhaps more so) to succumb to this. When one guy is the gateway to what is or is not doctrinally sound, that local church is only as sound as the present stance of the pastor. That is why, as Eric wrote, the best safeguard in the church is a church with multiple voices. That is not to discount the value of mature men who help provide a sober, sound voice. As I have discovered there is a place for that sort of maturity in simple churches. It is to say that if the majority of the church is mute and passively observing, they are far less likely to speak up when something questionable is said.

A body of mute Christians taking all of their cues from one man is a body ripe for false teaching.

A strange tribe

Eric Carpenter linked, on facebook, to an article on CNN: My Faith: Why I don’t sing the 'Star Spangled Banner' written by a Mennonite pastor regarding the Goshen College kerfuffle. The pastor in question, Mark Schloneger, writes passionately and eloquently in defense of the historical Anabaptist view:

To Mennonites, a living faith in Jesus means faithfully living the way of Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies and he loved his enemies all the way to the cross and beyond. Following Jesus and the martyrs before us, we testify with our lives that freedom is not a right that is granted or defended with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air. True freedom is given by God, and it is indeed not free. It comes with a cost, and it looks like a cross.

It’s a strange tribe to which I belong, and sometimes it’s hard to be strange. We struggle to be inclusive in our welcome yet passionate in our identity. Our desire for acceptance, for approval, is strong, and we don’t always live up to the convictions that we set before us.

We must repent of that, for the world cannot know of its brokenness and hopelessness without a people who show a holistic way of life. The world cannot know that there is an alternative to violence and war without a people of peace making peace. The world cannot know that the weak and the vulnerable are cared for by God without a people practicing an economy centered on sharing and mutual aid.

The world cannot know the unsurpassable worth of human life without a people who consistently work to protect it - in the fetus, in the convict, in the immigrant, in the soldier, and in the enemy.

These convictions do not reflect ingratitude or hatred for our country. Rather, they reflect a deep love for the church and a passionate desire for the church to be the church.
The Bill of Rights found in the Constitution of the United States starts off with the protection of the right to free expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. That freedom of religion includes the right to not participate in particular forms of religion, even the religion of America where the liturgy is cloaked in patriotism but is a religious faith nevertheless.There is absolutely nothing inconsistent with a Christian living in America who chooses not to participate in the national religion of America. In fact, I find myself far more in sympathy with the historical Anabaptist position than I do the cultural faith of the American church that seamlessly blends patriotism and Christianity, militarism and grace, a flag and a cross.

I am growing increasingly interested in seeing the church outside of the lens of American-style Christianity and as I do I fear that we are exporting to the world the American religion, not the Way. In seeking to replicate the rapidly collapsing American church culture to the world we are in a way dooming them to repeat the failure of American Christianity and invariably its decline and collapse. More on that later after my headache hopefully fades.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A single with cheese plus fellowship with a brother equals a great lunch!

I had a great lunch with my friend Kevin today, he came downtown to spend some time in fellowship over lunch. Although he had the strange meal combo of a bowl of chili and a Frosty, the conversation was an incredible encouragement to me. There is simply not enough of that in the church, men who have other Christian men as friends to talk with, be encouraged by and exhorted as needed. We spent a lot of time talking about the church, making disciples, unity in the Body, seeing the unchurched being reached with the Gospel rather than shuffling current churchgoers from one group to another. I am pretty humbled by the fruit Kevin is seeing for his efforts. We covered a pretty wide ranging set of topics but a great time!

Speaking with Kevin who is a far more mature brother in the faith reminds me of the importance of godly, mature men in the church to lead through their example of service and their accumulated wisdom. I have been tinkering around with a post on that idea for a few days, not sure when (if ever) I will post it but I think this is one of the most important issues of the day, i.e. servant leaders in the church, drawn from the local body and working alongside the rest of the church rather than ruling over it. Where are the older men mentoring the younger men? Where are the servant leaders with dirt on their hands laboring on behalf of the Lord of the Harvest? We need these men desperately and we need to pray that God will raise them up. We don’t need more armchair theologians to write more books, we need more regular men to do the work of ministry. That work may not get you invited to speak at conferences or asked to write a book endorsement but it is work that has eternal significance. Isn't that what really counts?


I read something last evening that really struck me, One Billion Starving: Help! Here are the numbers, numbers I am sure we are all familiar with:

According to the latest statistics from, more than one billion people are starving right now. Some other sobering stats:

- more than 25,000 people will die from hunger today
- nearly 1 in 6 of the world’s population is undernourished
- the amount spent in the U.S. on obesity-related diseases is nearly 50 times more than the global amount spent on food aid
- Americans will waste more than 100,000 tons of food today — more than enough to feed every single hungry person in the world and still have plenty left over

Now this is not an "America sucks, do more!" thing. It is intended as a reality check for us. Many if not most of us live lives of relative comfort compared to others. My kids eat three (or more) times a day and those meals have huge amounts of calories. Orphans in Haiti eat twice a day hopefully and their meals are mostly rice. We had a nice dinner last night and probably ingested more calories than several families in Africa consumed all day. On and on.

Well so what. What can we do about it? Actually a lot. Not in the sense of you personally curing hunger worldwide but in terms of what each person who names Christ as Savior can do. We are so caught up in the big, flashy stuff that we miss how the little stuff helps. If each Christian refocused themselves on what we have actually been called to do, the impact worldwide would be enormous. The men I meet with at the pregnancy resource center are hopefully learning to be better fathers for their children but also earning items to meet the material needs of their baby. A small donation to the Haiti Orphan Project helps to fund shelter and education for a multitude of Haitian orphans in a country with enormous needs and not even a semblance of a social safety net. Virtually every decent sized town will have a church group that sponsors a food pantry. Most urban areas of any size have multiple worthy organizations that are engaged in feeding and caring for the poor and all of them would welcome your time or a check for $25.

The point I guess is that all of us, me especially, need to be a lot more intentional when we view how we spend our money. The message and culture of American affluence clouds our perception of how the rest of the world lives, whether that means someone in Africa or someone who lives in the city nearby. As followers of Christ it is incumbent on us to break through the apathy we have that surrounds the plight of people in need.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And another one

The M Blog: Whatever happens is assigned

The other comes fro Guy and he writes about choosing to see God in even the most mundane things around us.

Lots of good links

A Pilgrim's Progress: We Need Each Other

The first one comes from Eric Carpenter and Eric simply points out that the church needs one other. Obvious? Sure but in practice not terribly common at all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

News from Haiti

June Haiti Trip (1)

Les and the team from the Haiti Orphan Project are back in the states. Check out the kids practicing their songs in Gonaives and read up on the latest from Haiti!

(Priced flights for me and a couple of kids in October, only $320 round trip!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Separate or distinct?

I was waiting for my kids to get done with VBS last night and while I waited I read a little bit in a book about separation. It was a Mennonite book from the 50’s so it was quite dated but it contained a lot of the usual stuff. It got me thinking about this issue again and I keep coming back to it because it is pretty unsettled in my mind so far.

The problem with separation is that it makes it awfully hard to fulfill our calling. We have been appointed as ambassadors of the King of Kings to make known His holy name by which men may be saved, making disciples of all the nations. An ambassador who never leaves the embassy and never welcomes visitors is going to be a pretty poor representative of his sovereign. So we cannot read the New Testament and see separation as being our calling.

While the above is all true, by and large I don’t see excessive separation as being a problem for most of the church outside of a few small subgroups (and those groups are often as separate from other Christians as they are from the world). Far from it. The church is so similar to the world in terms of values, appearance and behavior as to be virtually indistinguishable from the world. This is a direct result of the combination of state-church coziness stemming from the Reformation and the civic spirituality that dominates the culture of American churches.

In response to the general worldliness of the church, the answer is not extreme separation. That is the easy way out and it is seductive. Running away from sinners is easier and neater than proclaiming the truth in love to them. We can bunker up and keep the world away. That might serve if our first and only goal is to keep ourselves unstained from the world but given our calling of disciple making, it is not feasible.

Rather I see the proper response as being distinctiveness. The church should be distinct from the world and you can only see a distinction when compared to something else which requires us to be among those we are trying to reach. There is a real difference between being separate from the world, i.e. withdrawal from the world as opposed to being a distinct people, i.e. a people noticeably different from the world around us. It is a hard balance. We are called out of the world in order to go to the world but if we are indistinguishable from the world, why would the world be interested in hearing what we have to say? When the church tries to be like the world to win the world, the world is not impressed and the church ends up losing its saltiness. In the days of the Anabaptists, they suffered extreme persecution and were quite different and distinct from the world but they were also zealous for evangelism.

When the world sees us, we should be distinctive. In other words we should be distinct from the world around us. Not just because we “go to church” or by the manner of our dress. Our lives should be lives that distinguish us from the world. The world accepts going to church. The world accepts vague spirituality and uttering religious platitudes. What the world doesn’t understand and cannot accept are people who embrace being bondservants to a King. It doesn’t understand those who see others as more important than themselves. The world doesn’t understand those who eschew violence, power, dominance and upward mobility and replaces them with lives of sacrifice, joy amidst persecution, the setting aside of rights, a willingness to die to self, humbly turning the other cheek and renouncing our right to retribution. Lives of humble service lived simply are far more counter-cultural and radical than driving a Prius or drinking fair trade coffee and those lives will be distinctive lives that will serve to draw His sheep.

We will not be distinctive in the world by observing culturally acceptable religious rituals. Nor will we be faithful to our calling by hiding away from the world. We must be intentionally distinct from the world.

You can probably tell from these muddled thoughts that I am still a long way away from finding solid ground here. I would welcome some thoughts if you can make any sense at all from what I have written.