Friday, March 30, 2012

The Glory of God in adoption

This is just a wonderful story, quite short but worth your time to read: True Woman | Rescued

If you are a Christian you are a priest. Act like one!

A great post showed up on my sidebar this morning from Eric Carpenter, A Call to Live as the Priests We Are. Eric seems to be of the opinion that being a priest is something that all Christians are called to, not just in theory but in reality and in practice. Here is a choice nugget from his post:
God does not expect us to act as priests in order to come to him. Rather, because of Jesus' atoning work, we are priests. Our status is set. It does not depend on our work, but Christ's accomplished work.
Yes and amen!

Don't let anyone tell you that you are not qualified or "called" or "ordained" to be a priest. Don't let our culture tell you that serving as a priest only takes on a certain religious form. When a run of the mill layperson washes the feet of someone in need, stops by a widows house to see how she is doing or volunteers their time to help those without hope, they are serving as a priest of God at least as much, really far more so, than the guy in the suit standing behind a pulpit.

Being a priest is not something you study to become. It is not a status conferred upon you by other men who approve of your answers on tests and oral examinations. You are not distinguished as a priest by a collar or by a title or where you are located in the building or by a framed certificate on the wall of your office. It is simply and gloriously an integral part of who we are when we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, born again into a new creature in Christ. Each and every Christian is called to the royal priesthood of Christ under the perfect headship of Jesus Christ and no other.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The church is not the building except when it is

Let me apologize in advance for a very long post.

Matthew Hoskinson, a clergyman in Manhattan at First Baptist Church in New York City, wrote a contradictory essay for The Gospel Coalition on one of my (least) favorite topics, “church buildings”: Redeemer's New Building and Yours. The catalyst for his essay was Redeemer Presbyterian, “Tim Keller’s church”, moving from rented space in his church building to their “own place”. For Matthew this is both an occasion for joy and thinking about the role buildings play in the church. Needless to say, I have a couple of minor disagreement with him.

His first three points are pretty vanilla. The church is not the building (how often do we hear that said but not practiced?). The church needs to meet somewhere: That place could be the catacombs, a park, or a public school Not in homes, interestingly enough. The church needs a place to put the kids, presumably because little ones are disruptive to “worship”, a point I disagree with vehemently but is generally a settled article of faith in the church. Nothing terribly offensive there but then we get to point four (remembering point one that the church is the people, not the building). I have excerpted the relevant portion (emphasis mine):

4. Because the church as a people reflects the glory of God, the church's meeting place ought to reflect well on his character. There is a wider variety of opinions on this point than the last. But at minimum, this means there are sufficient and clean restrooms, relatively fresh paint on the walls, and sturdy flooring. Our Roman Catholic friends may reason that this point justifies massive, extravagant cathedrals. I don't entirely disagree. There is certainly room for churches to decide to what extent they should do things to demonstrate the beauty of God in their building. But I would argue that utilitarianism is not the path of spirituality. God created beauty for us to enjoy. We can't sacrifice everything on the altar of beauty, but if the finished product is not beautiful, then we've failed to reflect his glory.

As I remarked in my comment, the highlighted portion above is an unusually frank admission that our model of church buildings owes a lot to the Roman Catholic notion of holy spaces and not much to the Scriptures that we, especially those in the Gospel Coalition, claim to subscribe to. Selective Sola Scriptura! What is particularly disturbing is that Matthew’s comment is completely uncontroversial in most of the church. We want a “church” to seem special and holy because that makes us feel like we are doing something special and holy by our mere presence. Feeding the homeless or visiting a lonely widow is pretty mundane but sitting in a beautiful cathedral or “sanctuary”? That makes us feel like we are really worshipping (where the definition of “worship” is me having an emotional religious experience).

The comment on this post is below:

Matthew, I am curious what Redeemer paid for their "own space" in Manhattan? Also curious, when you say "Some thought the expense was too much, but after deliberation we went forward with it nonetheless.", how much was the expense to add a tower so that on Sunday morning people could find an entrance? In a city that has such high real estate costs, is owning and "improving" a building the best stewardship?

Of course such questions are considered impolite in America where what is mine is mine. For all of our talk about the church being the people and not the building, most of the church identifies primarily with the local organization they are "members" of and the physical location they meet rather than the broader church, even those who live across the street from them. Thus the common cultural religious language like "going to church", as if you are not the church except when in formal meetings, or "my church", "our church", "Tim Keller's church" that betrays the reality that we really do see the church as the building, the Sunday meeting, the programs and not the people.

Every nickel we spend on making current believers more comfortable on Sunday morning is a nickel we aren't spending on reaching the lost (except of course those that choose to come to a building at the time, place and manner of our choosing to listen to a sermon). Certainly the church needs to gather and it needs a place to gather but the idea that we have to build architecturally pleasing edifices to give us a sense of the holy has its origins in Roman Catholicism, not the church we see in the New Testament, something Matthew admits in a surprisingly frank admission.

Spending a bunch of money on a manmade temple is does not “reflect well on his character”, i.e. God’s character. It does not reflect the character of the God who became a human being, the Son of Man who “…had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2). If we really wanted to spend our money in a manner that is reflective of the character of the God, we would use those funds to ensure that there were none in the church with need, there were no missionaries going from church to church to raise funds instead of preaching the Gospel to the nations, that Christian families open to adoption had the funds to do so rather than making a comfortable, pretty “sanctuary” with adjoining rooms for Sunday school classes and a nursery to keep kids from interrupting the sermon and ruining our worship.

I wonder what the church in America would do if we ceased to have comfortable, aesthetically pleasing buildings to meet in. Would we meet in parks or homes or in secret if need be? Or would most church attenders just stop going if it were inconvenient or worse if it were dangerous? As far as evangelism…same scenario. If we couldn’t just “invite someone to church”, is the average “layperson” being equipped weekly for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-16) or are they simply being trained to sit and listen to a sermon and put a check in the plate?

The church in America owns untold billions in real estate and virtually none of it reflects the character of God. They reflect the pride of man and that is something that should disturb us all.
I get that we need to meet somewhere. Having a conference call or webinar is not really getting it done. As a family we meet on Sunday’s in a couple of different buildings, although I don’t like that, but both are very old and paid for with minimal maintenance costs. Just because we need to meet somewhere doesn’t justify the almost obsessive focus on building more and better buildings, many of which are little more than showrooms to exhibit the oratorical skills of a famous clergyman (i.e. the new St. Andrews in Florida to make it easier for more people to listen to R.C. Sproul in person).

The question I posed in my comment is the one that haunts me. We are careening headlong toward a “post-Christendom” western society and the church is doing, by and large, nothing to prepare for that. We have put blinders on and are plowing straight ahead, expecting and demanding that our “come to us on our terms” model of church with professional clergy and performance oriented meetings, will somehow carry the day in the future even as every indicator for the future and the tragic condition of the church in the present screams out to us that it has not and it will not. We are completely failing in one of the primary missions of the church, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, and yet we have the mindset that we need to keep doing what we have been doing, just more of it. We never should have been spending so much money on buildings and in the future we will simply not have that option. The church better wake up and soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meet Federson!

Federson is the orphan we are sponsoring as a family through the Haiti Orphan Project. Not sure how old he is, I am guessing 8 or 9? We are getting more information on him soon! What a wonderful opportunity to help a child and know that 100% of my monthly donation goes right to caring for orphans, rather than overhead costs.

Haiti is full of kids like Federson, orphans and abandoned children who need just a small amount each month to provide basic care. Click here to learn more about sponsoring a orphan in Haiti. If you heart is burdened for some other nation like Cambodia or Chad or Rwanda or the Philippines, check out The Global Orphan Project. They have a similar 100% commitment to putting all donations to work for orphans rather than overhead and administrative expenses.

I have a hard time looking at this picture of Federson, a child who has such a need in a country that simply has nothing in place to care for him. It really tears at my heart. Can you spare $50 a month or more? Can you even spare $20 for a one time donation? I promise you will not find a ministry where you will get more impact for your donation that these groups.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

One or the other or both?

My friend James Lee posted a very good essay today asking the question in the title: Portrait of a disciple:Philip, deacon or evangelist?. James asks:
This Philip, plausibly one of the first deacons and later referred to as an evangelist. Was he one or the other? Was he both?
That is a great question and I liked his answer! The question of deacons is a tricky one, made doubly so by the traditions and assumptions that surround the term (for example see my post Academic Responsibility. So which was Philip, was he a deacon or was he an evangelist? More importantly does being one mean you can't be the other? Check out the full post from James and weigh in!

The American Perspective on Missions

I read something interesting this morning, The Other Side of Global Missions by Jason John. He makes the case for global missions as not just an opportunity to spread the Gospel but also to transform those who go. The whole thing is interesting but here is the conclusion that makes the point very nicely.
Global missions is God's universal mandate to take the gospel there and his gracious provision for us to be forever changed here. Stand in the midst of East African poverty. Build a home in southern Mexico. Walk the hurricane ravaged streets of Haiti. Sit in agnostic-packed European university classes. Observe the afternoon prayers of Muslims in the Middle East. Your assumptions, perspectives, and ideologies will be forever shifted. You will never be the same. Your homes will never be the same. Your family, your job, your neighborhood, your church, and your city will never be the same. All this is a deep and profound expression of God's grace towards you.
Wow, I get that! I also don't quite get it. I am not sure that God's intent in the Great Commission was to shake His apathetic American sheep from their affluence and entertainment induced stupor. Not that we don't need that, we certainly do. I just wonder about the mindset of America Christians. It sometimes seems like we read the Great Commission like this:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the other non-American nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but in America just invite them to church (Matthew 28:19 re-mix)
Yes, we should be sending missionaries from America to all parts of the world but I also believe we should be inviting and supporting missionaries from all parts of the world to come here. America is no better and no worse when it comes to being a mission field. Don't let the "church on every street corner" fool you. America is full of lost people and a whole bunch of them are "members" in good standing in a nice, new local church with a praise band and a snappy, well planned out sermon each week. America is no more a "Christian Nation" than Liechtenstein or Lithuania or Mongolia and the sooner we drop that mindset the better.

We should also support native missionaries overseas instead of assuming that we have to send American missionaries so it gets done "properly". For the cost of sending one American missionary family to Honduras for a year, how many local native missionaries can we help equip and support? Which is likely to be better received? Given the American tendency to confuse American cultural, patriotic religion with Christianity I sometimes think we would be far better off equipping and supporting native missionaries. When I went to Haiti my group stood out like a sore thumb. We were all Caucasian, none of us spoke the language and we clearly were not not Haitian. I impact Haiti a lot more in front of my computer trying to raise awareness and sending money than I did playing with orphans and looking confused when they spoke Creole.

America is part of the global mission field in the same way that Haiti or Ethiopia or Thailand is. It is not God's launching ground from which missionaries go to the rest of the world. It is so hard to get out of that mindset that sees America as God's chosen people, uniquely called and qualified by our freedom and affluence to take the Gospel to "those" countries. The American understanding of the Gospel, the American way of doing church, are  not terribly healthy for Americans and not something we should be exporting.

In spite of the popularity of mission trips to transform American Christians, it doesn't seem like much has changed in American Christianity. In many ways I think we would benefit more from the sober counsel of "foreign" missionaries coming here. Let the elders from a church in Africa come and look over your church budget. Have some elders from China sit in on your next business meeting. Host some missionaries from Central America in your home and show them your family budget. Invite a Haitian pastor who was robbed and beaten and had his daughter raped to your next pastors lunch and tell him how busy you are and how ungrateful your church members are.  You want to see American Christianity impacted, let the world come to us and perhaps then we will see just how out of whack our priorities are!

I absolutely see the value of global missions and I get what Jason is saying. I was changed and impacted far more by my trip to Haiti than the children I visited were impacted by me being there. I hope to go back soon and take some of my kids with me. I also want to be careful that I don't see global missions as merely a way for me to become a better American Christian. The mission field is not a one way street and the Great Commission it is not unique to America. We need a much bigger view of global missions.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Arthur Sido, Cattle Baron

We sold our bull calf tonight for the bargain price of $300, showing a nice return on our initial cow investment already. Since I can't send a side of beef to the orphans in Haiti I am sending $50 of the proceeds to the Haiti Orphan Project instead.

Here is a picture of the cattle baron bidding farewell to our first cattle sale.... moo!

Blogging Through Hebrews: Heb 2:1-4

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4 )

The author, having established in part the divinity of the Son of God, next stresses the importance of what is taught. These words resonate with me strongly. I walk the tightrope between doctrinal purity and practical unity. Unity in the church is a primary doctrine, not a nice add-on but rather a "gotta have". Being divided simply is not OK. On the other side, the Bible is not sparse when it comes to meaty theological concepts and specific practices that cannot be ignored. Simply saying "I luv Jesus!" is not going to cut it, we need and we must study the Scriptures and apply and walk what we read in a manner that pleases the Lord. Theological sloppiness is the gateway to all manner of errors and ills. Of course what constitutes "good theology" goes beyond simply being able to explain the doctrines of grace or do an end-times flow chart. Good theology is practical and lived out.

I also find the phrase "neglect such a great salvation" quite interesting. I would suggest that this message is of particular importance to Jews, reminding them that the same salvation has come in the person of Christ to Jew and Gentile alike and that neglecting this salvation has consequences.

I found something in verse 3 fascinating. I am not a scholar and the authorship of Hebrews is an unsettled issue that I have not studied at any length but the author says that Jesus declared the words of salvation and that some of those who heard told them to the author and presumably his audience. Paul indicated that he spoke directly with the Lord. So does that mean that the author of Hebrews is definitively not Paul because Paul heard the Gospel right from the Lord? I am sure others have pondered and studied that particular question but I thought it was interesting.

Finally verse 4 reminds us of the importance and purpose of signs and wonders, namely to bear witness to the Gospel. God distributes the gifts as He sees fit but He always does so to point people to Christ. Anyone who attributes a "gift" to their own holiness should be immediately suspect. Anyone who uses a "gift" to enrich themselves or advance their own agenda should be seen as someone who is false. God is infinitely capable of doing miracles and wonders but His purpose in sending these gifts and signs and wonders is clear: testifying of His Son.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Half of my life

In December I turned 40

In February my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

As of this morning, if I did my calculations correctly, I will have passed the point where I have been married to her for more than half of my lifetime. That wouldn't seem like a terribly big deal a few years ago but today it seems almost unthinkable that someone who is forty has been wed to the same person for more than half of their life. Many people I know don't get married until their late twenties or early thirties. I am glad that we got married when we did and sort of grew up together through adulthood, raising children, maturing (more or less!) into adults and looking back I cannot imagine what life would have been like for me if I hadn't had her along the way, not just during our married life but even earlier when we were dating before I even had my drivers license!

I am in unending gratitude that God placed just the right helpmeet in my life and am looking forward to living out the rest of our days together.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How Much Do You Spend A Month On Snacks?

If you are like me, the number is probably pretty substantial. Coffee from Starbucks, snacks from a vending machine, fast food drive-thru, convenience foods that cost ten times as much as a prepared meal. On and on. I am pretty frugal in some ways but we have a lot of expenditures each month that are really unnecessary. I like to go to Wendy's for dinner after volunteering at the pregnancy resource center. My wife and I have breakfast virtually every Saturday at our local greasy spoon and for what we spend there (way less than $20) we could have a very nice breakfast for the whole family. So even though it seems like money is tight, in reality I have a lot of disposable income. Plus I am getting a raise starting in April, not a huge one but a raise regardless.

So this morning I signed up to sponsor a Haitian orphan at Village de Vie through the Haiti Orphan Project for $50/month. That is not a lot of money and because I personally know and trust the brothers and sisters who administer the Haiti Orphan Project I am confident that this money is going right where it needsto go to care for an orphan. So what does this money provide?


•Nutritious Food


•A Full Time Caregiver (house “mama”)

•Quality Education

•School Supplies


•Medical Care

That seems like a lot for $50 but money goes a lot further in Haiti than it does in America!

The point is not to wag a finger or guilt you into something, just to think. We all know we spend lots of money on stuff we don't need. How many of us really need a personal smartphone so we can access the Internet in the doctor's office or play Angry Birds while waiting on a red light? I can look at the personal spending of anyone and find something "unnecessary" or frivolous. That isn't my intent. I feel compelled to give out of love, as an act of worship, not an obligation, . God loves a cheerful giver, not a guilty giver. When we give for the work of the Kingdom I am sure we please God and that a generous gift from a cheerful heart, given in love, is received as a sweet aroma to God, not to make us right with Him but as an act of worship from a regenerate heart. $50 makes an enormous difference in the life of an orphan in a country where driving through Starbucks to get a $2 coffee is not even an option. If not Haiti, please consider where else you can worship God through giving but I certainly would encourage you to consider this cause as a great way to get the maximum "bang for your buck".

Check out the "Frequently Asked Questions" for more information!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Gospel Is Bigger Than Your Budget

I loved something Ed Stetzer wrote today regarding the perceived need for funding and professional clergy in church planting in his post Plant by Multiplication, Not Funding: Viral Churches, part 6. Ed looks at the fallacy that it is only through massive spending that we can see major multiplication in the church. As he points out, many of the most vibrant movements in rhe history of the church have had very little in the way of funding and infrastructure.

Something he said at the end really grabbed my attention. Ed writes…
I have to recognize that we have a functional polity in many denominations that causes people to think the ONLY way you can plant churches is if the pastors are full-time and seminary trained. I'm not anti-seminary--I'm on faculty of a few. I just realize that we're not going to have a Church Multiplication Movement if we have to pay for it like we are now. We are getting the exact amount of church planting we have budget for--and that means our budget is not enough.
That is excellent. Are we letting our traditions create financial barriers to mission work? If we assume that planting churches means forming organizations with buildings and professional, “ordained”, seminary trained clergy who will rely on the church for financial support, we certainly have created an artificial ceiling on how much disciple making we can do (recognizing that church planting and disciple making are not at all the same thing). The work of the harvest, i.e. preaching Christ and making disciples, is far bigger than our budget and the need is far greater than the available pool of “full-time and seminary trained” men. I like that Ed makes this point while stating he is not anti-seminary. I am not "anti-seminary" either but I do think that we need to get away from the mindset that only those with a seminary education are qualified for ministry work. Just think of the impact of lots and lots of “regular” Christians seeking out ministry opportunities and seeing disciples made in places where clergy can’t/won’t go: in families, at work, in bowling leagues, etc. can have in the world. It just makes sense that more workers are better than few.

Jesus never taught that we need professionals with lots of funding to back them up to spread the Gospel. He instead sent His disciples out with nothing. The greatest church planter of all time, Paul, worked for a living so as not to be a burden on the church, to not rob from the church, to not become an obstacle to the Gospel and to provide an example to others. There is no amount of money sufficient to the task of the Great Commission but what we do have in abundance is sufficient: born-again believers around the world who need only to be equipped and released to preach the Word.

The mission of God is too big to be treated as a line item in our budgets.

Book Review: The Power of Weakness

The Power of Weakness is the latest offering from Keith Giles and it was both a pleasure and encouragement to read. In a church culture that sees sickness and poverty and weakness as something to be avoided and prayed about, Keith takes us back to the Bible to demonstrate that God has always used people when they were at their worst or those who were least “qualified”.

The bulk of The Power of Weakness is an examination of the lives of a number of well-known figures from the Bible, men like Moses and Solomon and even Jesus Christ Himself, to show the glory of God in achieving great things through the weakness of man. After looking at the compelling evidence from the Bible, Keith turns to a more practical application, each and every individual Christian. If God can and has done great things through the weakness of men like Gideon and Paul, certainly He can and does through weak vessels like you and I. In a church culture that glorifies and exalts the most educated, smoothest speaking and best credentialed men, Keith reminds us that it is rarely the obvious (in our eyes) vessels that God works through.

As Keith points out, there is a reason that God glories in using the weakness of man to accomplish His great works, namely that it leaves no doubt in the mind of those who witness or read about these events as to where the honor and glory belong. It is not because of human talent or skill or intelligence but God alone who accomplishes His tasks. Along with the biographical examples, Keith points us again and again to Scripture to demonstrate his central thesis of God glorying in weakness. This message is not an unusual one in the church but it is one of the many cases where our rhetoric doesn’t match our practice. You might hear an awful lot about “not many wise” in the church but look at the guys called to lead and more often than not it is the man who is the best sermonizer or the most educated or the most successful in the community rather than the weak.

I would certainly recommend The Power of Weakness to anyone who is struggling with feeling adequate to serve God or those who are looking at taking the next step in ministry. It is a critical reminder that God doesn’t pick the best and brightest to do His work, He often picks just the opposite!

Blogging Through Hebrews: Heb 1: 5-14

    For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    “You are my Son,
        today I have begotten you”?
    Or again,
    “I will be to him a father,
        and he shall be to me a son”?
    And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    “Let all God's angels worship him.”
    Of the angels he says,
    “He makes his angels winds,
        and his ministers a flame of fire.”
    But of the Son he says,
    “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
        the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
    You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has anointed you
        with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
    “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
        and the heavens are the work of your hands;
    they will perish, but you remain;
        they will all wear out like a garment,
    like a robe you will roll them up,
        like a garment they will be changed.
    But you are the same,
        and your years will have no end.”
    And to which of the angels has he ever said,
    “Sit at my right hand
        until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
    Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

(Hebrews 1:5-14 )

After the magnificent intro to the letter to the Hebrews, a passage Dave Black describes as "the most beautifully constructed sentence in the entire Greek New Testament", we come into a series of quotes taken from the Old Testament and I think this is where people start to struggle with Hebrews. At first blush and for the many Christians who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament, these passages can seem like a string of random quotations strung together. We need to ask why the author starts off with these Old Testament quotes and what they mean taken together.

First, this is a letter written to Hebrews. Thus the title of the book! For a Jew in the first century, these passages would have been quite familiar and meaningful. As the centuries have passed and the church has lost most of her early Jewish flavor, these passages have become less obvious and meaningful to us but to the early church it was crystal clear.

Second, this letter perhaps more than any other New Testament book a bridge between the Old and the New Testaments and this is demonstrated right in the first few verses. As we will see later, no other book goes into such exhaustive detail regarding the changing covenants, the different priesthood, the once for all sacrifice of Christ, in short showing us how the entire Old Testament is not a foreign book that has little to say to the church other than a collection of morality tales for children via talking vegetables but is rather all about Christ! These passages quoted by the author of Hebrews don't speak merely of a contemporary figure but also of the Christ who was coming and they help us to get a flavor for the rest of the letter, a letter that tells us of the glorious Son of Man and His greater sacrifice, priesthood and covenant.

Jesus is the heir of David but in an unexpected and gloriously, infinitely better way. He is both not what the Jews thought they were waiting for and at the same time greater than they could have dreamed, a Messiah who takes away sin for Jew and Gentile alike, tearing down the walls that kept us apart to make one people from two. He alone is worthy to be the heir, to sit upon the eternal throne, to be called the first-born and the ones that even the angels worship.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The cost of childlessness

We often hear a lot about how expensive it is to raise children. The number thrown out are huge and intimidating (and really dishonest as many have shown, for example check out: How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Child from Birth to Age Eighteen? Part 1: Intro ). I don't think the "cost" of children is as important as another question....

As a society the real question is: can we afford to NOT have children? What is the long term impact to a society that has an definitely increasing percentage of the population taking money out of the system and a correspondingly smaller percentage putting money back in? Here is a hint, it is not good.

Collin Hansen looks at a story in the Atlantic that makes what should be an obvious point, namely that future generations of workers, consumers and tax-payers are a non-negotiable component of a healthy, growing economy in his brief post: Be Fruitful and Multiply...Or Else. We are a society that values our social programs and claims to value children but that not only goes to great lengths to delay childbearing and prevent it from occurring in inconvenient numbers, we also kill off millions of children who will never be given the chance to be productive taxpayers. Even in the church this is too often the case. As God's people we need to serve as a witness to the world that children are a blessing and a necessity. A childless society will soon be an extinct society.

Gardening Already?

Thanks to the whacky warm snap we have been able to get out in our garden already. We tilled it up a week ago and again over the weekend and yesterday my wife and daughter planted peas. Looks like we are going to have some more cold weather ahead but we already have a nice start in our garden!

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Is the Future of Anabaptism?

It is little secret that I admire and cherish the historical witness of the Anabaptist's. I like to think that along with that admiration come eyes that are wide open. I try not to engage in hero worship when it comes to the Anabaptist's (or the Reformers or Puritans, etc.). I understand that in early Anabaptism there were tendencies to zealotry that descended into dangerous ground and areas of doctrine that were a bit off. It is understandable that there are some areas where maybe doctrine wasn’t fully fleshed out given the conditions of extreme persecution up to and including martyrdom. When members of the state church are chasing you all over the place, it makes it hard to sit down and write lengthy systematic theologies.

It is especially odd that I of all people find such kindred spirits in the early Anabaptist's. As someone who up until a few years ago listened religiously (pun intended!) to the White Horse Inn where Anabaptism was invoked as a bogeyman to explain every ill that has every happened in the church, it took quite a lot to get past the misinformation so I could examine their history honestly and openly. As I have studied the Anabaptist's and come to appreciate them more and more, I have also looked at their offspring and wondered what the future holds.

As everyone who has studied church history knows, Anabaptism was originally a European phenomenon. Hundreds of years later, the Anabaptism which started in Europe is now primarily a North American movement. Not to suggest that there is not an Anabaptist presence elsewhere, in Europe of course and South America and even New Zealand, but the bulk of modern-day Anabaptist's are North American. All of the Amish are here. Most of the Mennonites and German Baptist Brethren and Hutterites as well. America seems tailor made for a people who were born out of a rejection of the perverse church-state system and sought for a religion of simple Biblical fidelity.I can't say that living in America has been terribly healthy for the children of the step-children of the Reformation.

In North America today, there are two main streams of Anabaptism that are rapidly running in opposite directions, streams characterized by the relative level of conservatism each holds to. Each passing year, even in the short time that I have been studying, observing and participating in Anabaptism I have seen this gulf widen.

Hutterites - Photo by Kelly Hofer
In conservative circles, the focus seems to be on preserving the past and protecting against changes. Many conservative Anabaptists have watched with horror as Anabaptist groups went liberal and embraced worldly values. I can understand the concern. There are so many examples of churches and denominations that start to compromise in this area or that doctrine and before you know it there ceases to be even a semblance of Biblical fidelity. On the other hand this concern over the proverbial camel's nose under the tent often leads to rigidity and stubborn, perhaps so far as blind, reliance on traditions. In turn this leads to suspicion of other Christians and an unhealthy separation from the broader church.

Even in conservative Anabaptism there is a constant roiling of the water every time someone seems to be getting too liberal. In 1910 the Conservative Mennonite Conference was established as a sort of bridge between the Old Order Amish and the slide toward liberalism among more mainstream Mennonite groups. In 1998 a number of Conservative Mennonite Conference churches split off because the Conservative Mennonites were not nearly conservative enough, splitting over the issue of a relaxed stance on women veiling, the issue of divorce and remarriage and “worship style”. These churches formed the Biblical Mennonite Alliance. This sort of thing is pretty common. Having seen too often churches and denominations start down a path toward loosening rules, many conservative Anabaptist seem hyper-sensitive to anything that looks like a capitulation to the culture, sometimes difficult to distinguish from deviating from fairly recent traditions. While this hyper-conservatism has a number of problems, it is also true that many people are actually more attracted to conservative faith and practice than they are more liberal, less dogmatic expressions of the church. When you add in the tendency for Christians in these groups to get married young, stay married and have large families, there certainly is a solid future for the most conservative expressions of Anabaptism but I unfortunately see that future full of even more division.

Mennonite Theologian John Howard Yoder
In more liberal circles Anabaptism has been merged into the social justice wing of the church, two movements linked by nonviolence/pacifism. This more liberal wing identifies heavily with John Howard Yoder and more contemporary theologians like Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. To my way of thinking, there is very little difference between liberal Anabaptism and most other liberal churches and denominations. While conservative Anabaptism is quite distinct, intentionally so, from the rest of the church, much of the liberal wing of Anabaptism is indistinguishable from the rest of the church other than in emphasis on social justice, non-violence and community. While a United Methodist church might celebrate national patriotic holidays, you typically won't see that in Anabaptist churches of any sort. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much difference.I am not sure what the future holds for the more liberal Anabaptist's. Do they continue to have a unique voice and witness? Or do they simply get folded into liberal evangelicalism?

So what does the future hold for Anabaptism? I am afraid I don't see a scenario short of a major cultural collapse that would drive the conservative and liberal wings back together. The rift is too great, the gulf too wide. It is really a shame because I think that both camps could learn from one another. I clearly am more in sympathy with the conservative wing but even still I see some really great things happening among the more liberal brethren. Likewise I also think that the liberal camp is in dire need of being called back to some Biblical positions on area like human sexuality and gender. Conservative Anabaptist's could use some loosening up and liberal Anabaptist's could use some tightening up! There are bigger fish to fry than women cutting their hair or wearing wedding bands and likewise advocating for income redistribution and socialized medicine is not the greatest priority in the church. Bottom line, division and infighting have hampered the witness of Anabaptist's and Anabaptism in North America and I don't see much chance of that changing.

The challenge for all of us is to learn from the past while meeting the mission of God in the future and Anabaptism has a lot to teach us here. How the modern manifestations of Anabaptism fit into that is still yet to be seen. If conservatives insist on separating themselves from the rest of the church and if liberals continue to focus on political activism, then their witness and usefulness to the rest of the church and the world will be limited. My hope lies in those who see the value of Anabaptism for what it can tell the church without getting caught up in the division and squabbling that has marked Anabaptism in America for far too many years. In a post-Christendom world the voices of martyrs dead for centuries still teach those who are willing to listen. The simple Biblical faith and evangelistic zeal of the early Anabaptist's is a model that we should honor and seek to emulate while being constantly on guard against falling into the same infighting and division that has become one of the unfortunate hallmarks of American Anabaptism. I sincerely pray for the future influence of the Anabaptist's on the church in America. We certainly need it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Support the cause of life

For those who live in northeast Indiana or thereabouts, I want to make a last second appeal and invitation to come to A Hope Center's annual fundraising banquet this Tuesday night at the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum. The price is right: FREE! The meal last year was yummy and the speaker this year is Shawn Carney, Co-Founder of 40 Days for Life. It promises to be a wonderful night of information, eating, fellowship and prayer in support of the cause of life.

If you live in the area, please share this upcoming event and consider attending. All it costs you is an evening and you get a great meal and a chance to learn about a ministry on the front-lines, a ministry where women make life or death decisions about unplanned pregnancies every single day. I hope to see you this Tuesday!

Register Here

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Celebtrating Patrick's Day

Russell Moore posted his annual note about Patrick, evangelist to Ireland: An Evangelical Looks at Saint Patrick. I refuse to refer to him as "Saint Patrick" because every Christian is a saint and none of us are more or less deserving of that title than any other. Few things are more harmful than giving special titles of honor to some Christians. I am certain that Peter and Paul and Patrick would be horrified to have their names venerated with titles and attached to buildings in their honor.

Anyway, off my soapbox! Check out Russell Moore's post and remember all of the saints of God in your prayers today, those who lived in the first century, those who lived much later and especially those all around you today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Blogging through Hebrews

I blog every now and then, in the event you hadn’t noticed. While I write a lot about what I am reading currently or thinking about, I want to get back to looking more systematically at the Bible, kind of a series of devotional writing. What I am hoping to do is to look at the letter to the Hebrews in small chunks to really dig into what it says. Hebrews has long fascinated me, it is such a rich book and I find more and more that it really has a lot to say to the church today in spite of the general confusion that it seems to generate. My intent is to keep these posts fairly brief, only looking at a few verses, rather than lengthy exposition or huge chunks of Scripture at a time. With that said, here is my first foray...


Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
These verses hold a very special place in my heart. Given our background in mormonism, I can think of few places that so succinctly shatter the lie of mormonism than these four verses of introduction. Oddly enough, we never looked at these verses when we were mormons. Just look at what the author says in just a few lines…

1) God once spoke to our fathers (the Jews) by means of prophets. This is obvious to even the most elementary student of the Bible. The list of men who were vehicles of God’s revelation is a veritable “who’s who” of the Bible: Moses, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, all those “minor” prophets with weird names. For reasons He has kept to His own counsel, God used these flawed men as His mouthpiece to speak and record His unfolding revelation.

2) Something changed. In these days, the last days, God has spoken to us through His Son. Completely. Perfectly. Conclusively. This is not like the days of old when God used mere moral men, prophets to be sure, but mortal, fallible, sinful men nevertheless. It is not just that the message has changed, although it certainly has with the advent of the new and better covenant. It is also a matter of a different messenger.

3) What makes the messenger different is more than just style or even substance, it is in His nature. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”. He created the world but He was not created. Like God, He is without beginning and end. He is unique in the same way that God the Father is unique.

4) Jesus is not only above and apart from creation, not only did God create all things through Him, He Himself holds it all together. Just as God spoke all of creation into existence ex nihilo in an instant, Jesus holds it all together simply by desiring to do so. We absolutely cannot understand the enormity of that in this life, with our minds enslaved to the creation we can see and touch and feel. When we see eternity we will start to understand what these verses really mean!

5) Jesus made “purification” for sins and then He rested. His purpose in this world was completed, His sacrifice complete and satisfactory for holiness and justice.

These powerful truths in such a compact statement are so powerful for us but they must have been doubly so for the intended audience. I can say with few reservations that few books of the Bible have the tone set for what is to come quite like these few amazing verses. Everything that follows flows from them. What you need to know about Jesus is succinctly captured: He is the same in nature as God, He is God’s “final answer”, He is the great creator and sustainer, His sacrifice is complete and sufficient to purify sins and not just aid us in purifying them ourselves. What a marvelous introduction! Do yourself a favor and read these words over and over again.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dave Black On Ron Paul

A quick political link for you, courtesy of Dave Black...The Arsenal of Liberty: The Case for Ron Paul

Sponsor a Child in Haiti, Make a Difference

Please check out the new orphan sponsorship program for the Haiti Orphan Project: Sponsor a Child in Haiti, Make a Difference!

Marriage and membership

A few days ago, I posted about "church membership" in a post titled A quick thought on ‘church membership’ and titles. Alan Knox picked up on that theme and wrote a companion post of his own, Is this the connection between love and membership? The comments that followed were interesting, including one that compared formal church membership with marriage. The point of the comment was that there is a need for church membership and suggested that is you didn't believe that, try suggesting to your wife that a marriage certificate and wedding ceremony are unneccesary. I thought that was a very interesting comment and it got me thinking about our cultural traditions that surround marriage and the parallels with the church.

If you are married, think about your marriage and what it means. Ask yourself a couple of questions:

- If you didn't have wedding rings to wear, would you still be married?

- If you didn't get a marriage certificate from the state, would you still be married in the eyes of God and one another?

- If you didn't have a wedding ceremony, would you still consider yourselves wed to one another, forsaking all others?

I would imagine that most people, and especially Christians, view marriage as transcending the wedding day and the marriage certificate and the wedding ring. I would also hazard a guess that the argument comparing weddings and marriage certificates to “church membership” would resonate with many Christians. My response to both assertions would be similar. If you need a wedding ring, a wedding ceremony and a marriage certificate to demonstrate your commitment to your spouse, you have a pretty shaky foundation for your marriage. If you require oaths and covenants of fealty to a local church organization to identify who you should love and serve and which men to follow you don’t have much of a foundation in the church.

Biblical marriage is a binding covenant relationship, not a legal contract, and being part of the church is a relationship rather than a formalized system. You cannot substitute contracts and formalities for either one. As I said in the prior post, If you love one another, “membership” is completely unnecessary. If you don’t love one another, “membership” won’t make a difference anyway. The same holds true in marriage. If you love one another, the wedding ceremony and marriage license are superfluous. If you don’t love one another you marriage will never last or at least never be one pleasing to God no matter how big the diamond or how lovely the wedding ceremony. You should check out Alan’s post and the comments that follow.

To get on my soapbox for a minute, I have long thought that the church should not be in the business of performing wedding ceremonies in partnership with the state. In other words the church should not serve as an agent of the state to facilitate legal weddings. I think that it turns “church weddings” into just another cultural institution and along with that it loses value as the culture devalues marriage. Marriage between two Christians who become one flesh in the eyes of the church should be completely separate from two generic people getting married in the eyes of the state. Two Christians do not need the approval of the state, the blessing of an ordained cleric or a piece of paper to be wed. If Christian couples who wed want to go to the justice of the peace to get legal recognition for various purposes in the eyes of the state after the fact, that is fine. I just think that the weird system where the state recognizes marriages performed by the church yokes the two parties together and we certainly should avoid that wherever we can. The church never makes the state more holy but the state certainly infects the church and diverts it from the work of the Kingdom wherever the two are combined.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where is our hope

I read a couple of very interesting posts this morning, one from Albert Mohler, The Challenges We Face: A New Generation of Gospel Ministers Looks to the Future, and a response from Eric CarpenterWhere I Differ From Albert Mohler. It is a fascinating contrast because like me, Eric agrees with Dr. Mohler on a lot of core issues but where the difference comes in is in how the church should function in an uncertain future.

For Al Mohler, the human hope of the church is in the next generation of clergy:

When asked about my hope for the future of the church, I point immediately to the corps of young ministers now entering and preparing for ministry. In one of the great counter-intuitive developments of our times is the rise of a generation of young ministers who are committed to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints,” and who are eager to run the race to Christ’s glory.
This makes sense from the virtual pen of a man who trains professional clergy for a living. It is also a pretty common view in the church at large. Our hope for restoration and revival comes from the pulpit, in other words where the pulpit is Biblically solid the church will be healthy, where it is not, the church will likewise not be healthy. Whether you call it this or not, the vision is pastor-centric, judging the future spiritual health of the church on the spiritual health of the man in the pulpit.

For Eric, the future of the church lies somewhere quite different…

My hope for the future of the church is far different from Mohler's. I point instead to the growing number of Christians who care little for the things of the world and instead desire to be the church as God describes it in scripture.
My view is more aligned with Eric, no surprise there. The church as it is most commonly expressed now, a church that is overly reliant on institutions and professionals, has no future in a post-Christendom America. We see this already in Europe where the established institutional churches have little to say to the world and are little more than cultural relics, grand but empty edifices for American tourists to snap photos of and post on Facebook. The percentage of self-identified Christians in Europe has shrunk to levels unimaginable 100 or even 50 years ago, although I would say that this is not reflective of fewer Christians as a percentage of the population but rather a more accurate accounting of people who actually are Christians beyond a merely cultural sense of belonging to a “church”.

Those days are fast approaching here in America and the traditional church is not merely ill equipped to deal with it, it is completely unprepared to carry out the mission of Christ in the days to come. We have two choices. We can keep sending young men to seminary to prepare for a ministry field that is becoming obsolete, becoming indebted and indoctrinated into a particular church model that is in its last days. Or we can encourage young men zealous for the Kingdom to stay where they are, get a job and start a family and begin ministering to the lost and hurting all around them. You don’t need a seminary degree to wash feet. You don’t need a title to visit a widow. An orphan is not going to ask to see your ordination certificate before accepting your love.

When faced with these two choices, I think the proper route is clear.

The true church doesn't need to be defended

I watched this promo video for the latest book defending the traditional church last night.

Notice the scenes the video flips to: people walking into a "church", the front of a church building, a pastor sitting in a pew, a pastor standing on a raised platform behind a lectern "preaching". All imagery of a notion of church centered on buildings, clergy and Sunday morning meetings. Notice also the endorsements. Professional pastors and a seminary president. Finally look again at the people chosen in the beginning. Goofy looking, non-churchy appearing people with queer notions of church compared to the proper pastor setting them straight if they would just become "members" of a local church and sit quietly in their pews.

Why do we see so many Christian leaders, typically vocational ministers, writing books on the importance of what they do for a living and the crucial nature of "church membership" that binds believers to their local church to the exclusion of all other Christians? Is it perhaps because more and more voices are asking disquieting questions? Is the curtain truly being drawn back? I think fear is what drives books like this, and DeYoung's Why We Love The Church and "ministries" like 9 Marks, the fear of losing the system that is so comfortable and familiar.

If you want to be part of a traditional church and sign your name to a membership list, that is your business. I think it is unhealthy and you rob yourself and your family of the full richness of the Kingdom community but that is your choice. I just would ask that you don't presume to wag your finger at those who are seeking to imitate the early church rather than conforming to the institutional church. Many Christians are seeking something different, not to be rebellious but to be faithful, seeking expressions of the church that focus on relationships between believers instead of performances, an expression that encourages all of the brothers to participate in a meaningful way rather than simply sitting and watching. These questions threaten some but they liberate and equip many. So these guys can keep writing their books to defend tradition, I will keep calling the church to seek a better way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lead by a stranger

I appreciate almost everything about Russel Moore. I liked listening to him as guest host for Al Mohler. His tweets are often hillarious and his blog posts are typically serious and thought-provoking. He is probably shorter than me. He loves orphans and is one of the loudest advocates for adoption in the church. So I always am sure to read everything he puts out. You should too!

Dr. Moore tweeted over the weekend that his home church, Highview Baptist, just announced that their pastor search committee was unanimously recommending Dr. Les Hughes as their next "senior pastor". The webpage of Highview gives an overview of his background....

Ministry Experience

Senior Pastor, Westwood Baptist Church (December 2000-present)
Alabaster, AL

Chairman, Dept. of Christian Studies and Philosophy/Head of Church Relations, Mississippi College
(August 1996-December 2000)

Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Summit, MS (1993-1996)

Senior Pastor, Crystal Springs Baptist Church, Tylertown, MS (1991-1993)

Senior Pastor, Mountain Creek Baptist Church, Florence, MS (1986-1991)


Bachelor of Arts in Religion
Mississippi College (Clinton, MS), 1989, With Honors

Master of Divinity (Biblical Languages)
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1991

Doctor of Philosophy (New Testament/Greek)
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994

Wow! That is quite an impressive list of credentials. No doubt he is a great guy, very smart, an accomplished deliverer of sermons. He has been married for over 25 years and has four children. By the description above, this is a family man, an accomplished minister, an author, in short a man that any church should love to have leading them. So what is the issue, why blog about this?

Highview Baptist is in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Hughes is from Mississippi and has served in churches in Mississippi and Alabama and was educated in Mississippi and Louisiana. That raises a question for me. How well does the Pastor Search Committee know Dr. Hughes? I am sure they have had several formal interviews and informal conversations. They have no doubt heard him give many sermons. I would hope they have met his wife and family a time or two. Does that really tell you who a man is? I have been interviewed lots of times for jobs and I almost always am on my "A" game, dressed properly, etc. An interview, even a series of interviews, doesn't tell you much about who I am.

What about the rank and file "laity" at Highview? They will be asked to vote to accept Dr. Hughes as their chief elder, or "senior pastor". They will be asked to submit to his authority and put money in the plate to pay his salary. Yet I doubt that many of them have even met Dr. Hughes and if they have it is probably not much more than a meet and greet. How can they know that this man is someone they should imitate and follow other than based on the recommendation of the "pastor search committee"? Again, let me be clear that I have little doubt that Dr. Hughes is a wonderful man, father and husband, someone who is committed to following Christ. My point is that there simply is no way for the members of Highview to know enough about him to warrant following him as an elder.

A stranger cannot be a leader in the church. An impressive resume, even being a great guy, cannot substitute for the experience of living lives together and recognizing in a brother the qualities that make him an elder in the church. We need to get back to the Biblical model of Home Grown Elders, following men we know instead of getting to know men we are supposed to be following.

Better Off Dead

The best thing I can say about them is that at least pro-abortion advocates are becoming more open about what they believe instead of hiding behind euphemisms like "choice" and "reproductive freedom". The honesty, inhuman as it may be, of those who have recently questioned whether newborns are worthy of protection under the law are simply the natural extension of the worldview that sees all people through the lens of how useful or how inconvenient they are to judge whether they are worthy of life or not.

The latest example, grotesque and disturbing for certain but also enlightening, comes from Shannon Bradley-Colleary, writing for the Huffington Post. This self-described "Author, screenwriter, wife dominatrix, mom butler" offers us a glimpse into a troubling worldview in her essay I'm Pro-Choice Because I Love My Kids. What exactly does loving your kids have to do with abortion? Nothing really other than the false nobility of a worldview that sees killing off children that might cause trouble later in life. The entire essay centers around the search for her stepbrother "Joey" and her reaction to discovering that he grew up to be a criminal and meth user. This makes him someone who would apparently have been better of having been aborted.

Every child deserves to be wanted, safe and loved. I don't deny there are damaged women out there who use abortion as a means of birth control. A former friend had five abortions. Those pregnancies were her cry for help. But I can't help thinking those babies were better off not being in her care.

There are also situations, in my opinion, where abortion is the only humane path to take for both mother and child. I remain firmly in the pro-choice camp not just because a woman should have the "right to choose" (although that is a powerful platform for me), but because every child deserves quality of life and when a child is unwanted there's a much higher risk he'll perpetuate the problem, having unwanted children of his own, if he even survives childhood.

What is lost here is that Joey, at age 12, was a normal kid that she loved to play with and build forts with and have lemonade stands together. When he was age 12 their parents divorced, she went with her parent and he went with his and they never saw one another again. What happened to Joey is unknown but it certainly sounds like he was part of a family of serial marriages and divorces. Ms. Bradley-Colleary describes him as the "oops" child of her first step-dad, a man who she describes as cruel and capricious. Of course Ms. Bradley-Colleary apparently grew up in a less than ideal childhood and turned out OK, as do countless others who get a less than ideal family situation and somehow overcome. What ever happened to Joey? We don't know and neither does she apparently. Is he dead? Or did he turn his life around? I have a friend who was a drug user and dealer in his youth. If he had died then, would people have said he was better off never being born? Today he is a college graduate, a husband and a father and someone who is helping others. I don't think my friend would have been better off being aborted.

What sort of mindset sees snuffing out the life of a child before she is even born to break some sort of cycle of abuse and unwanted pregnancy as justified? The mindset of the Left. A mindset that sees people as having value only so far as they are "productive" and not inconvenient. A child that might, MIGHT, grow up in a less than ideal home could possibly be an inconvenient burden on people like Shannon Bradley-Colleary. They might not get a decent job or they might be a criminal or a drug abuser. They might but based on this pro-abortion mindset that unknowable possibility is sufficient reason to want them dead before they inconvenience the rest of us.

This mindset sees "unwanted" children "better off dead" and punishes children for the potential misbehavior of their parents. What is unsaid but very real is the assumption by usually well-to-do, educated, white liberals that low income people are somehow more likely to abuse their children while college educated, enlightened parents are less likely to abuse them. We see on display the general arrogance and disdain of the Left that sees fit to proclaim who is or is not worthy of life based on the level of inconvenience they will potentially cause the rest of us. Implicit in this is an elitist and racist mindset, ironic because these are precisely the sort of people who allegedly defend the poor, the downtrodden and the minority from the evil Republicans. Does the "quality of life" she describes come only from the "wanted" children of affluent parents or at least parents who desire them? Where does she get the authority to pass judgment on who does or does not deserve life, or when it is or is not "humane" to carve up a child before vacuuming him out of his mothers womb?

The implication of her essay was that her step-brother, a child she spent many wonderful years with, would have been better off had he been aborted. Of course that misses the point that for those children who were aborted we will never know if they will indeed have been happy and successful in life, as if that is the basis on whether or not a child should live or die. A child who is killed in the womb never gets the chance to be happy or sad, to succeed or fail, to live a long life or die young. Those uncertainties are part of what makes the human experience and they are denied to millions of children in the name of the god "choice".

I guess if you love your kids, you are "pro-choice" in the hopes that your children will not have to deal with hooligans and drug abusers who by rights should have been aborted rather than being allowed to live. If that is what it means to love your kids, I guess I don't love mine. I would prefer to teach my children that every human life, made in the image of God, is valuable, that no one is beyond redemption and that God never makes mistakes. Ms. Bradley-Colleary's step-brother Joey was not a mistake, he was a little kid who had an allegedly abusive father and an unstable home life. As a child he didn't commit any crimes but he should have been punished for the mistakes of the adults who failed to care for him?

Never forget the worldview that is behind the "pro-choice" movement. It is the same worldview that fueled Baal worship where children were sacrificed in fire to appease these pagan idols. The bloody altars and sacrificial flames have been replaced by clean clinics with magazines in the waiting room but what is going on behind those doors has its origins thousands of years ago. We are a people called to love our enemies and pray for them, even people with a perverse unregenerate worldview like Ms. Bradley-Colleary. It can be hard sometimes but we must because we once were like them. Take time today to pray for Shannon Bradley-Colleary, for her step-brother Joey, for those children who are abused and neglected, for women who are terrified and facing an unplanned pregnancy, for those who work in Planned Parenthood clinics making a living from murder. Pray that God would work in their hearts as He worked in mine and in yours. If He can save us, He can save anyone.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Unity As Witness. Or Not.

At the close of the Last Supper, as Jesus prepared to face the cross, He prayed what is known as His High Priestly prayer (John 17). It is one of the greatest utterances recorded in the Bible and one of His last recorded acts before His arrest and trial. As such it should hold a particular importance to us. Of course everything that Jesus said and did is important, otherwise He wouldn't have done it, but when the end was coming and He had just a few hours left with the disciples that would be the servant leaders of the new church, His words and deeds hold special importance. I want to look at one portion in particular, His prayer for unity...
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)
Ponder that for a moment. In the waning hours of His earthly ministry (and He clearly knew the end was right around the corner), how did Jesus spend His time? Well obviously He spent it with the disciples but what was He doing? Not giving them an exposition of the Five Points of Calvinism or a lecture on the importance of liturgy. He didn't have any words for them about the correct mode of baptism or the proper form of church government. No. He spent His last hours with His disciples breaking bread with them in the form of a meal, washing their feet as an example for them to imitate and in prayer for them, specifically for unity among the brethren.

I want to focus specifically on something Jesus is saying here, namely that unity is a form of witness to the world. I would point out that Jesus is not merely speaking of unity within His “inner circle” of the twelve but “also for those who will believe in me through their word”, in other words those who would in the future believe in Jesus, whether those who would believe on the day of Pentecost or a new believer who came to Christ this morning.

Jesus taught and prayed in His High Priestly prayer that as the church we are in Christ as Christ is in the Father, and through our community we are witnessing to the truth of the Gospel to the world and proclaiming Jesus as king. More specifically our unity with one another is one of the ways that people will believe that Jesus lived, that He came from the Father and was who He said He was. That is a pretty powerful and sobering statement and it really ought to be something that trumps our own personal preferences and pet peeves. Apparently it doesn’t because even among highly similar groups the notion of real, functional unity would be laughable if it weren’t such a sign of rebelliousness. We like to think that annual conventions or bi-annual conferences touting how “Together for the Gospel” we are suffices to override the fact that most of the time we see each other not as fellow redeemed sinners on a common mission for the Kingdom but as competitors who are doing something wrong on Sunday morning.

The flip side of the issue is far more troubling and often more pertinent in our day. If being one in the church is a witness to the world, doesn't it hold true that division is also a witness? Imagine that someone sincerely seeking to know Christ comes to a typical Christian and asks what they should read in the Bible. If they are like me, I would recommend the Gospel of John. Now imagine the confusion of this sincere seeker when they read what Jesus prayed on behalf of His disciples in His High Priestly prayer. Jesus prayed for one thing and those who claim to follow Him do precisely the opposite. If you needed further proof of God’s sovereign election in salvation it would be that anyone comes to Christ at all when faced with the splintering and division that the world sees when it looks at the church.

What does our division and disunity say to the world and also say to Christ?

It says we either don’t believe Him when He says that our unity is a witness or it says that we might believe Him but we don’t care, that our boundaries and creeds and denominations, our notions of doctrinal purity, are more important to us than winning the lost to Christ.

I am not sure which is worse. I do know this, in spite of the frustrating and seemingly Quixotic nature of the pursuit of Christian unity, we have no other choice. I will not be a party to the division of the Body of Christ and I cannot in good conscience sit by without doing everything I can to see the walls that divide the church torn down. I may never see even the smallest result from these efforts but I cannot do otherwise. There is nothing more important than taking the Gospel to the lost and therefore there is no excuse to not remove every barrier that we have the power to remove between the lost and the Savior.

Quick Robin, to the commentaries!

With apologies to Alan Knox....

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so checking in their commentaries to see if these teachings matched what their favorite theologians had to say about the topic.
(Act 17:11 American Evangelical Re-mix)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A timely post

Alan Knox put up a very timely post today in his Scripture...As We Live It series, His  latest post, #199, captures nicely something I have had several conversations about today. It is replicated before for your enjoyment and hopefully for your edification....
But you your ordained leaders have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all they have knowledge. (1 John 2:20 re-mix)

Repost: Tithing, Levites and the New Covenant High Priesthood of Christ

So I looked back to see what I was writing about a year ago today and come across this post, Tithing, Levites and the New Covenant High Priesthood of Christ. Others have examined this topic far better than I have but it is something that keeps coming up, probably because the divisive influence of money on the church is something that likewise keeps coming up. The question I ponder was this: could we use the tithing system under the Old Covenant used to support the Levitcal priests to perpetuate a system of using offerings in the church to pay elders to minister? My answer is below...


This is going to be kind of a long post because I wanted to provide lengthy Scriptural references so please bear with me.

I was thinking more about the idea of tithing and how that principle has been carried forward and linked into the local church and clergy system. I think a lot of the confusion and misapplication of the tithe to the New Covenant people of God is a result of Christians not really taking the time to examine the whole tithing system, why it existed, what purpose it served and why it has been annulled. Combine that with the general difficulty many Christians have in differentiating between shadow and fulfillment, between the Old and the New, and it becomes apparent why this question of the tithe is so often misapplied in the church.

It sometimes seems that the idea of tithing in the Old Testament is seen as essentially the same thing as offerings on Sunday morning at your local church.

In the Old Testament, God’s people brought their tithes and offerings to the temple and the priests lived off part of that while ministering.

In the New Testament church, God’s people bring their tithes and offerings to the local church and pastors live off part of that while ministering.

Simple, right? That sounds dandy but here is the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. God commanded tithing very purposefully. It was not done in a vacuum but rather had a substantive purpose for a particular time that was intertwined with the entirety of His commands to His people. The tithe was both a sacrificial act of obedience and served a practical purpose in supporting the Levitical priests.

“The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the LORD's food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the LORD is their inheritance, as he promised them. And this shall be the priests' due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for all time. (Deuteronomy 18:1-5 ESV)

The Levites of the Old Covenant were a particular subset of God’s people, set apart out of all of the people of Israel for a specific purpose. They were not counted in the census God ordered but instead they were called to serve in the tabernacle:

But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. (Numbers 1:47-51)

The Levites were not given an inheritance like the other tribes of Israel because the offerings were to be their inheritance…

To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him. (Joshua 13:14)

God did not give the tribe of Levi an inheritance. Because of this, the tithe was given to the Levites and they were largely dependent on the offerings…

“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” (Numbers 18:21-24 ESV)

The tithe served sort of a dual purpose. It was a commandment, a sacrifice to God and it also served as material support for the tribe of Levi who was commanded to serve God in the tent of meeting. It is a brilliant system.

So all well and good. What is the problem?

Just this minor little point. The Levitical priesthood is gone, done away with, obsolete, kaput! The tithing system where the first-fruits were brought into the storehouse and given to the Levites served the purpose of providing them sustenance as the priests who ministered in the house of the Lord and served as intercessors for the people is over. It was not intended as a permanent system and the old priesthood of the Levites has been replaced by a new, infinitely better High Priest…

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second… In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:1-7, 13)

Under the New Covenant, Christ Himself is our great High Priest and He has made propitiation for sins, once for all time. He is our intercessor and believers have access to the throne of grace through Him directly without the need for a human intercessor. Because of that the Levitical priesthood has expired and is shown to be a type and shadow of Christ as High Priest. We don’t have a separate, set apart subgroup of Christians who should live off the offerings of the rest. We are all a royal priesthood and the example we have from Scripture is of even the apostle Paul working for a living so he could support his own needs as well as give to the poor.

The tithe and the subsequent bequeathing of the tithe to the Levitical priests was specific to them and it did not transfer to Protestant ministers. How can I make that assertion? Quite confidently as it turns out. There simply is no linkage unless you assume the professional Protestant ministry and then read that back into the text. The New Testament certainly doesn’t make the connection. Even the Apostle Paul in his oft misquoted treatise in 1 Corinthians 9 was more interested in why he did not seek the financial support of the church rather than a defense of why he deserved it and he was an apostle, not a local church pastor!

The world of offerings being brought to a central place and used to financially support that place and those who were “employed” there is from a time and situation that changed forever with the cross, as did so many other practices from the world of the Old Covenant. We force these practices onto the church to our peril and the history of the church has proven this over and over again. Merely teaching Christians that they should tithe because the Old Testament references it, without also studying and explaining the what, how and why of tithing, does a disservice to God’s people.

Tithing is a word that is thrown about and misapplied all the time in the church. Many men in ministry, men who have studied the Scriptures and should know better, frequently use “tithing” to describe giving to the local church, creating an equivalence in the minds of many Christians that is unwarranted. Giving to the needs of others and proper stewardship of money are such vital topics in the church. This doctrine of money deserves to stand on its own and not be blurred by a misapplication of an Old Covenant practice. Honesty and faithfulness to the Scriptures demands nothing less.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A quick thought on "church membership" and titles

Paraphrasing something I read elsewhere....

If you love one another, "membership" is completely unnecessary.

If you don't love one another, "membership" won't make a difference anyway.

We get so caught up  in words. Being a "member" is thought to make you more a part of a local body but somehow the early church lived in community that is almost unimaginable to us today without having any sort of "membership". A man who is a servant and lives a life that is a witness to the world and an encouragement and example to the church is a leader regardless of whether or not he has a title or is "ordained". Someone who is "ordained" and carries a title but doesn't lead by example and witness by the manner of his life is not a leader in the church in any meaningful, Biblical sense. So why do we get so caught up in calling this guy "Pastor so-and-so" or referring to them as a "minister"? People who sign their emails "Pastor" or who put "Pastor" or "Reverend" in their Facebook profile seem awfully insecure. If you are a pastor in the church because you serve others, people will know that about you even if you don't have a title. If people don't know you, your title really doesn't mean a thing at all. Being a "pastor" or "ordained" doesn't give your words greater weight than anyone else in the church.

Our desire to be honored though ear tickling titles and words of deference is an affront to the upside-down nature of the church and the Kingdom of God.

There is no greater title in the church than "brother". That should be honor enough for any Christian man.