Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nothing gives you a sense of perspective like orphans!

I really enjoyed this post from a recent returnee from Haiti, full of lots of great pictures! Check out A New Perspective.

The times they are a'changing!

I can say without hesitation that this post from Wade Burleson is one of the best things I have read on the changes happening in the church and the difference between Old Covenant national Israel and the New Covenant church of Christ. The Church Is Changing - A Reformation of the Church Based on the Truth of Scripture. You absolutely need to read the whole thing because his explanations are outstanding regarding the Old and New Covenant but I am going to copy and paste the opening and closing paragraphs:

For many centuries established Christian churches have attempted to assume the status and function of ancient Israel's Temple worship. From massive buildings erected to inspire, to stained glass windows or elaborate decor intended to tell stories, from the priesthood of authoritative pastors/leaders who separate themselves from 'laity,' to injunctions to tithe into the storehouse of the church or risk being devoured by the devil, the modern church looks more like Old Testament Israel than early followers of Christ. The crystallization of the institutional church into Jewish modes of worship is not limited to Roman Catholicism or even unorthodox Mormonism. Baptist churches, though shouting loudly 'no creed but the Bible,' have ignored the New Testament teaching on the nature of the true church and have replicated Israel's hierarchy of priestly authority (pastors), Israel's emphasis on worship at a specific place (the sanctuary), and Israel's obligation to an 'if-then' covenant with God ('if we will obey God, then God will bless us'). The freedom of a sinner who personally, intimately and spiritually trusts Christ and experiences the power of God at work within is substituted for a form of behavioral control imposed by a spiritual authoritarian (usually a pastor) who uses Old Testament passages of Scripture to bind believers. The pastor who operates in this manner may not realize that God abolished the Old Covenant system of worship and that the early Christians were known for their radical departure from dependence on a worship place, authoritarian priests, and any religious performance through ceremony, holy days or sacrifical 'offerings.' As Adolph Safir reminds us in his brilliant work on Hebrews: “The Greeks and the Romans were not merely astonished at, but felt irritated by the worship of the early Christians, who without image and altar, without priests and vestments, appeared to them as atheists, men and women ‘without gods’ and at times felt threated by the mysterious power Christians possessed as they rejoiced in suffering and met with calm courage the tortures of death itself” Adolph Saphir.
The church is changing. There is a reformation taking place. The church has left the building(s). And any pastor who tries to reinvigorate the institutional church through Old Covenant principles is destined to fail.
That is just great stuff. He even makes comments sure to horrify many of his fellow pastors when he says that giving should be directed as led by the Spirit, not by misapplication of the Old Covenant "bring your tithe to the storehouse church" laws: God's people should give, should serve and should worship as the Spirit leads, where the Spirit leads, and as long as the Spirit leads. Gasp! That is borderline blasphemy! Everyone knows you should give your first and your best in the offering plate on Sunday, not where you are led to give by the Spirit of God!

This is just good stuff and it comes from a guy who is a traditional pastor in a traditional church, Emmanuel Enid in Oklahoma, but at least on this issue he seems to get it and embrace it. Read and be encouraged!

(A hearty tip of the hat to Aussie John for linking to this!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not consuming for the sake of consumption

If you are sick of the constant accumulation of goods just for the sake of accumulating the latest and greatest thing that will be obsolete next month, check out the Christmas shop at the Haiti Orphan Project! You can select from a few different items, Christmas cards and a sweet ornament (see picture to right) that will be a fun and unique Christmas gift and will at the same time help orphans in Haiti. I just ordered my Christmas ornament and it will be featured prominently on our tree! Consider a gift that gives back to those who are neediest in this season when we remember the birth of Christ!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Trumps How

Swanny has penned a very good post on how we gather and why it is less important than why we gather, (warning, some of the ways he expresses himself won't pass muster among certain people in the church but if you can't get past that to see his point, well you need to get a grip). His post, Im Not a Model… You Know What I Mean?, really hits at a weakness in many of the conversations about the church that circulate around the blogosphere among those of us who reject the institutional church as proper and normative for Christians. The assumption is often that if we reject one form of church model, the institutional model, we must therefore advocate for a different form, the house church model. Swanny says "not so fast!"
People rightly assume that I believe the institutional church system is downright destructive, causes separation among the people, promotes individualism, has a disease called “Jesus-Deficit-Disorder”, and breeds legalism. If you read my other posts among this blog, you will see where I am coming from. However, many of you I speak with or chat with online seem to assume that if I am against the institutional church model, then I must be for the “organic church model” or the “house church model” or some other “model”.
If I am honest, I need to say that when I first started down this path, I assumed that a “house church” was, if not a silver bullet, at least a step in the right direction. I am not looking for a house church model or organic church model even though I think that comparatively it is far more conducive for an environment of mutual edification. I am also not looking for a “Reformed” church even though I am largely in agreement with the tenets of Reformed theology nor am I looking for an “Anabaptist church” although I see much that I admire in the Anabaptist tradition. I am looking for God’s church, His people living in community with one another. That means that I am looking for community among God’s people where His people are in an environment of mutual edification, loving support, rebuke and discipline where needed and a sharing of lives that goes beyond Sunday meetings whatever the form. It also means that it will look different in different contexts.

You can’t force this. Having a church that meets in a home but functions like an institutional church is not going to bring us closer to community. Nor is forming “community” via cloistered communes that are largely cut off from the world we are called to be ambassadors to like the Hutterites the answer. Perhaps worst of all, if we arrogantly assume that we are smarter than those dumb sheep that go to institutional churches we are engaged in outright sinful and divisive behavior, we are actually being counter-productive. My posts often stray over that line and I am trying to avoid that.

If we are living our lives together for the right reasons, getting the “why” right, and submitting ourselves to the Scriptures even when it is uncomfortable and runs contrary to our traditions and the culture we live in, the form will naturally take care of itself. That doesn’t mean we don’t study it and discuss us and think and pray through it but we need to be sure that we have the focus on the main thing: living lives in community with other believers as a witness to the lost and edifying environment for the redeemed while we are all equipped and sent to take Jesus Christ to the world.

This should concern all followers of Christ in America

I am not talking about a store telling it's employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas or a public place taking down a Nativity scene. I am talking about a secret meeting being held in Iowa to find an alternate candidate to Mitt Romney. CNN reported this a few days ago, First on CNN: Key social conservatives secretly meet to stop Romney in Iowa, and while I am not averse to finding a different candidate than Mitt "The Human Weather Vane" Romney, I was concerned by some of those in attendance...
The meeting, the group's first, took place in a private office building in Des Moines on Monday. In attendance were representatives from the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, The Family Leader, the group Iowa Right to Life, and a representative for the Iowa chapter of Concerned Women for America. Some pastors from prominent Iowa churches also attended the meeting.
So in Iowa, prominent clergy are secretly meeting to plot political strategy with various political operatives and organizations. These are presumably men who make their living from the offerings of the church and are hired as professional ministers by the churches that employ them. Is this what they should spend their time doing? Is this what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:14, the Gospel of Republican politics? More pointedly:

There is no one in Iowa that needs to hear the Gospel?

There is no one in Iowa who is going hungry or is in need of clothing?

There are no widows or orphans to be visited in Iowa?

I can think of nothing less pertinent to the Gospel ministry than secret cabals dedicated to finding an alternate candidate to Mitt Romney. One of the names bandied about as a possible replacement to Romney is Newt Gingrich, a smart guy for sure (and if you are unsure he will tell you all about how smart he is) but also a man who is a serial adulterer, twice divorced and an allegend convert to Catholicism. Meanwhile someone like Ron Paul is crossed of the list for his failure to be sufficiently militaristic for "conservative Christians" who apparently think Jesus said "Blessed are the bomb-makers (as long as they live in America)" during the Sermon on the Mount. Since when is a perpetual state of warfare a "family value".

It is scary how many Christians are willing to be so reliant on the machinations of men, whether secret cabals of "social conservatives" in Iowa or Jim Wallace types advocating for income redistribution. So much for seeing first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Next up!

Rick Ianniello posted this today in his post, sunday tv, and I would agree completely...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back to real life

I read a wonderful essay from a sister named Rachelle who just recently returned from Haiti and in many ways her post, Wrestling With Life, could easily describe my experience as well. The whole thing is worth your time to read but this paragraph was especially powerful...

I do not want my experience in Haiti to become a series of Polaroids taped into my scrap book. I want to own my part in caring for the widows and orphans James speaks of. My hope is the church will take the words of James to heart. I believe we are the ones who will make a difference by building consistent relationships over time.
That is so important. Works of mercy cannot be isolated, one time actions that we can look back on with nostalgia but rather must be part of the fabric of our lives as individual followers of Christ and as the family of God. If we become "vacationaries" we are losing the sacrificial power of lives of service in the name of our King. It can be all too easy to return from some far away land full of zeal but then as the realities of life creep in begin to forget what we were so convicted about in the first place. Even worse we can let the business of "doing church" distract us from the business of being the church. That is a trite saying because it is overused but it is also true. Playing at church and being the church are not the same thing.

May God continue to place an insatiable burden for the work of mission and mercy in the hearts of His people such that the cares of this world can never begin to satisfy us.

Those darn Midwesterners and their Midwestern sentiments!

Apparently a professor at Michigan State, which last time I checked was in Michigan which is solidly in the Midwest, is far too sophisticated for the people who actually live in the Midwest and send their kids to a university in the Midwest. The Detroit News reports that one Danny Guthrie, an associate professor of some sort, is in a bit of hot water because he likes to take pictures of himself and some students. Without clothes. Hey, it's art!
Some regard Michigan State University associate professor Danny Guthrie as an artist doing what others have done for centuries: creating beautiful images that include nudity.

But others think Guthrie is pushing the bounds of creativity too far by making art photographs with himself and students, especially young women exposing their breasts and most of their body.

On the MSU faculty for 13 years, Guthrie and his images are well-known among students and MSU officials, who have determined there's a protocol in place so students do not feel pressured to participate. But Guthrie's work recently caught the attention of the student newspaper and parents, leading to a debate about the line between art and ethics.
What is the problem?! Surely some 65 year old guy posing nekkid with co-ed students in their late teens or early twenties is not creepy at all! Never fear though, another one of the academic elites at Michigan State will explain it all to us provincial types...
But those who are raising questions don't understand what a serious artist Guthrie is and are expressing puritanical, Midwestern sentiments, said Henry Brimmer, an assistant professor in MSU's Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing.

"His work is gorgeous, it is beautiful, it is well done, it has significance," said Brimmer. "I am not trying to be a snob. But if you come from any of the coasts or if you have an education in art … you wouldn't even think twice about it."
Quick rule of thumb. When someone starts a sentence with "I am not trying to be a snob", there is a 100% chance that the next sentence is going to be something horribly snobbish. I love that he is aghast at people in the Midwest expressing "Midwestern sentiments". What sort of sentiments are we supposed to express? Apparently an old guy taking pictures of himself naked with college aged girls is perfectly normal "on any of the coasts". If that is true, and it is not, that is all the more reason to live in the Midwest!

Ah, our academic elites. This is the sort of quality education the Occupy Wall Street kids borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for and now don't think they need to pay back. Actually, when you look at it that way they should be protesting at the universities that suckered them into paying for this drivel, not the banks that loaned them the money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holding His Table Hostage

I got a phone call I was expecting last Saturday morning. The group we have been meeting with for the last six months or so had announced that they would be having communion on Sunday, November 20th. We are not “members” which hasn’t been an issue so far but I suspected that it would become an issue when communion was observed. Saturday morning the call came in from the most senior of the elders to let me know that while we were welcome to come on Sunday, we were not permitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper because we were not “members” and hadn’t been attending long enough to be granted a waiver. I was very disappointed but not surprised to get this call. This practice is not at all uncommon. There are many churches that flat out refuse communion to non-members or set forth restrictions on those who are being graciously allowed to participate. This practice is supported mainly by tradition and by the artificial barrier of formal church communication but it is terribly problematic to defend this position from Scripture.

Scripturally there are only a couple of reasons why someone would not be welcome to the Lord’s Table. One is if they are not a believer. As far as I can tell, and I am open to correction here, the Lord’s Supper was exclusively something observed by the gathered church. It was not something that unbelievers participated in or at least that is not obvious from the text. Again, I might be wrong on that. The other reason to deny someone the fellowship of the supper is a person in gross and unrepentant sin that had not been properly disciplined and restored to fellowship. This comes from the well known passage in 1 Corinthians 5. The context is a man who “has his father's wife” which indicates a man having sexual relations with his step-mother (see Leviticus 18:8) which is pretty gross but Paul expands on this specific situation in Corinth to make a more global point (emphasis added):
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
Paul states pretty unequivocally here that those who are Christians that are guilty of a variety of sinful behaviors should be banned from sharing meals, which I believe is how the early church understood and observed the Lord’s Supper. This denial of the breaking of bread seems to be the most severe form of church discipline.

So what does that say about the “non-member” in a local gathering? From what I can see, you either welcome someone to the breaking of bread or you refuse them because a) the aren’t a believer or b) they are engaged in open and unrepentant sin and are treated as an unbeliever. Since formal church membership in any form is absent from the Scripture, how exactly does that suffice as a reason to deny someone the Supper? Or disagreement on secondary doctrines? If I hold to the Biblical practice of baptism, i.e. baptizing only professing believers, should I withhold the fellowship of the Table from those “baptized” as infants? In my understanding of Scripture they are tacitly refusing to submit to baptism upon profession of faith. There was a time when I would have refused the Lord’s Supper, at least the ritualized form it takes in the traditional church, from someone “baptized” as an infant with a clear conscience but now? Unless I believe that they are not a believer or that they are openly sinning I don’t see where that warrant comes from. The idea that I would enforce a completely artificial standard (being a "member" of that particular local church) as the entry point for breaking bread is divisive and to be blunt sinful.

The Lord’s Supper is the great unifying symbol of the shared faith of every Christian and yet it is most often something that is either ritualized to the point of losing its familial meaning or it is held hostage to manmade traditions like “church membership”. This should not be so. We are one people, part of the same one Body that is the Bride of Christ and we should welcome to the table all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Lord’s Table is not your meal. You aren’t the one who sent the invite and you aren’t the host so you and I don’t get to tell someone that they are not welcome because we have created an artificial barrier or a higher standard than the one that Jesus set forth and Paul affirmed. We should as His people be constantly striving to find ways to be in fellowship over the Table with other Christians more often, not seeking to exclude one another from this critically important act.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Product Review: Kindle Fire

Thus far the Kindle Fire has been great. I don’t have much of a comparison to work from, having never used the old standard Kindle or the new iPad, but based on what I am able to do I like it a lot and it is a great value at $199 (no doubt that price will plummet over the next year or two as the next great thing comes out). The downloads are super fast with a wifi connection and the interface is generally great to use. Web browsing on the proprietary Silk browser is faster than I expected. Watching videos and navigating from page to page is quite fast and the bigger screen makes it a joy to browse the web compared to a smart phone.

If you have an Android smart phone and like the apps on it, you will love the Kindle Fire! I downloaded Angry Birds as soon as I opened the box and it is way more fun on the Fire than on a phone. Web pages are also of course much more user friendly because they are much larger and cleaner. So far the touch screen is generally very responsive. The ease of navigation in the store is very nice. The device itself is far more portable than a laptop and more user friendly than a smart phone. My wife was walking around the house last night watching a show on Netflix with her headphones on and the Kindle in one hand. I love the ability to bookmark and highlight a book I am reading and them navigate back to those spots with ease. I think the most basic book feature of the Kindle looks better on the older versions but when you combine the ability to check scores on ESPN, post on Facebook and read a book from one device it can’t be beat!

Some of the downsides. The main page has a “carousel” of icons for the most recent books, apps, etc. that you have used. You “spin” the carousel to browse through the options but it is kind of hard to make it stop where you want and it regularly keeps flipping when you try to tap an icon to open a book or app. Some of it is not terribly intuitive. For example, when you are in a book there is nothing obvious to tap to navigate but I figured out pretty quickly that a “double tap” brings up the menu including the all important home button. I have also been pretty bummed by the accessories that Amazon is offering. I bought a cover made by Belkin for $29.99 but it was absolutely garbage and I already returned it. I get the need for margin boosters but the quality of this product was so bad that Amazon should be embarrassed to be offering it alongside their new flagship product. These are all pretty minor concerns and don't detract from this breakthrough product.

Amazon has hit a home-run with the Fire. The product is just about perfect for the price and is a legit challenger to the iPad because of Amazon’s unique product line-up that goes along with the Kindle and the favorable price point that makes it more accessible to a wider audience.

The passing of a great man

A good man passed away last week. Not just some guy, not just another of the “greatest generation” but a close friend of the family and the man I was named after. We shared more than a name though. Arthur Regenold Jr. was a fixture in my life growing up, frequently stopping by our home when I was a child. He was probably the only man I know who could get away with teasing my father unmercifully! He was generous and gracious, a man of very few words but each and every word he spoke was worth listening to attentively.

He was a quiet and gentle man but a “man’s man” in a way that is far too uncommon today. A man who answered the call of World War II and who was married to the same woman for over 60 years. A man who would go grouse hunting with my father and I but seemed far more interested in enjoying being in the woods than he was in shooting birds. Even as an older man (and Art always seemed old to me!) he had that sort of pace in the woods that made other men scramble to keep up with him, especially guys with short legs like my dad and I! Art owned a very sizeable property on Black Lake, Michigan that we visited as a family every summer over the fourth of July and whenever we went, there was Art. He was always doing something, working on a boat, putting in his dock, helping someone else with a project. The vacation spot that Art owned was probably worth a great deal of money but you would never know it from meeting Art, a guy who preferred flannel shirts, work pants and quilted vests. The only time he dressed up was when he put on his “marryin’ and buryin’ suit” and I can count the number of times I saw him dressed like that on one hand.

Art was hardly a politically correct guy. That is the understatement of the year! He liked scotch and growing up I always remember him smoking some nasty brown cigarettes. I am also confident that he never once turned down someone who needed his help. I have a hard time writing about him without tears welling up in my eyes. I am sure he never knew how important he was to me but he is someone I will always remember with the very fondest of memories. I still remember him telling me stories of World War II or calling my dad “The Big Kahuna” as an affectionate tease. For me Black Lake will always be integrally linked to Art Regenold and there is no place more special for me in the world.

You can read Art’s obituary here. My life is richer for having known Art Regenold growing up. How we could use more men with his spirit and wisdom in America today. Good-bye my friend.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Missions: Few subjects are more important or more filled with misconceptions

Dave Black posted a list of Top Ten Misconceptions About Missions and it is a great list. The mission of the church is the great responsibility and great privilege of every single Christian. It is a terrible truth that many of the so-called experts on missiology have transformed the universal calling of all Christians into a specialized subcategory of the church.

Getting things early, another reason to like Kindle!

I mentioned last week that I had pre-ordered Voddie Baucham's new book Family Shepherds but it wasn't being released until November 30th. This morning I realized it was already released in Kindle format so I cancelled my pre-order and bought it via Kindle. Seconds later it was on my reader and ready to go! Plus I saved a buck because unlike Tim Keller's Generous Justice, the Kindle edition is cheaper for Family Shepherds.

Kindle. When waiting for a new book simply is unacceptable.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Farm Stuff

Another member of my family is getting into the blogging world. My wife started up a blog to share what is going on with our little farm. Her blog is called My Wages Farm and is a play on the account of Jacob and his animal husbandy:
As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.” But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you. Name your wages, and I will give it.” Jacob said to him, “You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?” He said, “What shall I give you?” Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this for me, I will again pasture your flock and keep it: let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. (Genesis 30:25-32)
We have a number of Jacob sheep, so called because of their spotty wool. They are a fairly rare breed, not like the more common specialized meat or wool breeds and are unusual in that often have four horns rather than the normal two. That is the genesis (pun intended) of the name of the blog. Since my wife is usually far busier than I am with keeping the home and teaching the kids, her writing output will not keep up with mine but it will probably be far more interesting. Look for lots of pics and updates as we tinker around with a semi-agrarian life, hopefully without additional major injuries!

The Third Way of the Kingdom

Every political philosophy, everything either party does or proposes is either moving a society toward individualism or collectivism. A “progressive” tax code, income redistribution, larger government, a broader social safety net, are all hallmarks of collectivism. A reduced size and scope of government, a market based system of risk and reward, more emphasis on self-responsibility and “winners and losers” are some of the tenets of individualism. Every major political, economic and social issue in America and elsewhere is in some way a move toward or a reaction against these two apparent polar opposites.

For all of their seeming incompatibility, both philosophies share a common trait in that they are inherently “self” focused. You might think that collectivism is the antithesis of being “self” focused but history has demonstrated over and over that collectivism is merely a different way to either ensure security for self (primarily economic) or to obtain and retain power by exercising control over others. Whether a state is primarily individualistic (like the United States) or primarily collectivist (the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, etc.), someone is benefitting from the system and that someone is often benefitting at the expense of someone else.

So many conversations in the church are focused on a struggle between these two philosophies, between individualism which is often associated with political conservatism and therefore evangelical Christianity and conservative Roman Catholicism and collectivism, associated with political liberalism and what is often called “mainline Protestantism” and some liberal elements within Catholicism. Without even realizing it, Christians have become embroiled in this struggle between two political philosophies, serving as reliable foot soldiers in the struggle for dominance. One needs look no further than the current political climate. On one hand we have the more overt example of Republican candidates invoking a “call” from God to run for President, trying in essence to transform their candidacy beyond a mere political issue and into a holy calling. If God really is calling Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry or Hermann Cain to run for President, isn’t it incumbent upon Christians to support them? Which one is really called? On the other we have politicians on the left frequently speaking from the pulpit of “social justice” churches focused on themes of income redistribution and social welfare. Both sides seek to claim Him as their own when it is obvious that neither philosophy embodies what Christ taught.

So it is quite clear that neither individualism or collectivism is the “right” way to advance the Kingdom of God because both are at their core self-centered philosophies. So where does the believer turn? We turn to Jesus of course!

Jesus models and commands a third way, a radically different way that transcends individualism and collectivism alike. What makes the Kingdom way of Jesus different from both collectivism and individualism is that it is “other focused”. This is embodied in “The Great Commandment”, which is the foundation of all of the Law, that as followers of Christ we are to “love your neighbor as yourself”. That makes no sense within the framework of individualism or collectivism. It only makes sense when viewed within the framework of the cross by a believer who has been born again. Without that renewed and recreated heart, the cross and all subsequent actions that are the hallmarks of the way of the cross for His followers are nothing but foolishness (1 Cor 1:18), foolishness that invites the mockery and hatred of the world. Foolishness aside, there is great joy in this third way of Christ because in it is found true freedom. True freedom cannot be found in individualism and collectivism is anathema to true freedom. True freedom does not result in wealth or health or the approval of the world. True freedom is found in service, in knees calloused from prayer and washing feet, in giving away more and more of one’s self until all that remains is Christ.

This truth and freedom found in the third way of Christ, the downward path of the Kingdom, brings joy to the believer but also caution because the well worn paths of the world are hard to abandon. We cannot operate as Kingdom agents within the framework of either individualism or collectivism. We must constantly be on guard against our tendency to help God along, to employ means and methods that are inherently at odds with the downward path of Christ. Jesus doesn’t need our help and He really doesn’t need our advice! Jesus paid the price for our sins before we were born. He instituted a church as His Body two thousand years ago. He knows what He is doing, we must simply bow the knee to Him and keep His commandments. Just being faithful in that will keep a believer occupied for a lifetime.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This makes no sense

I just got a new Kindle Fire yesterday for my birthday and I was shopping for books to buy, one of my favorite pastimes. I have had my eye on Tim Keller's Generous Justice for a while and added it to my Kindle list but when my Kindle actually showed up, this is what I found. The hardcover version of the book is $13.57 with free Prime shipping. The kindle version is $16.99. So I have to pay more and don't even get the hardcopy book? Most books are several dollars cheaper for Kindle but this one is more expensive? That is just dumb.

I did download a bunch of Martin Luther's works for free, so that is cool and there are a lot of classic books that are either free or $0.99.

John Piper on leaders and vision

Watch this very brief message from John Piper...

The Work of a Christian Leader from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Do you agree with that, the idea that reinforcing a "vision" is a primary function of a Christian leader? I kind of worry about this because it is so common. When a pastor comes to a new church, it is assumed that he will have a "vision" for that church. Lots of churches spend lots of time creating vision statements or mission statements, reevaluating and revising their statement of belief. Just being the people of God engaged in the mission of God is not sexy enough, we need a vision!

If the "vision" becomes the main thing, then the real main thing gets lost, i.e. Jesus. I am very susceptible to this and I see it happen all the time. When a Christian catches the majesty of God's sovereignty in salvation, it is easy for the vision of seeing Reformed theology sweeping the church take over and become the main thing. All for the glory of Christ of course but pretty soon you find yourself becoming an evangelist for Reformed theology instead of Christ, more concerned with telling Christians why their theology is wrong than telling the lost about Jesus. This is replicated in lots of movements where the vision starts to take over: homeschooling, house church, Reformed theology, family integrated church, egalitarianism, complementarianism. Many of these things are good and positive and started with the right heart but when we focus too much on these visions we can lose our way very easily. The last thing we need is to spend a bunch of time focusing on our particular vision. The vision for the church has already been decided by someone far more authoritative than my or even John Piper.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another reason I love blogging

This is blogging at its best. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert wrote a book titled What Is The Mision of the Church? This book, published in September of this year, has now been reviewed and discussed many, many times over. I first saw it reviewed by Eric Carpenter and was pleasantly surprised that it was largely a positive review. Then I read a post by Trevin Wax, 5 Nagging Questions about DeYoung/Gilbert's "Mission of the Church", that raised some crucial questions about what they had written and whether it was too narrow a view. DeYoung and Gilbert responded and then Ed Stetzer weighed in with a survey post and then a very in-depth review for Themelios. DeYoung and Gilbert responded to Stetzer and on and on. Trevin Wax wrote this morning:
In the end, I think DeYoung and Gilbert’s blog posts are better than their book. I now understand better the kind of missiological thinking they think is wrongheaded, and I get their reason for putting such a strong emphasis on proclamation. I still think they downplay the non-didactic elements of making disciples, but I have a greater understanding for why they do so.
That is pretty high praise indeed. It is true that the blogging world can often be banal and silly, sometimes even scandalous and a stumbling block to the Gospel. It is also true that done properly it provides a heretofore nonexistent medium for worldwide discussion, taking important conversations out of the world of academia and theological journals and making them available to every Christian. It used to be that you wrote a book, published it and waited for the reviews but now the review process is interactive and alive, allowing readers to ask questions and authors to sharpen their thinking in ways that perhaps they didn’t think of before.

If you haven’t done so, you should check out the conversations that are happening about this book and more importantly about how we should think about the church. It is a conversation well worth having!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Branding the church

Neil Cole posted something interesting yesterday regarding the branding of churches with "church mergers" and the trend toward multi-site megachurches. His post, Cole-Slaw: Church: No Longer "Business" As Usual! is pretty blunt. Here are a couple of good quotes:
In the Bible the church is not defined but instead is described with pictures: a flock, a field, a family, a body, a bride, a branch, a building made of living stones. Never is it described by the pictures we typically have today: a building (w/ and address made of the non-living stones with stained glass a steeple and a sign with a logo), a business, a school or a hospital. We have substituted an organic and life producing view for an institutional one that does not produce life but at best simply tries to preserve it and contain it...

...The predominate way of seeing the church today contains, conforms and controls the people. The biblical pictures of the NT are all about releasing and reproducing the life of the church...
That and more. Good stuff! I really liked the idea of the church as described more than defined. We are not given lists of things on a to-do list for Sunday morning (or even told to meet primarily on Sunday morning in the first place!). Instead we are told what the church is like and from that we glean how we are to functions as the family of God on mission for God. Unfortunately we have "filled in the blanks" with religious claptrap and traditions instead of letting the church function as it should.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Pay, Pray and Stay" is not The Way

Pay, Pray and Stay

Those three words sum up the missionary mindset of the American church. The "average" Christian in America sees their calling as monetary contributions to support professional missionaries (which is of course important), praying for missions (which is critically important) and staying in place because mission work is for “someone else”. I can feel comfortable in my staying as long as I am praying and paying. This attitude might make sense if the world were overwhelmingly reached for the Gospel with only a few isolated pockets left to reach. The reality is far less rosy but this attitude persists in the church.

I think part of this mindset is, to be blunt, just laziness or apathy. I start that criticism right at my own doorstep. We talk about the Gospel and having a “heart for the lost” but the concerns of our every day life, no matter how mundane or banal, are more important in practice if not in theory. We work hard all day, pick up the kids or run them around to activities, throw together some dinner, watch some TV and hit the hay. Who has time for mission work? Let the professionals go and proclaim the Gospel. Sure there are a billion people in Africa and almost 4 billion in Asia and 700 million in Europe and almost 400 million in South America and the vast majoroty of those billions of people are unreached but I am sure that those missionaries can reach them all with no problem. They keep sending us postcards to put on our "missions" bulletin board in the foyer and we keep sending them money and everyone is happy.

The other problem is that we have been painted a picture of missions that seems out of reach and terrifying to most Christians. When we talk about global missions, what comes to mind? Living in a hut in Africa? Running an orphanage in Haiti? Helping women get out of prostitution in Thailand? The very term “global missions” evokes images of danger, hardship, discomfort. All terrifying to American Christians and a huge barrier to mission involvement. Now you can cluck your tongue at the unfaithfulness of so many Christians but going from the suburbs to the bush is a huge leap and one that most Christians are not spiritually prepared or equipped to take. The church has failed miserably in equipping and preparing the Body for missions. What we are left with is an “all or nothing” missions mentality. Either you pack up the family and head to the Philippines or you sit in your pew and put a check in the offering plate. That isn’t the way it has to be. It cannot be. For every Paul who travelled the known world, there were 100 Christians who witnessed where they lived to people that they knew. We don’t get extra points for degree of difficulty in missions work. The person down the street who comes to Christ because of a relationship with you is just as saved and just as precious as the African or Asian who comes to Christ. All men without exception need Jesus and none of them without exception will hear about Him if no one tells them.

Maybe you aren't called to go to Tanzania or the Sudan or Haiti (but maybe you are!). That doesn't mean you aren't called to mission. I am not even convinced that we need more American Christians to go be “full-time” missionaries in far away lands. I think a lot of our effort should be in equipping local missionaries rather than parachuting American missionaries into foreign nations. Joe the Missionary from Iowa is going to have a harder time witnessing to people in Ecuador than Sam the local Christian who knows the culture and the people. Some of us may be called to go and preach, some to go and equip and many to evangelize right where they are but all of us are called.

We need to abandon both the “professional missionary” mindset and the “all or nothing” mindset. There is no place on Earth that is so thoroughly reached for the Gospel that mission work is not needed. Not in China and not in Chicago or even Chattanooga. The presence of a lot of buildings with the word “church” on their sign is not an indicator of a region that is thoroughly reached with the Gospel.

Jesus is our King and our Lord. He exemplified and modeled our calling. God the Father sent Him to us and He in turn sends us to them (John 20:21). We are His emissaries, His ambassadors, His heralds and we are universally called to this noble task. The call is clear but the question remains: how or if we will respond.

If you are a Christian, your ordination certificate is etched on the heart of flesh God placed in you. Your call to mission is written in blood on a cross on Calvary. Your mission field starts with your own children, goes out your front door and extends to every corner of the world. That is true for every Christian and there are no exceptions. Not every Christian will minister to every people group in every place but every Christian is called to minister to someone somewhere.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Quick Thought On The Table

You wouldn't put up fence around a house you don't own so why do some Christians put up a fence around a Table they don't own?

A quick thought on church leaders

The church was given elders and deacons not to restrict ministry to a few but to serve as an example to follow for all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Resumes and Ministry

In the business world, resumes are a vital way of communicating to a potential employer what you bring to the table. A well written resume with the right buzzwords and the right experience makes the difference between getting an interview and having your resume "kept on file for a year" which is synonymous with "thrown in the trash". We have resume services to help write a winning resume and back in the day even special resume paper that said to a potential employer "I am serious about this job, look how nice this paper is!".

It makes sense in the business world where hundreds or thousands of people apply for open positions. Resumes give a potential employer a quick snapshot of a person's qualifications for a job. If I want a job in banking, do I have prior banking experience? If I want to work in IT, do I have the requisite education and experience with the right programming language or software? There is no reason for an employer to call me  for an interview as a respiratory therapist based on my resume because I am not qualified.

So I was thinking again about the "qualifications" Scripture lists for elders. They are listed out in two places we are all familiar with, listed below....
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:1-7)

For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
(Titus 1:7-9)
What do these things have in common?

None of them can be measured in a meaningful sense by a man's resume.

But when a church is looking for a new pastor, what is one of the, if not the, first things they ask for?

A copy of his resume.

What can a church possibly learn about a man that would indicate he is someone other Christians should follow based on a resume? His academic credentials? Paul didn't mention those. What about his prior vocational ministry experience? Nope, no mention of that either. A couple of pat sentences about what he believes that distinguishes and divides him from other Christians? Ugh.

The only way to properly judge whether a man has the qualities that indicate he is someone other Christians should follow and emulate is by observing the manner of his life, how he treats his family, how he serves others, how he manages his household and his finances. That is why I believe elders can only be properly called to lead the church from within, what I call Home Cookin'. When we start the selection process for elders with a resume, we reduce ministry in the church to little more than a job to be filled. We must be constantly training up the men already in place to be called as elders in the church. I think a year is the minimum time frame to properly get to know a man but that is not a time frame that a church looking for a pastor or a pastor looking for a job are willing to invest.

Quit asking men you don't know to send you a resume and start investing in the lives of the men right around you so that a church never finds itself "between pastors".

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why spend $100,000,000 to raise money?

Richard Stearns, President of the enormous charity World Vision U.S.A., wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal calling on American evangelicals to support U.S. foreign aid, Evangelicals and the Case for Foreign Aid. The essay itself is pretty unconvincing. Anyone who thinks that the billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid are being spent wisely or efficiently needs only look at the rest of the government to know that is false. That wasn’t really what piqued my interest though…

What was more interesting to me is what a little digging around uncovered. Is a large Christian organization going to be better suited to works of mercy than a bunch of small ones? Which is better, being nimble or “economies of scale”? My train of thought took me on down the tracks and stopped at the webpage of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA)

According to the data submitted to the EFCA, World Vision allocates more than 10% of their expenditures to fund raising or slightly more than $100,000,000 for fiscal year 2010. One hundred million dollars to raise funds. Add to that administrative expenses of $46,000,000 and you have a bunch of money that is absorbed by the organization rather than going to help those in need. Those are pretty big numbers.

Quick disclaimer. World Vision does lots of great work from what I can tell in places like Haiti so this isn’t a “bash World Vision” post. I am just trying to get us thinking more about giving, about mercy and justice and most importantly about why we put forth so much money in an effort to raise money.

I get it, I really do. It takes money to raise money. That is especially true when your aid organization is one of the thousands of different groups vying for the tax deductible contributions of a finite pool of religious donors. Therein lies one of the biggest problems in the church and I believe one of the top reasons for so much financial confusion. From the huge groups like the Salvation Army, Samaritans Purse and World Vision down to local food pantries and even individual local churches, the disunified church of Christ spends far too much time, energy and money trying to compete with other “competing” organizations for the finite resources of people and cash available from the Christian population.

I also know that as organizations get bigger and bigger, they often grow more and more inefficient. Take for example C3 Missions, the parent organization of the Global Orphan Project and partner of the Haiti Orphan Project. It is a much smaller organization than World Vision with annual expenditures of about $3,000,000. Of that, all of $75,000 went to fundraising or 2.5% according to their disclosure to the EFCA. Granted the proportion of admin costs went up because they are economies of scale when you get bigger but a lot of that is directed at fund raising efforts apparently in big organizations.

So what is the conclusion? I am really not sure there is one. I like smaller organizations for the most part. I like that with groups like the Haiti Orphan Project and the crisis pregnancy center I volunteer at that I know and can see where the money is going. On the other hand, when something like the earthquake in Haiti happens, organizations like World Vision and Samaritans Purse are able to respond almost immediately. So which one is better? I think both have their place. I just wish that we had some sense of real unity in the church so that we didn’t have to pick and choose from competing charities but given the size and diversity in the church I am not sure how to make that happen practically. I really don’t like problems with apparently no solution. There is so much need for works of mercy in the world and there are so many different groups trying to do the same thing in slightly different ways. How can we ever find a way to cooperate with one another instead of competing with each other?

The cover-up at Penn State happens at another institution all the time

Check this out: Planned Parenthood Covers Up Child Rape Like Penn State Did Here is a sample:

The evidence is overwhelming that Planned Parenthood, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding annually, routinely ignores, fails to report, and covers up sexual abuse of young girls by older men.

It is time for the nation’s number one abortion provider to answer some of the same questions we’re now asking of a football coach in Pennsylvania.
Penn State covers up child abuse and legendary coach Joe Paterno (rightly) loses his job.

Planned Parenthood covers up sexual abuse and gets rewarded with tax subsidies.

What is wrong with this picture?

In the book queue

One of the best innovations Amazon has come up with is perhaps the anti-Kindle, namely their used book service. When you couple the huge selection of used books with free shipping through Amazon Prime, you can get some pretty good deals on older books. Honestly, a lot of newer books that I am interested in are little more than rehashed material that is often inferior to the older works, more shallow and aimed at a “pop culture” reading level. Easy to breeze through for sure, but not terribly challenging.

Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources (Classics of the Radical Reformation)I just bought a couple of used books the other day. The first one is Walter Klassen’s Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, a fairly old collection of primary source citations from the founders of Anabaptism. I really wanted to get this book not as a “start on page one and read to the end” book but as a reference resource for early Anabaptists writers. I often hear people speaking negatively about the Anabaptists, and often in a slanderous way, even though they clearly have never read anything actually written by an Anabaptist and base virtually everything they know about Anabaptism on what they hear other people say (i.e. The White Horse Inn). If you want to know what the early Anabapists wrote about government or the Lord’s Supper or a myriad of other topics, you will find a decent collection of their writings on the subject in Klassen’s book. This is one that I have had in my “to buy later” list for some time but I didn’t want to pay full price for it. Used though? Good stuff and a nice reference for a decent price ($10 versus $22 for a new copy).

Interpreting the New TestamentI also bought Interpreting The New Testament by Dave Black and David Dockery and it looks like a pretty deep book, not light evening reading. I got it for $3.98 though so it was a good deal. A new copy is $20 and while it is probably updated, for my purposes less than $4 is just the right price.

Those two just arrived but I have been reading a different used book I have owned for a while, Paul Jewett’s Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, which sounds like a pro-infant baptism book but is actually a pretty devastating critique of paedobaptism. I am about a quarter of the way through and it is meaty reading. Jewett takes the time to deal with the supposed evidence for paedobaptism from the church fathers and as he walks through it, it becomes apparent that it is even weaker than it appears at first blush.

So that is what I am reading for anyone who cares!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Mutual Submission?

One of the most popular buzz phrases in the gender discussion is “mutual submission”. I see it all the time and it is often laid down as a conversation stopper, a trump card of sort. The notion of "mutual submission", a fairly recent invention, is based primarily on a single passage of Scripture, Ephesians 5:21, that allegedly commands all Christians to submit, without distinction or definition, to one another. That is a bold claim and one that bears examination. If it is true, then centuries of gender relationships in the church and home are out of step with the Bible. If it is false, as I will assert, then what we are seeing today is an attempt to subvert the teaching of Scripture and replacing it with a culturally palatable sidestepping of a crucial relationship.

(More after the break)

A couple of interesting blog posts this morning

The first is from Scot McKnight and looks at the question of America as a Christian nation. Scot is reviewing a book by Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson. I would certainly not endorse much that those two have written as they are part, at least Giberson, of a vendetta and open war of words with Ken Hamm and others but the questions raised are worth considering. I expect the comments to be far more interesting than the actual post itself.

The second comes from Trevin Wax and Trevin asks a few questions about the new book from Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, 5 Nagging Questions about DeYoung/Gilbert’s “Mission of the Church”.

I haven’t read What Is the Mission of the Church but I suspected what it would look like and Trevin’s 5 nagging questions sort of confirmed that. Here are the two questions he had that I found most interesting:
1. Can we reduce “making disciples” and “teaching Christ’s commands” to the delivery of information?

It seems to me that DeYoung and Gilbert tend to reduce “disciple-making” to teaching and then reduce “teaching” to the transferring of information. I agree that teaching is a central part of discipleship (which is one reason I am dedicating the next few years to the development of solid biblical curriculum). At the same time, we need to recognize that teaching also takes place in mentoring, in modeling, and in collaboration with others. So wouldn’t good deeds of love and justice fit within the overall definition of “teaching”? Isn’t part of disciple-making expressed in older Christians coming alongside new believers and together doing the good deeds Christ has called us to? If so, then doesn’t the making of disciples inherently include, at least in some measure, our work in the world? At the end of the day, I don’t think we can separate “making disciples” from “loving neighbor” in the way that it seems DeYoung and Gilbert do.

3. Isn’t there a sense in which worship is expressed through our life in the world, not just our corporate worship services?

At the corporate level, it’s clear that worship takes place within the church’s gathering. Yet the biblical story line begins with Adam and Eve worshiping God by obeying His commands in the garden. It was their cultivation of the garden that reflected their love and praise for their Maker. So when DeYoung and Gilbert claim that worship is integral to the mission of the church and yet want to separate worship from our deeds of justice, I worry that we are failing to remember that our good work in the world is part of our obedient worship to God.

Those are great questions, not just about this book but globally. Can we distinguish, as we often do, “worship” as an event we attend and “mercy” as something we make time for later in the week, I think we miss the boat. Likewise, “teaching” is far more than “listening to a lecture” or participating in Sunday school. It seems to me that the picture we get in Scripture is that Paul taught in the context of lives lived together with the church. In other words, those Christians who were discipled by Paul learned from both watching him and listening to him.

By the way, Eric Carpenter reviewed The Mission of The Church here if you are interested.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Upcoming new book

I just ordered Voddie Baucham's new book, Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes. Voddie Baucham is one of my favorite authors and speakers and if he is anything he is bold and unapologetic. That sort of candor is far too uncommon. Family Shepherds, not having read it yet, seems to be a natural follow-up to his other books like What He Must Be...If He Wants To Marry My Daughter and Family Driven Faith in calling the church back to a Bible centered view of the family rather than a culturally molded model.

You can watch a brief video of Voddie talking about why he wrote this book and why it is so important.

I am eagerly anticipating this book! Some people in the more "organic" spectrum of the church might get jittery at some of the things Baucham says when he starts talking about the unique role of fathers in the home. Any hint of male leadership or *gasp!* patriarchy makes some people break out in a cold sweat. I get that. I just disagree. Vehemently.

If we have organic, participatory, whatever terminology you use to describe the gathering of the church but have homes that are not as representative of the Biblical model and command as our church gatherings are, we will continue to have serious issues and confusion in the church. If our homes are not as Biblically ordered as our church gatherings we are being dangerously inconsistent. How we view families within the church is critical if we are to have a church that functions as a family. The parallels between the two are unmistakable and critical. This is again a matter of consistency. To say that Paul's example and admonition for a voluntary, functioning priesthood of all believers is normative for the church today but then to reject his teachings, often in the same chapter, on gender relationships and roles is not only inconsistent, it is disingenuous. I don't see simple, organic church models and family integrated gatherings with traditional gender roles being incompatible with one another. I rather see them as perfectly compatible and consistent interpretations and applications of Scripture.

I am sure that Family Shepherds will be purchased and loved by many in the Family Integrated Church segment of the church and by many families in the homeschooling wing. I hope it gets an audience beyond that because the questions and issues it raises are crucial in this day and age. I don't expect everyone to agree. Heck I haven't even read the book yet! I do hope that it will lead to more conversation that is focused on Scripture and the unique role of fathers in the family and the church.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Motives Matter

Henry Neufeld took my prior post on The Importance of Blogging and added some very interesting background information in his post Of Large And Small Publishers...
Now in the larger scheme of things, Energion Publications is a rather small player. So what’s the mission around here?

The reason I founded this company was to make a difference for the kingdom of God through publishing Christian materials. I didn’t have a specific theological agenda in the sense that I wanted to support Reformed, Charismatic, Wesleyan, or any other particular theological movement. I’ve published materials from each of those perspectives, but my goal is not to promote a particular theology.

My goal is to promote greater thinking about theology by everyone in the church, not just by pastors and seminary professors. Thus I hope that some of the books I publish challenge you or even offend you, but that they do so in such a way as to make you study more, think harder, and then . . .

Information that leads to action! I love it!

Men like Henry Neufeld seem more interested in Christian publishing as a way to advance the Kingdom rather than an opportunistic way to meet a market niche. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing immoral in seeing a demand in the market and meeting that demand while making a profit. That sort of vision is the foundation of most jobs that have ever existed in the private sector. There simply is a huge difference between the two mindsets. It seems a lot of Christian publishing houses started out with a Kingdom focus but lost it over the years as they became more "successful" and that original Kingdom focus seemed to drift and be replaced with a business focus. When you read the story of the founding of Thomas Nelson back in the late 18th century, you find a similar story: one man with a vision starting what he could never dream would turn into a publishing empire hundreds of years later. From that early vision in Scotland you have an enormous company selling books like Money Secrets of the Amish, Discover the money-saving and wealth-building secrets of America’s thriftiest people, the Amish. I wonder what Thomas Nelson would think...

As Henry points out, he does need to sell books or else he will go out of business but his ultimate purpose is not making money but making disciples. Nothing wrong with a recognition of the need to pay your bills but Henry also publishes books and voices that would not be even considered by some of the bigger name publishing houses. That probably means publishing books that may not sell like hotcakes.

I think there is an interesting parallel with the church here. The church knew what it was called to do in the early days and amidst the persecution in those days they did exactly that, i.e. they made disciples. As the church grew and became accepted it seemed to lose its focus and become more concerned with perpetuating itself and building little fiefdoms. It can be all too easy to lose our Kingdom focus and get entangled in the world but we must always be on guard against that. That is true in publishing and in the church and in parenting and on and on.

Check out Energion Publications today and support these smaller, independent publishers that provide an outlet to important voices in the church!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Dudes need dudes to learn how to be dudes

Two very different blog posts this week got me thinking about the issue of men in the church. The first comes the Kevin Deyoung and looks at the question of the lack of the “right kind” of men in the church, Dude, Where’s Your Bride? It is without real debate that there are precious few men in the church and that is exponentially more true when it comes to young, single men in the church. It is also without question that there are a lot of young, marriage minded women in the church that are earnestly seeking a marriage where they will joyfully be a mother and keeper of the home, a helpmeet in the truest sense, but find compatible men few and far between. I think Kevin recognizes the problem but frankly misses the bigger issue, namely that the way we have structured “church” is incredibly unappealing to most men and rightfully so. Case in point….
I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men?
That really misses the mark in some fundamental areas. It assumes that the sign of maturity is a guy who goes to work during the week, mows the lawn and eagerly takes his family to church. As usual we see the default to “maturity by showing up” mentality. Nowhere, I mean nowhere in the Bible, is regular attendance at religious observations as a sign of maturity. Perhaps we would have more men in church if we operated like the church we see in the New Testament? That is not a call to compromise, it is a call to fidelity. The nature of men has not changed in the last 2000 years but the church certainly has. More on this in a moment.

The other blog post comes from Alan Knox and comes with the clunky but clever title My Word of Prophecy: Stop Listening to Prophetic Voices. Alan seems to think that we spend too much time following men we don’t know and man do I resonate with that!
What is the challenge? I’ve noticed the tendency in my life to listen to those who I do not know. I listen to their voices from books, articles, blog posts, lecture halls, and even pulpits. They tell me what to think, what to believe, and how to live. In many cases (perhaps even most cases), they are correct in what they tell me.

So, if these voices are correct, then what’s the problem? Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with words of prophecy, encouragement, instruction, or even admonishment. However, the problem arises in the fact that I am listening to people that I do not KNOW.

I do not know how they live. I do not know how they treat their spouses or children. I do not know how or if they love their neighbor. I do not know when or where or if they server other people. I do not know anything about them except what they write or say. In other words, I’m listening to the voices of strangers.
That is so very true for so many of us. I would say, only partly in jest, that there are many brothers I know who are more familiar with the lives of Puritans and Reformers who have been dead for centuries than they are with the lives of brothers that they shake hands with every Sunday. I hear men say all the time that this guy or that guy is a “hero” in the faith, a giant, someone they admire and desire to be like when in reality they have never met them and don’t know a thing about them. Men like John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul are profitable teachers but I will probably never meet them in person and get to know them so what about them am I supposed to imitate? I suppose I can offer my services to a publishing house to see if they want to publish my book ideas and I can throw it out there that I am available to speak at upcoming conferences but other than that I am not sure what I know about most of the “heroes” of the faith that I can imitate other than what I assume to be true about them.

We need “real” men to follow and imitate. That is not to say men like Piper aren’t real men, they just aren’t men I actually know. Men need examples, not just talk, but what we have ended up with are a couple of different models of men that don’t really have much to tell us about how the rest of us should live as men.

In most churches, the guy everyone is supposed to look up to is the pastor. This raises an issue because the way we have created a separate clerical class means that a) most men are not going to find much in common with the pastor and b) secretly most men have little interest in being a vocational minister so there is not much that seems desirable from an imitation standpoint. Most pastors seem stressed, overworked, underappreciated and generally frustrated and unhappy in spite of the happy face they put on. Who wants to imitate that? Compounding this, many times the pastor is younger and frankly less mature than many of the other men in a congregation. Not less "mature" in the sense of being able to delvier a sermon or exegete a passage of Scripture or throw out Greek and Hebrew terms, less "mature" in the sense that actually matters. Who should a young husband and father emulate and seek to learn from, a guy his own age who is starting a family and struggling in the same ways just because he is the pastor or a more mature older brother who has come out on the other side and has the experience to match? When a man is struggling with his witness at work, who is more apt to have solid, real world advice, the pastor who spends most of his week laboring in preparing a sermon and visiting people in the hospital or the 60 year old brother who has worked in the “real world” for the past 40 years?

The other object of adoration are the “celebrity preachers”. As Alan noted in his post, lot of men look up to the famous guys, men like John Piper and John MacArthur and other famous teachers. How do they emulate these men when they don’t really know them at all? I know about as much about Al Mohler’s personal life, how he treats his wife and children, what he is like when he is not in front of a microphone as I know about the personal life of one of the Kardashian’s. For all I know, he goes home and kicks his dog every day. I am quite sure he doesn’t but I just don’t know. I don’t even know if he has a dog to kick! I know he lives in Kentucky and has a sweet library and wears suits a lot and I think his wife’s name is Mary and he has a couple of kids but that is about it.

(As a completly random aside, I will say that it seems to me, just anecdotally, that you tend to have more men and more active men when you have more firm convictions. A small, doctrinally conservative church seems to draw active and engaged men more than a huge, anonymous church. I might be completely wrong about that but it certainly seems to have been that way in my limited experience. I don’t think that the “no men” question must be a call to abandon orthodoxy to make church more palatable. I think we just need to change how men relate to one another in the church.)

What kind of men did the early disciples emulate and imitate? They followed and imitated men like Paul who presented an example to others by working hard in a “regular” job. Paul not only saw getting paid for ministry as an obstacle to the Gospel (1 Cor 9:12), he also seems to have recognized that a major part of being a leader in the church means being an imitateable example for younger men to follow.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
Paul knew that his manner of life would serve as an example for younger brothers to follow and imitate. In response he worked with “toil and labor” and paid his own way (Acts 20:33-35). As he wrote here and elsewhere, it was not because he had no “right” to seek financial support but rather that he knew that his calling required him to provide an example to other men. This is the concept that is missing from so many conversations regarding professional paid ministry. If you are truly a servant leader, a self-sacrificing man, you count your responsibility to be an example of other brothers and avoid placing an obstacle to the Gospel in front of unbelievers as far more important than your “right” to get paid. This was Paul’s model of manly, godly male leadership. I wish more men recognized this.

We need to get back to this understanding and start to realize something that has been lost:

Being an example for men to follow and bringing them into your life IS ministry and discipleship, far more so than teaching doctrine in a Sunday school class or preaching a sermon.

Better yet, it is the kind of ministry and discipleship that any man can do. There is no special training required, no need for a seminary degree. Just love Jesus above all else, provide for your family and shepherd your wife and kids!

We simply must encourage younger men to seek out more mature brothers in Christ and likewise emphasize and equip older brothers to mentor the younger men. Too often that task is lumped in as some sort of “ministry” and when you throw the “M” word out we automatically assume that it is something to be done by or at least coordinated by the pastor. The result often is that it just never happens. We will continue to see men absent from the church as long as they are expected to come each week, sit in a pew and listen attentively because that does nothing to equip and instruct men in what they need to know week in and week out. Men need the example of other men, men they know and can relate to and not just men who live the somewhat odd and foreign life of a professional minister or men who they know only from podcasts, books and conferences. We need real life men, men we know and share a cup of coffee with, men with wives and children, men who live like we live to learn from. I need men like that and I want to mature into that sort of man. For all of my book knowledge and all of my doctrinal study and my ability to deliver a monologue, I am not a very mature Christian. I  need to learn from other men and I can't do that in a pew. If we don’t recover this vision, the next generation in the church is going to look even more like a quilting bee and less like the vibrant church full of godly servant-leader men we see in Scripture.