Monday, December 31, 2012

Apologies In Advance

I have added the hated word verification to my comments, the volume of spam from bots has gotten out of control. I really don't like that extra step but like I said the spam is out of control and I am hearing the same thing from other people.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

And We're Off!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are trying out a do it yourself indoor fodder system to grow nutritious chow for our critters all year round. I found an initial source for grains to sprout at Great River Organic Milling and better yet they have a store on Amazon so I can get 25 or 50 lbs bags of grain delivered for free. Whadda bargan! Plus I emailed them a question and got an answer back right away which makes me far more likely to shop from them in the future.

They next step and obviously a crucial one was to come up with the racks and containers. Now my wife tends to accumulate all sorts of stuff that I consider to be wasted space but then every once in a while she comes up with an almost perfect solution for something that costs me nothing. This was no exception. She dug out a couple of racks to put the growing trays on and found what appears to be a plastic cover for clothes to make a protective screen. With that in place we went to Wal-Mart to try to find some plastic storage bins. At first I checked litter boxes but they were all too small. Then I checked dish pans, same problem. We saw some storage bins but they were expensive, like $7-8 each and not quite what we were looking for. Discouraged we headed for the checkouts, thinking we could pay for our groceries and get the frozen stuff in the car (it was below freezing after all) and then shop a little more when lo and behold we came across a shelf with exactly what we were looking for, clear plastic, the right depth and the right dimensions, all for less than $3! So we bought ten, 8 to grow in one per day and two to nest on top of the sprouts on day one and two to simulate soil pressure. All in out of pocket cost was under $30. Here is the result:

As you can see, we have it right next to a window for natural light and if you look at the bottom corner you can see that it sits over a heating register so it will stay nice and warm (and dry, so we need to watch the moisture level). We have enough racks that we can have one tray per day for eight days so every day we will have a tray coming ready and a new one started. Initially I expect to use the mat of sprouted grains to feed our cow, we can just drop it in her hay rack where she is milked and let her munch on it, if there are leftovers we can give it to the horses or the chickens.

Our first 25 pound bag of hard red spring wheat is on the way and should be here tomorrow but we decided to try out some oats first since we have a fair amount of them and they were free. I am not sure how old the oats are but we are just practicing for now so it doesn't matter. This is what it looks like on day one after a night of soaking....

As I mentioned the top container provides the illusion of soil pressure which apparently helps germination, on day three we will remove the top container and let it grow. Once we get a feel for how this is working we can try experimenting by adding some oats and other seeds to the wheat like lentils, sunflowers, other grains, radishes, etc. I can't wait to see if this works and if it helps with the milk production and quality! I will keep you informed as I am sure this is fascinating stuff for my readers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where All "Ministries" Find Common Ground

'Tis the season...for end of the year fund raising emails! It cracks me up that no matter how different a "ministry" might be when it comes to raising money the appeals are almost identical. Today I got an email from Ligonier needing almost half a million dollars (Ligonier seems to burn through money like the Federal government) and also from "Red Letter Christians". R.C. Sproul and Tony Campolo, united at last!

You should absolutely give and give generously, indeed sacrificially. I would just suggest you direct that giving toward actual ministries like The Haiti Orphan Project, a ministry that houses and feeds orphans (you know, the sort of stuff the Bible calls ministering) or your local food pantry or pregnancy resource center, ministries that are engaged in far more important work than pushing their own agenda and calling it a "ministry".

Look to the persecuted

During a rather heated conversation on Facebook over the last few days, an idea developed in my mind. It is nothing new but it still sort of struck me. Here is the crux of it: when we look at the history of the church we should look to the persecuted, not the persecutor.

That seems kind of self-evident on the surface but in practice it is anything but. Look back at standard church history text and they revolve around the famous personalities: Luther, Calvin, Augustine, popes, theologians. As the old saying goes, the winners write the history books and our church culture is a reflection of that. Most of what we know as "the church" is aligned with a faction that at some point in history was persecuting others and moreover we often look at those times when they were doing the persecution as some sort of "Golden Age"

This is not a perfect rule by any means but throughout history it is the persecuted we should be studying rather than the persecutors. The idea that the church, which from infancy was outcast and persecuted by the religious powers of the day, suddenly turned 180 degrees and became the religious power of the day and persecuted those who dared stray is patently and demonstrably contrary to everything we read in the New Testament. The church became a reverse Paul in that Paul was the persecutor of followers of the Way but was born again and became persecuted and in a complete reversal the church was persecuted for three hundred years until Constantine when the church decided to use the sword to persecute others? How does that make any sense?! That brings me to the sword, a more dominate symbol in traditional church history than the cross.

One of the most important lessons from church history regarding the sword is that not only is the use of the sword condemned by Christ it is also invariably linked with corruption. Paul taught that when he was his weakest he found his true strength,. Taking up the sword means that you are no longer weak, at least in the worldly sense. So when the church takes up the sword it is abandoning our source of strength and relying instead on our own perception of strength. I would say with little hesitation that invariably where the church embraced the sword, the Gospel witness suffered and the church became in varying degrees corrupted. It happened in 313 when Constantine allegedly saw a vision and decided to wage war under the sign of the cross, a perversion of the very meaning of the cross. It happened throughout the Western world for the next 1200 years when Rome used the sword to crush dissent and gather power and wealth. It happened in the years after the Reformation when Catholics and Protestants in turn killed one another and jointly used the sword to persecute and murder the Anabaptists. Throughout the intervening years in Europe wars were waged with the blessing of clergy on one side and the other, asking for God to bless their cause and smite their enemies, enemies who were often fellow Christians. Roman Catholics and Protestants killed one another for centuries, even as recently as my lifetime in Northern Ireland. America has perfected this strength through the sword mentality with a blending of vaguely Christian theology and American patriotism, sending clerics to war to bless and minister to those we dispatch to kill in our name. We seem more comfortable in finding common ground with unbelievers who share our culture and our flag than we do with the believer who seems foreign and strange to us, and church history only encourages this attitude.

We desperately need to completely revamp our view of church history for three main reasons. As it stands today, "church history"...

- Is focused on the wrong things
- Serves mainly to reinforce the status quo
- Teaches us very little that will be of practical use to us in the post-Christendom world.

As we study the church throughout the ages, there is so much more to learn from those who have been persecuted for the faith, especially when they have been persecuted by others claiming to be "the church". Everything in the New Testament tells us this. The church is found among the persecuted, the poor, the outcast, the weak, the unwanted, the unlovely. It is a grave error to seek the church in places of wealth and power and comfort. The church is stained with blood rather than gilded with gold.

What we require, what the times demand, is a radical rethinking of leadership both present and past. I am less and less interested in learning at the  feet of "great men" of the past and more interested is seeing the example of those history has largely ignored, forgotten or perhaps even vilified. Looking at the faith traditions that have the best books but often persecuted the followers of the Way is a great way to perpetuate the problem and leave us woefully unprepared for the future.

We can and should look to the past to speak to the future. Let's just make sure that we are looking in the right places.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cannon, er Cattle (or Chicken) Fodder

We are going to try to raise our own fodder from a self-enclosed system as a way to supplement our normal grass/hay feed without adding a bunch of expense.

This is kind of what one looks like (from the webpage Backyard Chickens). The link is to the full article and has detailed instructions.

The idea is to germinate and sprout grains which turn into mats of high quality feed that is quick to grow and provides a lot of additional nutrition beyond just hay, which is turn should reduce the amount of hay we need to buy. My helpmeet has had her eye on this type of system for a while and although you can buy a fully prepared system they are several thousand dollars which sort of defeats the purpose of saving money! Check out this brief video from BBC's Countryfile show on fodder systems. We are not looking for anything on this scale of course but it is interesting. Plus I like Countryfile, it is interesting to see how they farm in the U.K.

So we will see how it goes and report back!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

This Portion Of Scripture Has Nothing To Do With Today

...but it is still pretty cool. Immanuel, God with us. Not just one day a year but every day.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:1-21)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oh hay can you see....

It is only December and hay prices are out of control already. We went to the local hay auction this morning and hay was going for way above the normal price thanks o shortages stemming from the super dry summer. We got some decent hay but paid $290 a ton which is pretty expensive. I am thinking we need to start contemplating seriously about shrinking the number of animals we are feeding. On the bright side we came home to meet the guy we bought the hay from, talked with him a bit and set the older boys on the task of putting away the hay while my wife and I went to breakfast!

Spent a good chunk of the afternoon standing calf deep in water/mud/pig poo. They have made a bowl of mud in their pen and it is holding water so a large chunk of their pen is a soupy mess. That means I got to stand in the aforementioned soupy mix and dig an exit trench. It was super delightful, let me assure you! The hogs are pretty furry which is funny because hogs in factory farms are always indoors and tend to not grow a coat. While it is funny to look at it also means more work when we butcher and have to scald and scrape off the hair. At least one chicken made the mistake of wandering into the hog pen and becoming a pig dinner, they are kind of funny and all but they will eat whatever they can get their snouts on. Our big boy is so close to being ready to butcher, we could probably slaughter him at any time now but since we are planning on killing him ourselves to save the $50 we are hoping for some colder, drier weather.

One of our Amish friends is going to help us to slaughter the hogs and is also donating a bunch of ear corn. In return we will share the bacon and ham and pork chops. It is interesting to see how the bartering economy is alive and well in the country. We know so many people and each one has a little something that someone else does not. We don't all need a gas powered auger to dig post holes but it is nice for us to know someone who does! We have a ram that services our three ewes but we also loan him out to a guy we know that doesn't have a ram. That same guy has a horse trailer that we have borrowed. On and on. So much of our society is a self-contained one. Everyone has their own stuff meaning we consume a lot of goods that we don't really use that much but because we are so distant from even our next door neighbor the days of borrowing stuff is rapidly ending. Instead we all buy our own stuff and let it sit around collecting dust. More on this idea of a mutual sharing/bartering community to come in a future post.

Looks like we are headed for a stretch of cold weather which means watering becomes more cumbersome. The hoses need to be rolled up, drained and stored inside every time we use them. Thanks to rainy weather we still haven't tilled up the garden which we really need to, if we can get a few more dry days I am hoping we can do so before the ground freezes or we get more rain.

After a busy day of bedding down and feeding horses, dealing with ponds of liquid pig poo, feeding the sheep and goats, and other miscellaneous tasks I am ready to hunker down for the evening!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Going to church or being the church

I enjoyed this brief post from Eric Carpenter this morning, The Relationship Driven Church. Eric talks about the contrast between an event driven view of the church ("worship services", Sunday school, VBS, etc.) and a relationship driven church. He rightly points out that we see very little about events in the Bible. Even the oft referenced events in Acts 20 are less a "church service" than a farewell meal for Paul. After all the preface to the event is that they gathered on the first day of the week to break bread, not have have a "worship service". What the New Testament does focus on is the interpersonal relationship between Christians, relationships that happen more when we are not at the event.

Here is what I commented.

It really gets to the whole idea of church as a place you go and a thing you do rather than a life you live. In fact one could easily argue that we spend so much time preparing for the event that we have little time left over for the relationships and that real relationships almost always take place outside of the event where we are able to interact and be ourselves.

It is fascinating to watch a traditional worship service when it lets out. It is a weird mix of people greeting one another and rushing to the door. After all, "church is over", a terrible expression that does violence to the idea of the church as we see it in the New Testament. People rush out because the event is over. Not in everywhere but in most traditional church services this is true. Woe to the person who gets between a church goer after church and the local Cracker Barrel! Give Eric's post a quick and ask some questions, mostly where do we spend our most effort, on relationships or or events?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blogging Through The Bible: Hebrews 6: 9-12

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

I wanted to get back to my study through the book of Hebrews as it has kind of fallen by the wayside and really I can't think of anything better to ponder and blog about than the Bible. This is a pretty good set of verses to get back into the study with.

As people who look forward to eternity and the wonderful promises of God we should be the most joyful of people. That can sometimes be difficult as we look around at a world that seems to be falling apart all around us. I mean we live in a world where a young man can walk into an elementary school of all places and butcher 20 children. Of course we also live in a world where the same people who are rightly outraged by the slaughter of 20 innocent children in an elementary school shrug over the slaughter of millions of innocent children in abortion clinics. In this world it can be hard to be joyful and I think for many of us we have strayed from feeling "sure of better things" because those things "belong to salvation" and are therefore something to see in the future while Sandy Hook Elementary is happening right now.

Discouragement and frustration sap our vitality and our joy. This discouragement is endemic among professional clergy, men who are deeply tied into the life of local churches and who have the entire burden of an often thankless task of keeping things running and for many of these men there seems to be little fruit for lots of labor. Discussions of the proper role and functions of elders in the church aside, it is certainly the case that the more concentrated the task of ministry is, the higher the frustration level becomes. It is absolutely the case that when we share our burdens and our needs, as well as our joy, with one another we all are lifted up. I sometimes bemoan the social media world where it so often seems doom and gloom. Negative blog posts, criticism on Facebook, griping on Twitter tend to get more of a reaction than positive reports and praises. If I write a post that things are going great and I am content not many people will read it and no one will comment. Write a post that says something inflammatory and the comments come out of the word work. I am all too often guilty of fanning the flames of controversy and not rejoicing in the positive.

The writer of Hebrews has the right of it. Our God, who is infinitely just and omniscient, sees our work on behalf of the Kingdom. No act of kindness, no show of mercy, no generosity or tear shed or prayer offered is missed by God. We don't get a pat on the head or a gold star but we must never forget that God knows, not just the careless word or the hurtful action or the sinful act, but also the good fruit that we bear in worship of Him. Discouragement, frustration, apathy, lethargy. These are not of God but of the enemy, lies used to keep us slumbering while the world cries out for Christ even when it doesn't realize it. That is why God has gifted so many of us with more mature brothers and sisters in the faith so that we may imitate "those who faith and patience inherit the promises".

Brothers and sisters, while our ultimate reward is in heaven we must remember that our God sees our work and our love in his name. When we spend yet another day caring for our precious children amidst whining and crying and dirty diapers or we minister to people who don't seem especially interested in being ministered to, God sees. When we share our material possessions and more importantly our lives with each other in love, God sees. When we boldly and humbly proclaim Christ as King and the only way to eternal life to a world that laughs and scorns, God sees. God sees and He never forgets. Be heartened today and know that not one drop of sweat or tear shed is overlooked.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Being filled with grief is OK, being filled with fear is not

With the weekend behind us and the horror of last Friday still fresh our nation is entering the "what now" phase and predictably that conversation around guns. On the political left the usual suspects have already started beating the drum for bans on this type of gun and that sort of magazine. I would be more sympathetic to their views if I was not at the same time convinced that this is little more than political opportunism (never let a good crisis go to waste!) by politicians who have as their ultimate goal the disarming of the entire populace while simultaneously the Federal bureaucracy is more and more militarized. That sort of grandstanding is tired but predictable. Likewise is the political rhetoric on the right and especially among a large swath of the church that echoes the mindset of this bumper sticker. It would almost seem that the 2nd Amendment, if not part of the Ten Commandments, is at least part of the Nicene Creed.

There are two truths here that are somewhat at odds.

First it is no surprise that mass shootings typically happen in places where the resistance is lowest, places where people are massed together and unarmed. Even disturbed individuals don't go to a police station and open fire, they pick schools because the victims they have chosen is almost certainly defenseless and the few adults there are often women and always unarmed.

The second is that Christians are exhorted to not fear man and to be content in the Lord. It is troubling that I see so many Christians living in fear. Sure we can dress up that fear in high minded rhetoric but at the core is a deep seated fear of others. Jesus said:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

I don't get why people who trust God as sovereign live in such fear of mortal life. Too many of us are Calvinists when it comes to salvation but Arminians when it comes to self-defense. I trust God when it comes to saving stony hearted sinners but not when it comes to keeping me and mine safe from a lone gunman? I shouldn't fear for my own life nor should I fear for the lives of my wife and children if I truly trust God. That is hard, I get that but that doesn't make it less valid.

I own guns. I own handguns. I own several high capacity magazines that I have no use for but bought during the Clinton assault weapon ban to make a political point. I don't walk around armed at church or in the mall. I understand why some do having no assurance of a sovereign God but is that proper for Christians? I know I beat this dead horse again and again but every time something like this happens we see the same reaction from Christians. We need to talk about this. Not as Americans, I absolutely affirm that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individuals right to own firearms and gun control legislation is foolhardy, but as followers of Christ and what it means to trust God in a violent culture. I wish we could have this conversation without dividing up into left/right political camps. Maybe someday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happenings down on the farm

As promised, here is what is happening on our little farm these days.

As the weather continues to hold in a weird not quite fall, not yet winter pattern things are pretty much in stasis. It has been too wet to till the garden but we really need to. With luck we will get a couple of dry days and I can get the tiller going. This upcoming Spring will be our third here and we have high hopes for the garden. The first spring we had just moved in so we didn’t do much and weren’t terribly successful. Last year went much better but we still found that the truth is there are no short cuts to gardening. If you don’t take the steps you are supposed to, it doesn’t work. That is especially true in a dry year last 2012. I plan on investing a lot more time into the garden as well as the handful of fruit trees we have (to my embarrassment I didn’t even realize we had apple trees in our yard). Certainly it is cheaper and less time consuming to just buy stuff from the store but we really have a desire to have more of our food come as the result of the labor of our own hands rather than from mass produced “farms”.

My wife is getting the knack of making butter. We have so much cream in our milk thanks to having a Jersey cow that we can skim a ton of cream off and combine the rest of the milk pretty easily. She is still using an old blender that I am pretty sure we got as a wedding present almost 22 years ago (and have packed and moved a dozen times!) so I am thinking about getting her a new blender for Christmas. I know, I know. I am a hopeless romantic. We don’t get as much milk as we could but we get plenty so we are not trying to push the cow’s production. At some point we need to breed her again, since she had so much trouble the last time and lost the calf we are looking for a smaller bull that throws smaller calves. Don’t want to risk losing a very expensive milk maker plus we want the calf to raise and butcher!

For some reason we decided to hatch some baby chicks. No idea why the ladies decided to do that at the start of winter but we have had a decent hatch so far. We are using incubators that are pretty old but they still get the job done. As an experiment we have been hatching them in our workshop which is not heated and it has been working fine thus far, something that really surprised me. We still plan on ordering some meat birds this spring, I would like to raise quite a few to butcher and freeze so that we have our own supply as we buy most of our chicken at the store still. Our big hurdle is space, we have a full sized freezer but a few whole chickens will fill that up quickly so we are planning on cutting the birds up rather than leaving them whole for the sake of space and ease of cooking later on.

The pigs are growing like crazy and as pigs are wont to do they are making quite a mess. Trying to slop them is a sure fire way to get mud and other less savory material on your clothes no matter how careful you are. Two of the barrows that we have been raising from the get-go are almost big enough to butcher. Two others that an Amish friend bought from us and raised for about a month are substantially smaller so they will not be ready to slaughter for at least two more months. You can really see the difference that proper feeding has on growth rates. The fifth hog is a gilt so the plan is to keep her and breed her to a neighbor’s Tamworth boar. The Tamworth is a heritage breed so by breeding a more traditional, commercial Hampshire gilt to the Tamworth boar we are hoping for a somewhat slower growing hog that is a bit fatter (i.e. better bacon!) than the commercial breeds.

The horses? Meh. We need to figure something out with them. We have more than we should and we do less with them than we want. We mostly are just feeding and watering them at this point. I am not sure what we want to do. Having a giant draft horse stallion is a pain as he cannot be kept with the rest of the horses and that limits our flexibility. We like him however so we are not quite ready to sell him. The horse situation is one we need to think about, if we end up not doing much with them next Spring it will be time to thin the herd down.

The Jacobs sheep and our couple of goats are just kind of hanging out. We have bred our ewes as well as the lady goats (to a buck named Big John) so at this point we just wait until spring lambing/kidding time.

So that is what is going down on the farm. Winter is supposed to be a quiet time but with our cornucopia of livestock we always have plenty to do!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A collection of random thoughts

I couldn't even begin to think coherently yesterday but a lot of thoughts swirled through my head. I am sure there will be many eloquent essays written asking "why" but I already know the answer to that question. Simply saying "Why? Sin." is easy but it is also true. The more pertinent question is "what now?". So what follows are a string of random thoughts that I have been wrestling with.

Yesterday was one of those days when theology becomes visceral. It is one thing to loftily speak of total depravity as a concept that fits into your theological system but it is quite another to see it live streaming on the internet. Most people are poorly equipped to react to something like this, even church goers who get a happy clappy Jesus that wants you to live your best life now. Well guess what, for those outside of Christ a world where children are murdered is as good as it is going to get. That should get us off our collective butts and out of our pews to go to the world where this ugliness and horror is happening daily. Satan is being given all the room he wants to operate while we cower inside of our churches, safe in our Sunday best with the sanctuary decorated for Christmas, anxiously looking at our watch until the hour is up and we can scamper back behind the safety of our locked doors while the world literally goes to hell so long as it does so "somewhere else". As yesterday showed, even in a town with a median income near six figures and every comfort of suburban life the enemy is not absent. We shrug off demonic possession in the Bible as a sort of embarrassing thing that happened back in those days and search for some psychological reason for these events but people like Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson and Adam Lanza are proof that something ill, something ancient and evil, still stalks the land.

It was also a day where the mind recoils from the horror of what happened. As you think through the implications of a school where children have to return at some point and hold class in a room where their classmates were murdered, of homes with presents wrapped beneath trees that will never be opened, of police trying to clear a building and coming across a room full of murdered children, of a high school graduation where 20 young people will be absent you cannot help but weep. The mind flees from such imagery and thought. Like 9/11 it was a day where we can only cry out to God. Unlike Columbine or Virginia Tech these were little children and even the most hardened of us cannot help but be overcome with sadness. For Christians we should be driven to prayer and worship. For others? I can only imagine impotent rage against a dead madman.

Social media provides an outlet for days like yesterday, both for people to pour out the anguish we all feel and also unfortunately to create a platform for all sorts of political ugliness and errant theological foolishness. For every ten things I saw that encouraged and strengthened me I saw something utterly inane or dangerous. Sadly too many of that stuff came from Christians. The shooting at Sandy Hook was used by some as a platform to tout homeschooling, people who believe as I do standing over the bodies of dead children to crow about the superiority of our school choice. Disgusting and shameful! My children are not going to be killed in a school shooting but there is a far greater danger, the danger of them seeing less righteous people who go to "public schools" as poor saps to be pitied. Other Christians wasted no time tweeting about the need for gun control, standing over the bodies of children to pontificate about how enlightened they are on this question. Arrogant fools!

Anyone who thinks that gun control measures are the answer here is just simply being foolish. When I was in school we had fire drills and tornado drills. The idea of someone shooting up our school never even crossed our minds and virtually everyone I knew growing up had guns in their home. Criminalizing something is not a deterrent to criminals. That is what makes them criminals in the first place, a willingness to ignore the law. Something has gone off the rails in America, something that tells a few unhinged individuals among a narcissistic people that being upset at someone else is a green light to shoot up a school or gun down a Congresswoman or whatever other way people act out. Life itself has lost value. The answer is not ending abortion, laudable as that goal is. Nor banning video games, no matter how convenient and cheap a way to score points saying that might be. Not even "putting God back in the schools", as if He needs our permission. No, the answer is Jesus and Christians talking to the lost one at time. It is hard work, it is often frustrating work but easy and quick mass fixes are not the answer.

Many people spoke yesterday of a special place in hell for Adam Lanza. While it is true that the killing of children is especially abhorrent to God I wonder how many of those wishing for Adam Lanza to burn in hell are on that very same path themselves? How many Christians expressed the same thought when as followers of Christ who have been plucked from the fire like a brand (Zec 3:2) we were headed for the very same fate as this murderer of children? I don't wish hell on a single person because I would spend eternity in hell and just as deservedly as Adam Lanza were it not for the sovereign intervention of God. God will exact vengeance in perfect justice, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19). Our role here is not to demand divine retribution. God has that under control and His perfect will is always done. Our role here is to tell a hurting people that there is more than this life and that there is more to heaven than going to church and being a moral person. God has places us here at this time and in this place. What will we do? Will we squander this opportunity or will we stand up and tell people about Jesus? That matters far more than defending our 2nd Amendment rights or passing gun control legislation.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Words fail

Words have been elusive all week. Today they simply are inadequate.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Review: Farmageddon

We have been looking forward to watching Farmageddon for some time. Thanks to a couple of hiccups with Netflix streaming it just became available on Friday. We wasted no time in sitting down after dinner to watch. What we observed was not news to us but when you hear mothers talk of the terror of having an armed agent pointing a gun at her with children in the house or the frustration of a farmer that is having their livelihood destroyed by bureaucrats, it brings home the reality of what is going on in our food system.

So much of our food comes from a bag or a box or a can or a cellophane wrapper. Little of what we eat is recognizable as actual food and is far removed from the farm. Sure it fills you up and sustains life but looking around at a growing population of people that are living longer but living less healthy lives is of major concern. The same government that seeks to take over "health care" in this country and regulate farmers who raise actual food at the same time coddles and subsidizes the production of unhealthy foods. The two major crops in this country, taking up enormous amounts of acreage, are field corn and soybeans. Guess what, you can't eat either of them! That is a little known fact. If you go into a nearby corn field or soybean field and try to eat what is growing there you probably will get ill. Our agricultural industry is focused on growing an inedible crop, crops that require a great deal of processing to turn them into something we can use or they are fed to livestock as unnatural feedstuffs that serve to pack fat onto animals at an incredible pace.

In this landscape there is another troubling development that has gone unnoticed for a long time but is finally getting the attention it deserves. This development is the intrusive action of the Federal regulatory bureaucracy, an unaccountable and increasingly militarized group, spending untold millions and ruining lives to prevent small scale agriculture from marketing their products to consenting and informed consumers. Into this war being fought across the country virtually unseen by the average America comes Farmageddon, a documentary look at just a few of the lives ruined and families terrorized by bureaucrats. When homes are broken into and businesses assaulted by agents pointing guns at law abiding, unarmed citizens for the "crime" of selling raw milk, something is very wrong. That a law enforcement agent should ever unholster his firearm, much less point it at an unarmed citizen who poses no threat, makes a mockery of our system of justice. We the people provide these men with firearms not for the purpose of terrorizing citizens or to make them feel like Rambo but to protect the people of the United States. Any agent of the government who pulls his gun and points it at an unarmed, cooperative citizen should lose his gun and his badge and face charges for menacing and assault.

As this film unfolds, we watch over and over again as the government of a country where hunger is a very real problem and obesity and other dietary related illnesses are growing into epidemic proportions sends armed officers to trash food supplies, force citizens to pour milk on the ground and seize the livelihood of farmers. While massive food conglomerates can sell unhealthy chemical compounds to consumers and call it "food" with the blessing of the government, small farmers are persecuted for selling actual food to consumers who make a conscious choice to pay more for a more natural product. I don't support the food police telling Wal-Mart that they can't sell Doritos and Mountain Dew but likewise I don't support the suppression of food producers filling a niche but growing market because it is seen as a threat by the mass produced food industry.

One of the things that stood out and was really cool was the diversity on  the farms they showed. None of the this homogenization where a "farm" only has one species and one breed of livestock. The farmers in Farmageddon milked Holstein, Brown Swiss, Jersey and Guernsey cows, raised a variety of cattle and sheep and had a wonderful mix of poultry. One of the things we love about where we live among the Amish is the diversity and activity on their farms. While our neighbor has a huge hog operation you would never know if it weren't for the smell because you never see the animals. They live their lives in confinement from birth to death, hybrids designed to produce a uniform product as efficiently as possible. The problem with that system is that an awful lot of our food is dependent on a pretty narrow spectrum of crops and livestock. If anything happened to those handful of products we would be in trouble. That doesn't stop the extreme homogenization where farms rotate a few crops or one species of livestock. On the other hand many Amish and other small scale farms are teeming with chickens, horses of course, cows, sheep, bees, goats and on and on. When we drive around there is always so much going on in tune with the rhythms of the seasons. Ironically and sadly the Amish in our area tend to consume a ton of junk food from Wal-Mart as well.

Films like this and the proliferation of blogs and other alternate news sources has brought to light the sort of unaccountable soft tyranny that has become the hallmark of the Federal government. As seen in books like Rand Paul's Government Bullies, these sorts of acts of authoritarian overreach happen all the time. An unelected, unaccountable government bully decides to make an example of a farmer or a land owner or a businessman and then proceed to bring the full weight of the government backed up by badges and gun. They have no disincentive to stop and an ego driven incentive to "make an example" of those who don't cower before a piece of paper waved by an employee of the FDA. I would encourage you to check this film out and show it to your friends. It may not seem like a big deal if you buy your food at the supermarket but if the government can run a small farmer out of business and seize their property


On a side note....

Thanks to the artificial tinkering with the market by our benevolent overlords in the government our pricing system is so skewed that it is virtually impossible to buy and operate a small scale farm. I would love to have a group of Christians that co-owned a small farm, raising food for our families, to give to the needy and be a way to evangelize. I recognize the near futility of that dream but I am confident that if the Lord is in it, He will purpose it to happen. More on this in a future post or three.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Closing One Chapter, Starting Another

Last night I posted that I was closing up shop at my political blog, The Arsenal Of Liberty, for a number of reasons. While I am going to leave the blog up I will probably not be publishing anything there going forward. Based on the page views for that blog, no one is going to notice! I have been finding that my focus on politics and using the world's methods to try to achieve what can at best be described as a perversion of Kingdom priorities has been an unwelcome and unhelpful distraction. The political detox process is going to take some time so those who read my tweets or are friends with me on Facebook will still have to suffer.

Closing that blog doesn't mean a disengagement entirely. I still will be writing about how politics impacts the church but not so much from a partisan standpoint but more as a warning. I will still write about militarism and patriotism in the church and how it damages our witness. I will try to engage popular theories like "Two Kingdom" theology, theonomy/dominionism, "Just War", etc. There is a lot to say and think about without picking sides especially since I have come to realize that there really is only one side in American politics, the side that panders to the "Bigs" in our society: Big Business, Big Labor, Big Military, Big Religion. Left behind are the majority of us who pay so the elites can play.

In some ways I am hopeful that the sea change in politics we are witnessing will lead evangelicals to turn away from our obsessive focus on politics and start to focus on cleaning our own house, removing the many planks from our own eyes. For far too long we have worried about getting "prayer back in schools", keeping homosexuals from "marrying" and preserving our favorable tax treatment from Caesar while demanding Caesar leave us alone. Meanwhile the church is in disarray. Our kids by and large look indistinguishable from the world. We spend and borrow and hoard money with the best of them. We are divided and fragmented and getting worse in that respect seemingly every day. We are not reaching the lost and we are not feeding the poor. So many of us are hurting inside with plastic "Sunday morning smiles" on the outside. We have lost our way and we need a major course correction beyond the next election cycle.

Turning leftovers in bacon
I do plan to start writing about issues of food and farming and how they impact family life. I am just more concerned right now with raising my own pork than I am with how much pork barrel spending happens in Washington. I am mostly interested because I see it as a way to instill lost values of simplicity and quiet labor in my children and also because my family, although getting better about food with home raised eggs, raising our own meat chickens, turkeys and pigs, getting fresh, real raw milk from our own cow, still eats really poorly.

I do take seriously the concerns raised in a post I read a few weeks ago, The Dangers Of Christian Agriculture. Having a small farm and living a semi-agrarian life doesn't make one more godly and even being self-sufficient and prideful in that lifestyle can be a dangerous trap. I never want to assume that a certain lifestyle is a replacement or substitute for being filled with the Spirit and deep in the Word. I also realize there are myriad crackpots, kooks and outright heretics in the "Agrarianism" movement. Eyes wide open here!

So expect to hear less, much less, about anything even vaguely political and more about horses and cows, food and community, farming and simplifying. We are blessed to live in an area of the country that fascinates us and fits us so well, surrounded by farming and Anabaptists, close to family and the area where we grew up. You should start to see some posts starting right away, initially with a review of the movie Farmageddon that we watched last night. Just a very disturbing film even if you don't care about raw milk or where your food comes from.

I am also considering changing the name of the blog as it doesn't make much sense anymore since we live way outside of the 'burbs. I am open to suggestions on that!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Artificial Distinctions

I read a couple of posts yesterday that dealt with the issue of "local church" ministries versus "parachurch" ministries. It seems that the more we focus on the "primacy of the local church" the more suspicion we get about so-called "parachurch" groups. Before going any further, what exactly is the difference?

Local churches are where you go on Sunday, where you are "under the authority of elders/pastors", where you have your "membership" and where you get baptized and have communion. Oh yeah, and the first place you should donate your money. An example is the typical church you find in any town, First Baptist Church of so and so or Grace Presbyterian Church.

Parachurch ministries is a pretty broadly defined idea typically are more global in scale, crossing denominational and ecclesiastical boundaries. They don't have regularly scheduled "worship services". They tend to focus more on mission or service work than "churchy" stuff. Groups like aid ministries (Samaritan's Purse) or theological groups (The Gospel Coalition) or even local pregnancy resource centers would all sort of fall under the umbrella of "parachurch" ministries.

As I said, the existence of these parachurch groups that are outside of the direct control of local churches, funded and administered independently, make some people quite nervous. Here is one example from well known blogger and Boyce College professor Denny Burk regarding a demotion of a Campus Crusade for Christ, er "Cru", employee for being a complementarian, When It Costs To Be A Complimentarian. The story itself is interesting because of the irony but something else he wrote grabbed my attention. He makes this interesting and common claim (emphasis mine).....

From time to time, I will hear people argue that complementarianism only applies to the church and should not be applied to parachurch groups. This has never been a compelling argument to me. It is true that parachurch groups are not the church. They cannot baptize or administer the Lord’s supper. There is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the existence and role of parachurch organizations in relation to local churches. At the very least, I think everyone should agree that parachurch orgs should never adopt ministry practices which would undermine the teaching and discipline of actual churches.

So a "parachurch" organization cannot baptize or "administer the Lord's Supper". Says who? In fact where in the New Testament do we see anyone "administering" the Lord's Supper? This division between "local church" and "parachurch" makes a mockery of what the New Testament teaches about The Church. If someone comes to Christ and is baptized by a person who is part of a Samaritans Purse mercy mission, praise God! That is a cause for celebration, not finger wagging because some parachurch group is getting uppity and  not submitting to the proper "local church" authority.
The Lord's Supper you say? Let's see your membership card.

Does the Bible make a distinction between kinds of ministries? Does service of one kind trump others because it happens under the auspices of one legal entity rather than another? Can only certain types gatherings of Christians baptize new believers or celebrate the Lord's Supper?

I don't think so. These distinctions are completely artificial and arbitrary. I simply don't find Paul or any of the apostles drawing lines around certain types of ministry as being more important because it happens within the immediate vicinity or is controlled by clergy or benefits people you see more often versus a more global ministry. So why do we have so much strife over "local church" and "parachurch"? Easy answer to that....

Money and Power

Every nickle that goes to a "parachurch" ministry is likely a nickle that isn't making it's way into the offering plate on Sunday. When Christians baptize new believers or celebrate the Supper outside of the box that the institution has created, the institution loses control. That won't be the rationale you hear from any of the defenders of the exclusivity or preeminence of the "local church" but that seems the most likely motivation that has led to this division in the church. So much of the life of "local churches" revolves around bank account and membership numbers

So what can/should a "local church" do that a "parachurch" cannot? Not much because we don't have any Scriptural guidance for division between this kind of church expression and that kind of church expression. In many ways certain parachurch groups act more like the church as see it in the New Testament than most local churches. We don't see the early church doing common local church activities like Sunday school, worship services, sermons, VBS, etc. We do see the early church doing food distribution, taking up collections to support missionaries and banding together to provide mercy relief for others. So from my point of view it can be argued that "parachurch" is more like "real church" than "local church"!

That doesn't negate the importance of regular, local gatherings of the church. There just isn't warrant in Scripture to denigrate some expressions of the church working together for the purpose of ministry over other forms. When we make an idol of the "local church" it is just as bad as any other idol especially when it appears that some of this raising up of the "local church" comes with ulterior motives. We need more ways for the church to work together and to do so on more than just Sunday morning, not less and trying to turn "parachurch" ministries into the proverbial red headed step-children of the church is not helping.  The future for the church is clearly going to demand that we start thinking outside of the local church model as the end all and be all. Parachurch ministries have their own issues but they are and will increasingly be a critical part of the church.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Equity With Other Believers?

Dave Black posted something pretty controversial the other day, all the more so because the very fact that many in the church would find it controversial is in itself pretty telling. He used a term that I have not seen before in this way, "equity", or more specifically global equity among believers. Here is what he wrote in relation to equity and Christmas (and he has another quote about Christmas that beat me to the punch that I am going to link to later): 

Have you noticed? Nothing reveals the bankruptcy of the evangelical church in America more clearly than our materialistic lifestyles. Especially at Christmas. How easily we get caught up in the spirit of the world. Several years ago Becky and I made the conscious decision to forgo exchanging Christmas presents with each other and to let God use that money instead to purchase our tickets to Ethiopia. We no longer buy presents for other people or purchase a Christmas tree. We've never missed those things. Our lifestyle has become a lot simpler than it was before we started going to Ethiopia twice a year. We made a definite choice to go without certain things in order to put Ethiopia first.

Yet as I pray and evaluate my life today, I am discovering many other areas of my lifestyle that require sifting. True, I'm still willing to leave the safety and security of America several times a year. But when I am at home I tend to think that I can't live without that bowl of ice cream. I feel the need to find new ways to save money for missions. Already the television and magazine subscriptions have disappeared from my life. And I rarely purchase any books for my personal library. No, I'm  NOT going to become a Scrooge about these things. But God has convicted me that I need to be more frugal than I am now. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8 -- that classic passage on Christian finances -- "I'm not laying down any rules. But by showing how eager you are to help, I'm trying to find out how real your own love is" (2 Cor. 8:8). Paul's telling me -- Dave Black -- that I must seek equity in my dealings with other believers, be they Americans or Africans. "Since you have plenty," he writes, "it's only fair that you should help those who are in need." If that doesn't hit the nail on the head. Our problem in America is that we believe all the money that comes to us belongs to us to spend as we please. There is only one solution to this problem, and it is not legalism. It is seeking the mind of Christ about the proper use of earthly things. It is living a life that matches my responsibility to my fellow believers in the Majority World.

Friends, can you imagine what would happen this Christmas if Christians in America were to grasp this principle of equity? Within a few years, we would turn our world upside down for Christ. May God begin to set us free from our covetousness and greed and help us to live more simply so that others might simply live. Let's be sure to keep His example always before us:

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rich as He was, He made Himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of His poverty (2 Cor. 8:9).

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!

You know what Sheriff Buford T. Justice would say about that?

That is not how we operate here in the West and especially America. As long as I "tithe" (whatever that means to me) to a local church and if I have anything left over to another charity I am good.  We often wave the stats about how the most religious states are also the "most generous" in terms of tax deductible charitable giving to brag about how generous we are compared to the heathen in New England and California but I wonder what portion of those generous contributions go to local churches and what percentage of those offerings stay right in that local church providing a place for convenient religious expression for those same people. There is nothing especially generous about funding a building for you to gather in for an hour a week, pay for Sunday school and VBS materials for your own kids and pay a guy so you can subcontract the work of ministry to him. Our view of money and giving and sharing is awfully localized. That is understandable but it is also dangerous.

But wait a second.

Do we have an obligation to other believers that we don't even know and won't meet this side of eternity? In the New Testament the answer seems to be yes.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Cor 16:1-3)

This collection was not unique to Corinth. See also what Paul wrote in Romans 15.... 

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. (Romans 15:25-27)

So the saints in Macedonia and Achaia owed it to the saints in Jerusalem? Oh I am not sure I am comfortable at all with that language! Someone needed to tell those slackers in Jerusalem to get a job! Given the reality of life back then these would be offerings to complete strangers. Yet there apparently was no thought given to taking up a collection that wouldn't benefit their own "local church", something we really don't ever see in the Bible. In other words we never see the church raising funds for the operation of the church but instead for the benefit of others, apparently often for others outside of the immediate "local church".

I think Dr. Black strikes the right tone. This is not a legalistic thing. This isn't an issue of I am holier than thou because you have a smart phone and I don't. Blogging at its best is designed to provoke thought and I have been thinking a lot about what he wrote. In fact it dovetails nicely with some other thoughts on the church and how we artificially divide it up. So more on that later but first do you think that we have an obligation to seek equity with believers in other parts of the world or even those living right around us?

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Meeting Is About Mutuality

I have been reading, and thus far thoroughly enjoying, a book by Jerry Bridges titled True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia. One of the things I like best about this book, other than getting it free for Kindle, is that his focus so far in the book is on the reality of our community in Christ by virtue of being in Christ rather than on how we meet or live with one another. If we get that wrong, the actual practice of living in community is irrelevant and I think that is where some community focused groups go astray, by putting community ahead of commonality in Christ.

While reading today I came across this quote and thought it was worth sharing....

The admonition of Hebrews 10: 24-25 — “Let us not give up meeting together” — is not fulfilled merely by attending church on Sunday morning, as is so often supposed. Rather, it is fulfilled only when we follow through with the instruction to encourage, spur on, or stimulate one another. This cannot be done sitting in pews, row upon row, listening to the pastor teach. It can be done only through the mutual interchange of admonishment and encouragement. This is not to diminish the importance of the teaching ministry of our pastors; the Bible makes it quite clear that their ministry holds a vital place in our lives (see, for example, Ephesians 4: 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 4: 1; 1 Timothy 3: 2; 5: 17; 2 Timothy 4: 2). But we need both the public teaching of our pastors and the mutual encouragement and admonishing of one another. It is the latter that seems to be the main thrust of Hebrews 10: 24-25.

Bridges, Jerry (2012-09-14). True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (Kindle Locations 789-795). Navpress. Kindle Edition.

That is excellent. Even as he affirms  the value of teaching from elders (although I would say that the teaching of elders is less about formal sermons and more about teaching through example) he also recognizes that  the oft used canard that Hebrews 10:24-25 is talking about "going to church" on Sunday is missing the point. Most traditional church settings make it quite difficult to interact with one another at all, much less stir one another up or encouraging one another. We gather together but not for the reasons the Bible lays out. In fact I would say...

The gathering of the church is not about "worship", it is about mutual edification and encouragement 

We miss this to our detriment. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that most Christians come out of the Sunday gathering feeling good but not one iota more equipped to engage the lost or serve the poor. We wonder why people don't share their faith or go on missions or serve the poor after years or decades of "worship services" but never get to the point where we question the "worship service" itself. We just prescribe more of the same and act puzzled at the results.

You may say that good teaching is equipping and I would conditionally agree. There are plenty of people with barely a basic understanding of the fundamental truths of the faith, including many people in the simple/organic church movement. I would go so far as to say that there are some prominent voices in the simple/organic church movement that go out of their way to deny fundamentals of the faith and see that as being a sign of maturity. So teaching is crucial and elders should be teaching but that teaching cannot be exclusively or even primarily traditional teaching methods. Most people just don't learn what they need to that way. What we see modeled in the Bible seems more like "on the job training", learning by imitation, than learning by lecture.

Bottom line, if we are not engaged in mutual edification and exhortation and encouragement when the church gathers, we aren' doing it right and something crucial and Biblical is missing. Likewise we cannot keep trotting out the same old substitutions for community and mutuality and then pine for a more active church. Sermons aren't enough!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Home Is Where The Heart (and Money) Is!

Guy Muse, a missionary to Ecuador, asked a question this morning Do you know how much the average Baptist gives to global missions per year? and the answer is troubling...

While the amount varies from year to year, the best I have been able to ascertain is the annual capita giving swings somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.00 on the low end, and $8.35 on the high end.

Of course there is a skewing to this as there are a small number of Southern Baptists who give much more to mission funds and many, many who give zilch and using the raw numbers of Southern Baptist "members" horribly overstates the actual numbers but the point is that in the SBC, a conservative and self-described evangelistic denomination, the per capita giving for global missions is negligible. I would guess that the same is true for domestic mission groups.

Meanwhile as I have written before (see my post Speaking of haranguing the institutional church ) this same denomination has tens of billions in church property that requires untold tens of millions in maintenance each year. So by and large American church goers seem quite content to put checks in the plate (in return for a tax deduction of course) to buy and maintain the comfy buildings they go to a few hours a week but can barely be bothered to give the equivalent of a super sized meal at McDonald's to reach the lost overseas.

I wonder what Jesus would have said about our tendency to keep our giving where it is of the most benefit to ourselves? Or maybe we don't need to wonder...

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I resemble that remark

Bobby at Deconstructing Neverland has a very heartfelt post today, Breaking the silence. His post really resonated with me because I know a lot of the feelings that he has. You should check it out and drop him a word of encouragement, I know he (and many of us!) could certainly use it.

That Is Not My Job

Francis Chan was interviewed at the webpage Church Leaders and one of the answers he gave was thought provoking. He was asked about evangelism in the church and this is what he said..

What would you say is one of the biggest myths about evangelism in the church today?

There are a couple of things. I don’t know what the biggest one is.  I think one of the biggest problems is that no one feels like it’s their job.

I hear pastors say: “Well, it’s not really my job to go out and share my faith with people.  I’m really supposed to equip the people to do that …” 

And the people say: “Well, I’m not a preacher, so I don’t like to preach to anyone. I just try to show them by having a nice life …”

Bottom line: No one is really getting the Gospel out. The truth is it’s everyone’s job.

If pastors were out sharing their faith, then they could say: “Follow me; I’ll make you a fisher of men. Watch how I do it.” There would be a sense of discipleship where people can come along.

Instead, we give sermons about fishing and PowerPoints about fishing and books about fishing, but who’s actually out there fishing and taking someone along with them? That’s the problem. Pastors aren’t doing it, so then the sheep don’t have that type of example.

The truth is the believers should be doing it themselves and showing other believers—“This is what I do in my workplace, look at how I share with them, notice how I got into this guy’s life and how we go golfing together, and after a while, he got to see my life, and I got to lay out the Gospel.” We’re not discipling people in that.

What we do is a big church program, send out fliers, and if you have enough courage, maybe tell your friend to come to “Jesus on Ice” or whatever program we’ve got going on, but we’re still not fluent in Scripture. It’s so weird to people that Jesus is the most important thing to us yet we’re so awkward in talking about it.

We love our kids. We’ll talk about our kids all day. We love our wives. We’ll talk about our wives. We love a sport. We’ll talk about that sport. But when we talk about Jesus, it doesn’t just flow out of this natural, this is who I am. I’m crazy about God and what He did for me. It’s supernatural how He answers my prayers, and I just love Him.

I think that is something that is pretty obvious but no one will say it. Chan gets away with it because he walked away from a comfortable world of sermons on Sunday, conference speaking and writing books to get out among the lost and he equip others in a much less traditional way to do the same. It is sad and perverse that he took a lot of flak from some corners of the church for doing that, as if going out among the lost is somehow a step down in faithfulness from delivering a sermon on Sunday morning.

Bottom line as I have written before. If a guy is not equipping the less mature in the church for the work of ministry, which includes evangelism along with works of mercy and service, then he isn't fulfilling his calling. I don't care what ecclesiastical titles he carries, whether pastor or "reverend" or priest or elder. I don't care what educational achievements he has or which conferences he is invited to speak at or how many books with glowing reviews he has written.

That is not to point the finger of blame at the pastor (acknowledging that I am not anywhere near where I should be on sharing the Gospel). There are plenty of people who are quite content to "show up and pay up" and think that the pastor is getting paid so it is his job to evangelize because they "don't have the gift of evangelism". Whether you think you have the "gift" or not doesn't change that you have the calling!

We all have plenty to learn from each other, not just pastor to laity but every Christian to every Christian (for a good blog on this see Alan Knox's new post The church as a team of player-coaches). I don't think even Ray Comfort and those guys have it down pat because it simply isn't something you can have down pat. Every person has the same need, Jesus, but they also have very different experiences and backgrounds. We just need to equip people for evangelism and a huge part of that is encouraging them to actually do it. To do that we need to get out of our circles. Chan makes a point about private school and homeschool that I think overreaches a bit but the broader point is valid that many of us are cocooned within the church circles and just don't come into contact with the people who need to hear Jesus. Granted one of the largest populations of lost people that need to come to Christ are found on the "membership" rolls and in the pews of many churches but you get my point.

Ultimately we just need to spend more time together, in formal setting perhaps but more importantly in informal settings so we can watch one another interact with unbelievers and also serve each other. We see Paul often referring to others as co-workers or co-laborers, those we work and live alongside. That is something we cannot do in tightly controlled setting for an hour a week, we need to live alongside one another because you never know when a chance to witness or serve might come along. More on this later as community among the saints is weighing heavily on my mind yet again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thinking about Jubilee

In some corners of the Christian world we see the idea of Jubilee, taken from the Old Testament, presented as a framework for how Christians should think about economic and political issues in American society. Writers and speakers like Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne invoke the Jubilee on a regular basis and it has started to really catch on as model for "social justice" more broadly in the church.

Because of this I read with a great deal of interest an informative piece at the Gospel Coalition by Art Lindsley, 5 Myths About Jubilee that gets beyond the simplistic rhetoric to look at what the Jubilee was and was not and why it is not really applicable to our culture.

This redemptive-historical approach to understanding Jubilee has the advantage of avoiding the debates about capitalism or socialism. Given the complexities and misunderstandings surrounding Jubilee, the present-day applications of this practice are not immediately clear. They are not as easy to interpret and apply as those who perpetuate these myths want to maintain. But it is clear that Jubilee cannot be used to defend redistribution of wealth by the state.

Of course, even if the Bible doesn't require the state to redistribute wealth, the state may still do so. Whether the state is the best vehicle to meet the needs of poor people is a separate issue.

There is a case to be made that the state should provide a safety net for the poor. But state involvement does not absolve Christians of individual or corporate responsibility. Certainly Christians must be concerned about the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan because God requires us to do so. Jesus says that whoever serves one of the "least of these" serves him (Matthew 25:45).

Biblical commands are not given to the impersonal, secular state, but to Christians to care personally for those in need with our time and treasure.

I think that hits the right tone. 

Just as those who put forth 2 Thessalonians 3:10, "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat", as a defense of capitalism or opposition to welfare programs are taking a concept completely out of context, so too are those who see the Old Covenant national Israeli practice of Jubilee as political cover for liberal wealth redistributive policies. In some ways I think it is a cheap out for Christians to rely on the government to do what we have been called to do, a failing of Christians on the left and the right.

We need to be mindful at all times of reading modern cultures into the nation state of Israel under the Old Covenant and beware of trying to force our own interpretations into situations where it is not warranted. Check that article out, it is pretty short and I think you will find it enlightening.

Friday, November 23, 2012

When I Am Weak

I just started reading my new copy of Dave Black's newly re-released book Paul, Apostle of Weakness and it is good stuff. Likewise I read a wonderful story today by Robert Martin at The Abnornmal Anabaptist regarding his wife and her thanking God for her cancer, Boasting In Weakness. Robert writes..

So, when we are weak, that is when God shines through the most. Our clay jars show off the treasure of God’s love so much more because they allow the treasure to shine without distraction. When we live depending totally on him, we cannot help but put God first. 

Thank God for cancer. I can say it and mean it. This is not someplace I got on my own, it is only by God’s Spirit I can say this. I pray only that somehow, someway, the pain and weakness that Heather, Andrew, myself, and others deal with in our journey can point that much more clearly to God and to what Jesus has done in our lives.

Like Dave and Robert my wife too has had her own journey with cancer. While hers is not life threatening it is still cancer and over the last few months, while preparing for her scan to determine how much regrowth there has been, she has been off of her thyroid replacement medication which makes even the simplest task an insurmountable barrier and slows down the thinking process to a crawl. We received wonderful news when the doctor reported a clear scan which meant no further treatment would be required. Praise God! Yet we would have praised Him all the same if the result had been less favorable. We can do that because we know that He is always in control and the more we yield ourselves to Him, the more He lifts us up.

If only the church would heed the words of Paul and stop seeking worldly power and security. After all, as counter-intuitive as it seems, we are at our strongest when we are our weakest.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Musings On Gratitude, Harvesting and Such

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:36-38)

On Thanksgiving Day many of us gather with family and friends to celebrate and give thanks, Today I am mindful of those who don't have a turkey to roast, who don't have family near them, who don't even have a roof over their heads. In a land of plenty it is so terribly easy to forget that for the rest of the world, to borrow the silly rhetoric of the disaffected spoiled youth of America, we are the 1%. Still we often seem bitter and ungrateful compared to an orphan in Haiti who is delighted with the simplest pleasure. We look around at the almost obscene plenty we have, give an often begrudging thanks today and then wait with eager anticipation for the opportunity to to buy even more stuff tomorrow.

Enough of the grumpiness, I have so much to be thankful for!

As always but ever in need of repeating is our thanks above all to God Almighty for sending His Son who died and rose again for my sins. If I had this blessing and no other it would be eternally more than enough, a continually flowing fountain of blessings without measure or end.

I am thankful for how God has challenged and changed me, often painfully and likewise often at some cost to my pride. I can see that He is showing me things, things that are crucial to understanding the Kingdom of God but that I have missed for so many years.

We are thankful this year for a clean scan for my wife meaning no additional radiation! A completely unexpected blessing, those are often the best kind. When we heard we were mostly skeptical but it was great news and we will rejoice in it!

We are thankful that God has placed us here where we have met so many wonderful people and have so many opportunities to serve our neighbors and minister to those in need. We feel more at home here than really anywhere I can remember, close to family and making more and more new friends. It has been a great blessing for us indeed.

Something that is largely lost on Thanksgiving is the timing of the holiday at the culmination of the harvesting season, a giving of thanks for the bounty of the table. One of the things we love about where we live presently is the omnipresent agricultural season changes. The harvest comes in and we give thanks to the one who makes the harvest happen, the one who sends the rain and made the soil and commands the sun to rise and set each day. Without His daily care none of us would have even the breath we take much less a bountiful table of food. This is especially true thanks to our Amish neighbors who live lives that revolve around planting, cultivating, harvesting, who look forward to the birth of spring foals and calves and lambs. While we can worship God anywhere, for us seeing the rhythms of life lived out in farming is an ever-present reminder of the active hand of the Lord of the Harvest. The simple act of driving around is an opportunity to glory in our Lord.

So much of the New Testament is lost on a culture that is so removed from the cycles of the seasons, winter leading to the promise of Spring and the labor of Spring leading to the anticipation of Summer and the Summer tending that leads to the bounty of the harvest in Fall, the hard work of the Fall leading to the waiting and preparing of Winter. So it goes on year after year. In fact all of life is predicated on those seasons happening the same way. Little wonder that so much of the New Testament invokes the language of agriculture, certainly for the culture they were in it makes sense but God chose that time and that place to reveal His Son. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. He is the the Vine and the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God. His death and resurrection are celebrated in breaking bread and drinking wine. How can we understand Him without understanding the harvest?

Anyway, enough random musings. I need to get my Turkey Game Face on and get ready to enjoy the turkey we raised on our farm with pumpkin pie made from pumpkins we grew in the garden and topped with whipped cream from our cow. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Different Approaches to Powerlessness: The value of Anabaptism in a post-"Christian" America

It is without question that the influence of religious groups in America is on the wane. As I have said hundreds of times I don't mourn this or even think it is a bad thing. I have come to realize that politically conservative religious moralism has about as much to do with the Kingdom as politically liberal secular libertinism. No need to hash that out again but it is the reality we are living with, as is the question of how much we have blurred the line between the two. As the weeks roll by post-election, the handwringing and garment rending shows little sign of abating anytime soon.

It can be seductively easy to think of the American religious landscape as if it is the sum total of the Christian experience when in fact we are just a short, albeit significant, dot on the map. The history of the church didn't leap from 1st century Jerusalem to 18th century America after all! For much of the 2000 years that have elapsed since the cross, the Roman Catholic church has wielded enormous power of secular affairs, from the crowning of kings to the possession of land to the starting of wars. Even after the Reformation we still see "the church" wielding enormous influence, including here in America where religious divisions led to many of the political boundaries we take for granted today. As Americans values changed, perhaps corresponding with our increasing affluence and comfort, the religious institutions of our land have lost ground which has i turn led to some strange bedfellows.

Going back perhaps to the election of Reagan we have seen former enemies joining together in a bid to cling to political power and influence. Protestants and Catholics alike have become united for the sake of politics in a way that we never saw even a hint of for the sake of the Kingdom. This was "successful" for a time thanks to the efforts of groups like Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the manifesto known as the Manhattan Declaration. For a short while it seemed that a coalition of evangelicals and Roman Catholics would prove to be a powerful voting block for some time to come, culminating in the election of George W. Bush who was one of the, probably the, most vocal Presidents about his faith in recent memory. How quickly that has collapsed. In spite of spirited attempts to raise the (rather ironic) specter of religious persecution over the Obamacare birth control mandate, Barack Obama won the presidency for a second time. Less convincingly to be sure but without a doubt he won. This has left religious conservatives scrambling.

So what does this have to do with Anabaptists?

Just this, keeping in mind that I am speaking more of the early Anabaptist than their modern descendants who seem to be split in two on opposite sides of the same myopic hermeneutic. The Anabaptists never had to learn to minister and evangelize after losing their influence and power because they never had any to begin with. From the outset they were hunted and persecuted and hated. Yet they still reached many, many people for Christ and provided a powerful witness that deeply impacts many of us today, a witness that is far more valuable for us than the great theologians of the Reformation era or more modern church leaders in America safely writing book after book from the safe cocoon of a pastoral office or a seminary campus. We can learn much from those who reached the lost with the Gospel in spite of government persecution.

In these days which seem so dark for so many Christians (for all the wrong reasons I might add), it is well worth our time to spend our efforts looking to how our brothers of ages passed ministered amidst opposition rather than pining for a golden age that never really existed. The Anabaptists provide us with a witness and example, one tempered by the fire of persecution and watered with the blood of matrydom, that Christians feeling adrift and powerless would be wise to study.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Talking about the Millennial Generation

One of the topics during an in-service meeting at the pregnancy resource center where my wife and I volunteer was the Millennial generation and how to minster to them. These so-called Millennials are the current and upcoming generation of young adults, the people that are, like every new young generation of adults, seemingly impossible to understand. There are few things that people of older generations find praiseworthy about this generation and lots of stuff we don’t like. As we talked about them I started thinking, trying to move beyond the stereotypes and two things came to mind. One, these are people that we are called to take the Gospel to and as they come to Christ we are called to lead by example and mentor them. Two, I am not sure we can pin all of the blame on this group and perhaps they are right more often than we give them credit for.

One of the biggest gripes about this group, besides their sense of entitlement, is that they reject many of the social traditions of our culture. This is seen as a major failing but can you blame them? One after another the institutions that we relied upon when I was younger have collapsed or been exposed as deeply flawed. I believe this exposure is responsible for much of the general malaise that infects America. There is little we feel like we can rely on anymore. So sure Millennials reject the institutions and traditions that older Americans grew up with. Why wouldn’t they?

The American story has always relied on a carefully crafted worldview and crucial to that worldview are certain institutions and structures that people were taught to rely upon and trust. We trust the law, the schools, the government, the church. We hold certain people up as heroic figures: Presidents, business leaders, teachers, police officers, soldiers, athletes. During the last twenty years trust in those institutions has been collapsing.

Our schools are a mess. Many students enter the building after passing through a metal detector thanks to multiple mass shootings. Seemingly a week doesn’t go by without a new story of a teacher using his or her position of trust as a means to seduce students. The public school system has degenerated into a combo of taxpayer funded daycare and prophylactic dispensary

Businesses are exporting jobs left and right in response to wildly inflated wages and the insatiable American demand for cheap products. This generation has grown up watching companies lay people off, export jobs and generally end the old order of employment where people stayed at the same job for decades. My employer is not loyal to me and I am not loyal to my employer.

Sports figures were heroes when I was growing up, guys like Joe Montana and Michael Jordan (before we knew what a total jerk Jordan was). The early days of ESPN meant we saw more scores but little else, certainly not the barrage we get today. With our contemporary 24 hour news cycles that includes the sports world, that view has changed. Today you only need to look at two major sports stars to see why athletes have become more of dark, anti-heroes in our society: Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Both were men that we at the top of their sport and the sports world. Both were the face of their sport and without them both sports are in trouble. Viewership plummeted for golf without Tiger and who is going to watch the Tour de France now other than hardcore cyclists? Both men cheated, one on his spouse with any willing woman that walked by and the other via performance enhancing drugs. Athletics now are a morass of immoral behavior, performance enhancing drugs and mercenary behavior.

The family has always been an almost mythical institution in America. Mom and dad and apple pie. After decades of the devastation of divorce more and more people are eschewing marriage entirely. Generations of Americans, especially minorities but increasingly among Caucasians, have grown up in single parent homes, typically the mother. Some of the statistics are deeply disturbing and don’t bode well for a cohesive society in the future. Guess what? The need to reach these people is greater than ever before.

The popular culture view of family has changed more radically than virtually any other institution. Gone are the days of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, gone are even more contemporary (at least for me growing up!) imagery like Happy Days and the Cosby Show. The media image of family today is that family is completely optional and often counterproductive to being happy. Starting with shows like the Simpsons and Married With Children, the view of the family that Millennials have been bombarded with has been overwhelmingly negative. How many contemporary media images portray the traditional family in a positive light? Little wonder family is more of a mythical construct than an ideal to be achieved for this generation.

Even “the church”, loosely defined as the religious institutions of our culture, has fallen on hard times and again you can’t fault Millennials for rejecting the religious institutions of our culture. They have grown up with continual stories of sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic church and the Ted Haggard type scandals among evangelicals. More and more organized religion is viewed as a negative force in our culture, a hypocritical and judgmental force that seems obsessed with controlling people’s behavior and collecting money. I can’t say that this perception is incorrect. Many of the young people I talk to in sessions at the pregnancy resource center are very clearly open to and curious about God but have very little interest in traditional religious expressions.

So how do you blame the Millennials for their attitudes? For Pete’s sake even the Boy Scouts were hiding and covering for pedophiles in their midst for decades.

What does this mean to the church? Well it is certainly not something I present for us to shake our heads over and wag our fingers at in disapproval. It is what it is. What it really means for the church is that we need to reexamine our assumptions and our approach to reaching this generation for Christ. Our mission is not to whip these young punks into shape and get them to toe the American cultural line, it is to reach them with the lifesaving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

First and foremost, we cannot continue to be evangelists for church. By that I mean the presumptive method of “evangelism”, i.e. inviting people to church where they will presumably hear the Gospel during a sermon or perhaps during Sunday school. Church evangelism is convenient and easy but it says to the lost that in order to follow Christ they need to conform to the cultural institution of “church”. That may vary from place to place but the bottom line is that the specter of organized religion and all of the baggage that comes with it (most deservedly) make church evangelism untenable. Fewer and fewer people are interested in "church" and they are mostly right in rejecting it.

Second, we need to divorce (pun intended) our message from the religious culture we grew up in. In other words the message needs to be Jesus, not the American "Christian" culture. Too many of the people we need to reach associate Christianity with a particular subset of the American culture, a culture that is alien to them and often white, middle-class, politically conservative. There is nothing wrong with being a white, middle-class, politically conservative person. After all I am about the whitest person I know and far more conservative than most! It just isn’t part of the Gospel and like it or not when people who are not Christians think of Christianity the picture they get is offensive, not offensive because of the offense of the cross but offensive because, well because we have been pretty annoying a lot of the time. The church has raised up political idols that even when the position is right serve to cause a stumbling block. Just as Paul rejected getting paid for evangelizing because it was a stumbling block and a barrier to the Gospel, we need to tone down our political activism on both sides of the spectrum so that people don’t see an elephant or a donkey when they talk to us, they see Jesus.

Finally we need to learn to talk to them. Not talk at them or talk about them, we have that figured out. I mean talk to them. This is a generation that grew up and lives in a world of multiple screens. Multitasking is the norm. They are unlikely to be impressed by a 45 minute sermon where some guy drones on and on about a passage of Scripture that he spent a week dissecting. It is easy to hide behind the sermon but at some point maybe, just maybe, it is more important to reach the lost where they are than it is to prop up a cherished tradition. The church is still using an 18th century method to reach a 21st century audience with a 1st century message. Derp? For a people that love to talk about how much we love the Bible we seem to be quite content to do things our own way and woe to the rebel that suggests we do things differently.

Reaching this next generation of Millennials is not going to be easy and is going to require that we change our methods while not changing our message. Some may see that as some sort of unfaithful compromise but nothing could be further from the truth. Those who cling to the relatively modern traditions that we hold so dear at the expense of the mission of the church that was instituted nearly 2000 years ago are not stalwarts standing against the tide, they are just modern Pharisees impeding the Gospel. Those of us living in America have our mission field before us and I don’t recall that we get a vote in who Jesus is sending us to. Winning elections or filling pews while losing a generation because they won’t get in line is not a victory any of us should seek.