Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Worrying About The Wrong Issue

Retired Navy Chaplain Roy Beebe wrote a short article for the Gospel Coalition today, What's Next for Military Chaplains if DOMA Is Rescinded?. His concern is that military chaplains will be placed in a position of having to choose conscience over policy. From the article....

Should our courts adopt a new policy of special protection of same-sex arrangements—as currently seems likely—the repercussions will threaten chaplains. The practice and expression of traditional religious beliefs in an "open setting" will be threatened under the loss of DOMA. This collision has not yet occurred but the scenario has been set. Recently the Department of Defense (under Secretary Panetta) released guidelines for all military commands to recognize same-sex domestic partner benefits including issuance of I.D. Cards, Exchange/Commissary privileges, as well as a number of other benefits. The current administration seems to assume that DOMA is inevitably doomed and is attempting to tip the scales in favor of abolishing it altogether.

I am not sure these concerns are valid.The piece smacks of being a bit alarmist. By definition military chaplains are in a position of ministering to all sorts of people and I don't see how allowing homosexual military personnel to "marry" is a threat to the religious liberty of chaplains unless they are required to perform wedding ceremonies (which raises the issue yet again, when you become an agent and partner of Caesar you have to play by Caesar's rules). That doesn't seem imminent under any scenario I can see.

I have a different question and it has to do with the entire system of military chaplaincy. I left this comment on the post and since many of the comments come from past or present chaplains I would imagine it will not be popular.

It is interesting that as the church in America we have no qualms about putting on the uniform of Caesar until it means making hard choices about homosexual "marriage". Perhaps the question we should be asking is why the church is not only accepting but enthusiastic about embracing American militarism. That is far more troubling than hypothetical situations regarding solemnizing homosexual unions among military personnel.

The mission statement for the U.S. Army chaplaincy corp is pretty vague:

The U.S. Army Chaplaincy provides religious support to America's Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers. In short, we nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen. 

That may or may not be laudable but it has next to nothing to do with the Gospel. Notions of free exercise of religion and religious liberty would have made no sense at all to the early church. In a more controversial statement, nor would we expect to see a Christian volunteer to wear the uniform of the Roman legion. Now I have never served in the military and I am quite certain that a great many fine Christians serve as chaplains in the various branches of the Armed Forces. I am still not at all convinced that this is appropriate for a follower of Christ and it seems to be yet another example of our religious cultural love affair with war and violence that is often dressed up in pseudo-Christian trappings. I have a suspicion that the chaplaincy serves in part as a way to assuage the conscience of Christians who serve in a capacity where they are called to kill others on behalf of a secular nation and I find that troubling. I can't really imagine what it is like but taking the life of another, no matter the reason, must be horrifying and infinitely more so for a Christian to do something that is so contrary to the central doctrine of loving our enemies.

So I throw this question out there and it is a different one than the idea of general service in the armed forces since chaplains serve a specifically religious role and last I checked are not even permitted to carry arms: is it appropriate or wise for Christians to wear the military uniform of the secular government in order to serve in a religious function within that military organization?

Makin' Bacon

An exciting day (for the humans at least!) on the farm yesterday as we took two of our home raised hogs to the slaughterhouse. Tomorrow we go and pick out how we want them carved up but I know for sure we are going to be swimming in bacon! Two down and two more to fatten up plus our lady pig who gets the less ignominious fate of getting bred and providing our next batch of piglets. It is a fun accomplishment to raise our own hogs and then get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

They look almost excited to go for a ride!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Up Next On My Kindle: Multiply by Francis Chan

I am getting ready to start a new book that I downloaded a week or so ago. One of the cool features of Kindle books is the ability to preview many of the offerings to see if they sound interesting before you actually make the purchase. I have done this several times but never been compelled to actually buy until I read the foreword to Francis Chan's new book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples and right out of the gate saw this:

From the start, God’s design has been for every single disciple of Jesus to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples until the gospel spreads to all peoples. Yet we have subtly and tragically taken this costly command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations and mutated it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be baptized, and listen in one location. If you were to ask individual Christians today what it means to make disciples, you would likely get jumbled thoughts, ambiguous answers, and probably even some blank stares. In all our activity as Christians and with all our resources in the church, we are in danger of practically ignoring the commission of Christ. We view evangelism as a dreaded topic, we reduce discipleship to a canned program, and so many in the church end up sidelined in a spectator mentality that delegates disciple making to pastors and professionals, ministers and missionaries.

Chan, Francis; Beuving, Mark. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (pp. 7-8).  Kindle Edition.


Too many of us have been taught, perhaps unintentionally, that coming to saving faith in Christ is the finish line. Whew, now I am not going to hell! That is a relief. Now I can hang out in church on Sunday and live my life for myself the rest of the week while running out the clock until I die or Jesus comes again.

Now you will never hear someone say that of course. We make all sorts of pious noises about serving Christ but often that looks a lot more like running out the clock than it does a vibrant faith being lived out. Study after study shows that Christians by and large really are not engaged in making disciples and furthermore are barely equipped to do so even if they wanted to. I am hoping that books like this will be useful to the church in changing our mindset and getting the church out there.

Anyhoo, I am sure this book will be chock full of good quotes to pass along but more importantly I am hoping it will be full of practical, Biblical information that will equip and engage the church for the work of evangelism. Let the reading begin!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Who's Afraid Of The Holy Spirit?

Are we afraid of 1/3 of the Trinity? Afraid He might show up and because we hardly know Him we are afraid of what might happen, or worse that we won't recognize if what is happening is truly a moving of the Holy Spirit? That is the question raised in this very interesting talk by Tope Koleoso speaking at the 2013 Desiring God conference for pastors. His talk (video embedded below) carried the rather unwieldy title: Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?. Setting aside the exclusive way he addresses this issue to clergy, his message raised some interesting and perhaps troubling questions for me.

I have always erred on the side of what can perhaps be called the cold, intellectual, rational aspect of Christianity, with the systematizing of theology and the reading of books, theoretically honing the edges of intellectual understanding. As part of that overly rational and intellectual aspect of the faith I have looked with equal parts suspicion and mockery at the more exuberant, expressive aspects of Christianity. There is certainly a place for scholarship, for study. We have always faced the specter of wolves and false teachers in the church who pervert the Gospel for their own gain. That has not and never will change this side of eternity but we can overreact and in doing so hamper our ministry.

Some of that is perhaps understandable. The excesses, abuses and outright heresy of the extremes that often go under the guise of "charismatic" are legion and well documented. Many of the most recognizable names who claim special spiritual gifts are kooks and crackpots and outright heretics, from Benny Hinn to Todd Bentley to the entire TBN network.These wolves need to be identified and called to repent. But like many other controversial issues the reaction is often an overreaction in the opposite direction.

This talk has caused something of a stir. Just like John MacArthur's talk some years ago on why all self-respecting Calvinists should be dispensationalists, this talk has ruffled feathers (for an example see The Cripplegate which has a multiple part series on why Reformed pastors need not be charismatic in response to Tope's talk. Some of the information is OK, some of it is arrogant and borderline dangerous like the post equating the miraculous gifts with spiritual infancy in the church, presumably in contrast to our "maturity" evidenced by our endless sermonizing). Rather than taking their word for it that Tope was off the mark, I watched the video of his talk myself and found very little that was objectionable. Was it jarring to our "mature" modern sensibilities that seeks after "solid exegetical expository preaching"? Sure. We live in a sterile culture where everything is neat, tidy and sanitary and that is nowhere more true than in the church where we have adopted the sensibilities of the world. The messiness of ministry has been replaced by a performance based culture. That "works" for us in our religious culture. The sheep are entertained, whether by catchy music or by well prepared sermons. The money flows, the system marches on and nobody asks any questions more controversial than questioning the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Who needs the Holy Spirit outside of a perfunctory invitation for Him to show up at the beginning of a "worship service"? We have it all figured out, organized, systematized, sterilized. I am afraid we have neutered ourselves our of fear.

Now I am not at all convinced that all or even most of what passes for "movements of the Holy Spirit" are legitimate. Having been a mormon and experiencing the "burning in the bosom" I know how easy it is for people to convince themselves that the experience they are having is legitimate even when they are creating it themselves. I have run into too many people who make stuff up that is obviously self-serving for the purpose of enriching themselves or covering for their own sin and disobedience. Not everything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy or even makes you cry is a movement of the Spirit. So I still take spiritual claims with a grain of salt or three. However I am concerned that quashing or denying the movement of the Holy Spirit can be as damaging as false reports of His moving.

We must test all things, not in a spirit of suspicion but in a spirit of discernment. The only way to do so, in my understanding, is via a community hermeneutic. In 1 Corinthians 14 when Paul is speaking of the spiritual gifts and what appears to be an issue with their misuse he doesn't forbid them but rather encourages them while at the same time calling for the church to be involved in their use so that it may be done for the edification of all rather than the puffing up of the one. We today should likewise "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts" (1 Cor 14:1) for the edification and building up of the church. We have not "matured" beyond our need for the gifts but rather just the opposite. Our need for legitimate, church building, spiritual gifts has never been greater! Paul indicates that the spiritual gifts are something that we can and ought to desire. Instead of fearing the spirit or capitulating to false manifestations of shysters and charlatans seeking to enrich themselves we should as the church all seek the gifts of the spirit.

Until we equip the church and make disciples who are mature and discerning instead of milk fed novice disciples that are spiritually co-dependent on clergy we will continue to have the two extremes where people are either taught to fear the Holy Spirit and His gifts our of ignorance or people are lured in and destroyed by wolves. If our fear is that the church will be deceived by the Benny Hinn's of the world then we need to equip disciples and feed them meat. The problem is not the Spirit, it is immature disciples who have never been equipped to stand on their own. Until we fix that very little will change, whether dealing with the spiritual gifts or evangelism or any other question that troubles the church. Anyway here is the video, it is an hour long but worth the time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On charges of being anti-leader

When Christians question the traditional hierarchical, top-down "respect my authority" model of church "leadership", the charge that is often thrown out is that they are rebellious, "anti-authority", against all leadership and in favor of some sort of anarchy in the church. This is a silly charge but it is often effective because of the religious culture we live in and it serves as a way to suppress debate by putting one party on the defensive. That is why I appreciated Alan's post today Yes, we’re all equal in Christ, but whose name is on the sign? where he takes on this question. I really liked his closing statement:

If by “leader” you’re talking about a hierarchy of control, power, responsibility, vocation, and service that is reserved for a few among the church who function on behalf of the church, then, yes, I’m in favor of removing that kind of leadership. I think the church would be healthier without those kinds of “leaders.”

If by “leader” you’re talking about mature followers of Jesus Christ who lives and words are a demonstration and example of what every believer should be like and who are among the church and function along with the church, then, no, I’m not in favor of removing that kind of leadership. In fact, I think the church would be far healthier with more and more of these kinds of leaders.

I love that, especially the part about needing more leaders not less. Far from being anti-leader, people like Alan (and myself) are pro-Biblical leadership, a leadership of servanthood and example rather than authority and privilege. I have no interest in propping up a system that muzzles most of the brothers in the church in favor of a authoritarian system of subcontracted professionals. I am in favor of seeing elders in the church who equip all of the brethren for the work of the ministry so that every Christian is on a path that leads to maturity.

Alan's post should generate some good conversation, go check it out!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

I don't use the word prophetic lightly. It is one that is so often misapplied from random kooks to shysters fleecing people to the leader of the mormon church. When it comes to Joel Salatin, I think it fits. He is someone who speaks out against prevailing culture in food and really against the culture that pervades every corner of our culture where no one is responsible for themselves, anything can be fixed by a new regulation and we blithely go around eating chemical compounds called "food" without a thought. I was first exposed to Joel the way a lot of people probably were in his cameo in the documentary Food Inc. Thanks to that movie I purchased one of his books and it was a great read from cover to cover (even though Kindle books don't really have covers)

Joel's book, Folks, This Ain't Normal is a labor of love by a man who is a voice crying out in the wilderness in our perverse culture where people live longer but live worse. As a farmer he chastises the farm industry. As a Christian he chastises fellow believers for our general uncaring attitude toward the environment. No one gets a free pass but none of his criticism is unwarranted and none of it is given in a vacuum.

Folks, This Ain't Normal is chock full of common sense (an uncommon virtue today) sprinkled with pretty savvy writing. Don't let the big glasses, suspenders and "aw shucks" mannerism fool you, Joel is a very bright guy and is not only bright but someone who sees through the garbage peddled to us by those who decide what is healthy for us in the belief that we are too dumb to think for ourselves. The basic message of the book is that as a culture we have completely lost control of our food supply in a historically unthinkable way. We all know people who think that meat magically appears on shrink wrapped foam platters in the store or that milk doesn't actually come from a cow. Joel is simply calling on people to get involved in one of the most basic functions of human life, namely eating. In a country with epidemic levels of diabetes, heart diseases, obesity and all other sorts of food related maladies, shouldn't we start wondering why we are living longer but living sicker? Joel looks at the ridiculous regulations, the growing threat of the armed food police, the efforts to monopolize food production, the historical reality of food production vs the modern industrialization of this most basic need. On and on, each chapter is valuable and engaging. Not one chapter had me yawning or wishing it would just end.

Although he goes to great lengths to encourage those who are just explaining that anything you can do helps, including a series of practical tips to put into place at the end of each chapter, you can feel overwhelmed. How can the average Joe who lives in a quarter of an acre in a suburb with association rules do anything to take control of his diet? I am not sure there is a solution to this but those who feel that way might try rereading the book and focusing on the places where Joel encourages the little steps that combined make a big difference. While I can see where some people might brush this off as pie in the sky utopian thinking, I found it to be absolutely reasonable. We might not all have a family farm large enough to sustain multiple generations but we all can do something to take control of our diet.

There are few books I recommend quite as unreservedly as this one. I am sure a lot of people don't like this message, many who would agree with me on most issues but who, thanks to the unquestioning allegiance to corporatism in what passes for conservatism in America, see a guy like Joel as a rabble-rouser and dangerous. Nevertheless there is a critical need for people to think seriously about issues of liberty and if the government can tell you what you can or cannot eat, there is really no limit to its power. The place I have arrived in my thinking on issues of liberty and freedom mesh quite nicely with the message of Folks, This Ain't Normal and we are already taking some of the steps outlined in this book. Are we even 5% of the way there? Not at all but each day we get closer as we raise our own hogs for meat, chickens for eggs and a cow for milk, as we plant a sizable garden and as we try to eliminate the worst offenders in our diet. We have a long way to go but Folks, This Ain't Normal has been an important wake up call for me and one that a lot of people need to hear. Get this book, read it and prepare to be challenged!

21 years and counting

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

My wife has been proving the eternal wisdom of that statement for 21 years now.

Happy anniversary!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Voluntary Powerlessness

More thoughts on power through weakness...

When we look at weakness in the New Testament, one of the major themes I see is weakness as not only enforced externally, as in the case of Paul's thorn in the flesh, but voluntary weakness or the willing setting aside of worldly "power" in favor of weakness as an act of obedience and witness. It is not that Christians inherently weak or unable to strive for and achieve worldly power but that as a result of the changed heart and the example and command of Christ we willingly set aside worldly notions of strength for the sake of the Gospel. This is such a counter-cultural notion that it is often missed or misunderstood in the broader culture and unfortunately often ignored by the church itself. I am the first to admit that I have difficulty practicing this.

As a side note, force and coercion on behalf of the weak is not really what I am talking about. Income redistribution, wars of conquest to "liberate" people, unions, etc. are examples of using worldly strength and power to try to achieve some notion of "justice". For New Testament followers of Christ, we dispense justice via sacrifice and voluntary weakness rather than manipulating the strength of the world to achieve Kingdom goals.

What I want to do next is demonstrate how this is true from Scripture rather than just making a blanket assertion based on an opinion. As we look to Scripture, I believe we find ample evidence of what I am arguing for. Examples in Scripture abound of voluntary weakness in the three major spheres of life for Christians: the church, the family and the world.

First, the church. The church is where voluntary powerlessness is perhaps the most apparent in Scripture and yet the most often ignored in practice. In His response to the mother of the sons of Zebedee regarding her sons being on His left hand and His right is one of the most powerful and revolutionary teachings of Christ:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

The great lording over the lesser is the way of the world but Jesus teaches a different way. Not an optional way or a preferential way. He says "It shall not be so among you" (emphasis mine). In the church, the most talented, most powerful are no better than the least among us. We do not exalt some men over others, or at least we shouldn't, based on standards that the world finds appealing. Nor should those we recognize as leaders presume the right to demand deference from the church, whether than is something as simple as expecting to be addressed by an honorific like "Reverend" or an expectation that others will kneel before you and kiss your ring. Instead we are exhorted to seek to recognize as leaders men who do the simple things like being good witnesses to the world, loving their wife and their children and serving others. When some men demand that others defer to their "authority" they completely miss the essence of New Testament leadership. Ours is an upside-down kingdom and nowhere more so than in the community of faith where those who lead are often the ones who are least interested in demanding that others follow them.

The next area of voluntary weakness is in the family.  Family is an area where so much angst and heartache comes from in our culture where we have this love-hate relationship, singing the praises of "family values" from the highest mountain while every day many people struggle with family relationships. Again this is nothing unexpected. One of the first and most pivotal events of the Bible occurs in the Garden in the very first chapters and involves a power struggle of sorts between the first husband and wife. As we learn simply by reading Genesis and later references especially in 1 Corinthians 11, the order of creation is not a random event. God specifically and purposefully made man first and then from man He created woman to be a helper to the man, a complement to man and a companion to complete man. By Eve serving the fruit from the tree forbidden to Adam everything changed. The relationship between genders and the strife we so often see is a constant theme in Scripture and it is also one commonly referenced by Paul so the "gender wars" are clearly nothing new. We see this played out today in the egalitarian-complementarian debate, a debate that is rarely edifying.

What is often missed in these conversations on both sides is that submission in the family must be freely given and is always couched in those terms. I cannot make my wife submit to me. I can perhaps bully her into doing things my own way, she can be culturally intimidated into covering her head but that is not submission because submission must always be voluntary. Likewise I can make my children, at least up to a certain age, do what I tell them to do but that is a far cry from honoring their father and their mother. Obedience and submission are not the same thing. Too often our conversations about voluntary submission is a really about perceptions of forced obedience. My children are to honor and obey me not because I can make them but because in doing so they obey God just as my wife is to submit to my headship as an act of obedience. For men our call is not to submit to our wives but to sacrifice ourselves on their behalf. Loving my wife as Christ loved the church doesn't mean being a milquetoast leech but a willingness to die to self or even if need be literally die for her. I cannot be made to love my wife this way anymore than she can be made to submit and respect me but in doing so I honor Christ, loving God by loving my wife.

It is ironic that many who cry the loudest about power and injustice miss this point when advocating for neo-feminist power grabs in the family and the church. Also sadly ironic is that many people who hold to a complementarian view of gender hold to a heavy handed notion of hierarchical rule in the church that is the exact opposite of what Christ taught. When we look at these questions from a perspective of "who is in charge" rather than "how can I serve" we will inevitably have disordered and dysfunctional relationships.

Finally we have the voluntary powerlessness in the face of the world. This has many manifestations but the general rule of thumb is that in every circumstance we must set aside our rights and our strength and our power for the sake of the Gospel. Nothing is more important than our witness to the world. Not wealth or prestige or family or even life.

In the face of a manifestly unjust Roman dictatorship, most of us would see nothing wrong and indeed a lot that we would see as noble in taking up arms to overthrow such a cruel regime. Rather than rising up against the unjust rule of Rome, Paul told the church in Rome and by proxy all of us to submit to the governing authorities in so far as they dealt with those matters that are "render unto Caesar" questions. We see the practical wisdom of this starting in the 4th century when the ironically named Constantine "the Great" was "converted" to Christianity and began more than a millennium of pseudo-Christian religious rule by the state. What resulted from the Constantinian shift when the church went from a reviled and fringe part of the culture to a perversion of the church that dominated the Western world among popes and Protestants alike for centuries, a situation that is today rapidly unraveling to the horror of many who are invested in and benefit from the status quo where Christianity is co-opted for personal enrichment and empowerment, was a religious culture that saw a false Christianity used as a tool to control the masses for the benefit of a few. As history has shown us, indeed as it shouts to us, Christianity cannot properly function when coupled with the state. The message is lost and the true power and influence of the Gospel fades in the quest to gain and retain earthly power. Where religion and the state are joined in the name of Christianity, the Gospel is often made secondary to religion and power and I would go so far as to say that the more accepted and powerful  pseudo-Christian religion is, the less true Christianity is practiced and preached.

This is why I think that Christians should hold to a philosophy that seeks to maximize liberty rather than theocracy, even the soft theocracy of the religious right culture warrior. In a society where the Gospel is part of the free exchange of ideas it will flourish whereas when it is backed up by the force and compulsion of the state and culture it will wither. Proof of this is all around those reading these words in America and Europe where cultural Christianity has given perhaps millions false hope for centuries and that same hypocritical cultural Christianity has served to alienate the lost we are called to receive, leaving behind an empty shell called "church" that has no power other than that which has been invested in it by the state. That is why I believe Christians should embrace a political philosophy of liberty where the Gospel is not coupled with seeking state power to coerce others into ostensibly "Christian"behavior distinct from Christian regeneration. The Gospel message is inherently apolitical and cannot be properly preached from within the confines of a worldly system of power.

Even within the church voluntary powerlessness is practiced. One of the most interesting examples of this is in 1 Corinthians 6. In America when someone wrongs you, you sue them. Simple as that. This attitude carries over to the church with no interruptions. There are constant lawsuits between alleged believers, churches suing members, members suing churches, denomination suing one another over property, churches even getting restraining orders against people they consider to be disruptive. This is obviously nothing new but Paul tells us of a different way

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6-8)

What? Even when I am "right" I should set that aside?! We sure are quick to shake our heads and wag our fingers at the world when it acts like we should expect it to but when our pride or pocketbook is threatened watch us run to Caesar for redress! Our reliance on Caesar for matters of disputes in the church (and caring for our children and our elderly, and caring for one another to ensure that none go without while others have excess, and caring for the poor and the widow and the orphan, and...well you get the picture) brings shame on the church. Rather than a secondary consideration or something that only applies in "the church sphere" when we are inside the walls of a church building, voluntary powerlessness in the face of the world is a crucial part of our broader witness.

Of course the ultimate example of this was Christ and it is largely because of how He lived that we should practice voluntary powerlessness. Even the very act of the incarnation was a sign of voluntary powerlessness when Jesus took on flesh to dwell among us. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the power words of Paul in Philippians 2:1-11....

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)

He emptied Himself to become like a servant so that in serving He could show us a better way. I cannot really begin to comprehend this, that in perfect fellowship with God, immortal and omnipotent, Christ took on a body of flesh with all of the weakness of man to become like us in order to save us and show us how we who are redeemed should live. Far from a distant God who sits in grim judgment of us, He become like us and in suffering and death He became like us and calls us His brothers.

This is a hard teaching. It is hard for me, someone who craves that feeling of being right, of winning, of defeating others. It is also a non-negotiable. We cannot choose to do things our own way and expect to see Kingdom fruit. We didn't choose how we are saved and we don't get to choose how we live now. If I have learned anything it is that Christ knows better than I do and even when (especially when?) it makes me uncomfortable I should follow Him. If He voluntarily became weak for my sake and in doing so showed greater power than any human ruler or kingdom, why then should I hesitate to do the same. If I wish to truly be a witness of Him to the world I must set aside my own notions of strength and embrace voluntary weakness as my refuge in a world that cannot be won by force. There is no other way.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cradle to Grave Continues

Listening to NPR this morning I heard a preview of the State of the Union speech and it sounds like President Obama is reviving a key "education" provision from his original platform, namely universal birth to college tax payer subsidized institutionalization of children and young adults in the "educational system". From the Huffington Post.....

Days before President Barack Obama outlines his agenda for the coming year, a think tank with close ties to the White House is outlining a plan that would provide preschool for all children within five years.

The Center for American Progress proposal, released Thursday, provides a road map for how the Obama administration could move forward with pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds. For families with younger children, federal subsidies for child care would increase to an average $7,200 per child and the number of students in Early Head Start programs would double.

The troubling results from Head Start coupled with the fact that we have no money should quash this but few politicians want to take a stand that appears to be voting against "education" even though this has nothing to do with education in the first place. The report from the Huffington Post tags the cost at north of $25,000,000,000 per year and that of course is laughably low balled since any program like this is going to overrun costs right out of the gate under the banner of "It is for the children!". In case you missed it, we don't really have any money right now and every year we add a trillion to the debt. Just a little fiscal factoid for ya!

This part killed me....

Closer to the kitchen table, the proposals have an economic resonance. The average family with two parents working and with children younger than 5 spends roughly a one-tenth of the income on child care. For families making less, that percentage climbs quickly.

So little Johnny and Suzie are going to get to go to a tax payer subsidized day care, er early childhood education program so that mom can go to work without paying for child care but since we don't have any money those same kids stuck in preschool warehousing early childhood education programs will get to deal with the additional debt incurred on their behalf to pay for their care when they hit adulthood. In other words, mom and dad get to pass off the cost of child care to their own children. What a great deal! New iPhones for everybody!

Set aside this sort of stuff. What is going on here is the continuance of a policy that seeks to separate children from their families, especially their mothers, at an earlier age and for more of the day. Children now barely get twelve weeks with their mothers before they are shipped off to daycare and the time after this three month period is filled with day care, preschool, public school, activities, sports, etc. that ultimately leads to children spending less and less time at home with their own family with each year that passes and in turn spending more and more time under the supervision of the state. This is a situation unprecedented in our history and unquestionably damaging to children and family cohesion in general.

That may come across as a little tin-foil hat hysterical but not when you examine some of the underlying philosophy behind the educational elite. You can be sure that the idea of adding thousands of government subsidized jobs that will fall under the umbrella of the teachers unions is a key driver for this movement. As we have moved further away from a child spending their preschool formative years at home with a parent and toward two income families with children increasingly cared for by strangers away from home, it is nigh impossible to make the arguments that families are stronger or education is improved. The only beneficiaries are the child care industry, including public schools, and large corporations that are able to pay less for labor thanks to the influx of women into the work force under the false impression that daycare for their children is "free". Make no mistake, for all of the noble language this sort of effort is couched in, the real motivation is almost certainly far more sinister.

Friday, February 08, 2013

What Makes Us Married?

An interesting conversation came up the other night on the topic of marriage. It seems like a simple question but it is more complicated than it seems at first blush: What makes a couple "married"?

The Bible speaks a lot about marriage, about being married, about relationships between husbands and wives in marriage, about marriage as a picture of the relationship between the church and Christ, about divorce, etc. Given the importance of marriage in the Bible Christians in American especially are likewise very concerned about marriage; we march to defend “traditional marriage” and we have voter guides to tell us who to vote for that upholds Biblical marriage. Of course our idea of traditional marriage is just that, tradition. One man, one woman, till death do us part. When it comes down to the details on issues like divorce and remarriage, abuse in marriage, having and raising children? Yikes. We are a people that loves marriage but doesn’t have much of a clue what that means outside of a “church wedding”.

The question that was raised the other night has to do with the relative silence of the Bible on the “how” of marriage. How do people go from single to married? Thanks to centuries of social and religious tradition we think we know the answer. You go to an ordained cleric (with a document showing that you have the permission of the state to get married) or you go to the justice of the peace and get legally married. Because you have the permission/blessing of the state to get married you get legal and financial benefits. Ergo, ceremony=married.

That isn’t how it was done in the Bible or at least we aren’t told that it was. We see precious little of the specifics of marriage "ceremonies" in the New Testament with the exception of the wedding feast at Cana and the parables using weddings as a setting and even those don't give us a clear "how" when it comes to marriage. I would guess that in spite of that most Christians would say that someone who has not gone through a state approved ceremony is not truly married. Thanks to our perverse system of religious-state symbiosis where we expect and indeed demand preferential tax treatment for our private religious functions, a marriage without the approval of the state and the accompanying financial/legal benefits is not viewed as legitimate.

Even though the Bible is relatively silent, we do see a fairly early sign that the church was moving toward a clergy controlled marriage system. In the Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp he writes, almost in passing:

But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to the Lord, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God.

The topic being addressed is more generally the duties of husbands and wives but it also seems to me that he was writing to address an issue that was cropping up, although I am not certain what it is. What is interesting to note is that the overarching principle here is all things being done to honor God. Does that necessitate a "church wedding" or a civil proceeding? Does it require the oversight and approval of clergy? I am not talking about a man and a woman seeking counsel from the elders of the church, something that seems a reasonable and prudent measure. I am talking about marriages only being seen as legitimate when officiated by a religious professional that has the approval of Caesar the state.

I just don't see the Biblical warrant for declaring some marriages legitimate by virtue of a legal construct of the state. Maybe I am missing something. Perhaps this is a Romans 13 issue where we follow the state's rules. Or maybe this is an issue of rendering unto Caesar something (i.e. marriage) that rightfully belongs to God. If two people declare their covenant, exclusive relationship to one another in marriage is that not sufficient for the church? Or must the church bow to the demands of the culture and tradition.

What do you think or is this just one of those weird questions that I think are fascinating and everyone else thinks is dumb?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Living By The Sword, Dying By The Sword

Former House Representative Ron Paul has never been one to shy away from saying un-PC things. It is one of the things I admire about him and his blunt honesty is why I voted for him in the primary election last year even though he had no chance of winning. His recent tweet about the murder of "war hero" Chris Kyle has gotten many people all wound up. Here is what he said...
His follow-up comment on Facebook was a little more nuanced, exposing the problems with using 144 characters on Twitter to express coherent thoughts.

As a veteran, I certainly recognize that this weekend's violence and killing of Chris Kyle were a tragic and sad event. My condolences and prayers go out to Mr. Kyle’s family. Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences. A policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies. -REP

The internet went bonkers about the tweet, most notably among conservatives and even many conservatives who would call themselves Christians. Setting aside the lack of nuance and perceived bluntness, is what Ron Paul said somehow incorrect? Jesus didn't say "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword unless they are a decorated U.S. military veteran". War is destructive, destroying property, destroying those slain and often destroying those who survive. War and violence beget war and violence. It has always been and shall always be.

It is odd that quoting Jesus is so controversial in a culture that is allegedly basd on "Judeo-Christian values". Perhaps these "Judeo-Christian values" we love to trumpet are little more than moralistic religious virtues that are aimed at creating a loyal, pliable populace that is easy to manipulate and rule. When being a peacemaker is controversial and when being a professional killer is exalted, a culture is many things but it is not reflective of the values of the Kingdom.

Mr. Kyle spent his adult life engaged in the killing of others. Many look at his 160 kills and the various awards and accolades given to him for his exceptional lethality and call him a war hero. I see him as someone used by the state to accomplish its goals by killing. Did those he killed deserve to die, were they bad guys? Probably. Was Mr. Kyle a heroic figure because he had a knack for killing? Not really.

A man who made a living from killing was killed by a mentally disturbed man who ended up that way by his involvement in an unnecessary war. That this sort of thing happened is not surprising. War and violence beget war and violence and our nation is full of people who carry scars, both external and internal, thanks to the insatiable bloodlust of man and his never ending quest for power. What Ron Paul said may have been worded in an inelegant manner and it was certainly counter-cultural but I hope that the very real issue he raised is not lost in the chatter of professional entertainers and talking heads on the TV, radio and internet.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hypocrisy Alert

On my way home this afternoon I heard President Obama speaking during his campaign to push for "common sense" gun laws to "keep children safe". One thing he said really grated on me....

"No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe, but if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try," he said.

Well that sounds delightful and all. I am all for keeping children safe. I just have to ask. Since President Obama opposes any "common sense" restrictions on abortion and since President Obama seems to have no problem using drone strikes even when children might (and have) be injured or killed, does he really care about keeping children safe?

Here is the uncomfortable truth. It certainly seems that the only children President Obama is really concerned about "keeping safe" are the politically expedient ones that he can use to push his own agenda. An unborn child, a child in a village in Afghanistan? Well those children are of little value from a political standpoint so they are simply ignored.

It is not about keeping kids safe and it never has been so quit lying about it.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Not "either-or" but "both-and"

Robert Martin at Abnormal Anabaptist has a thought provoking post looking at the division with the broader Mennonite church between those who are "liberal", i.e. concerned about justice, peacemaking and the poor, versus those who are "conservative", concerned with docttinal precision, evangelism and piety. As he rightly argues, you cannot have one without the other. A church without a zeal for reaching the lost is not really the church at all or at least is not functioning faithfully. Likewise a church that cares only for souls and not for the poor and the hungry is missing a crucial aspect to how we are called to live.

His post, Can You Have One Without the Other? looks at a specific subset of the church but what he writes applies pretty equally to most of the church in America, a church rent assunder by division and suspicion of one another. It is well worth the read, both for the look at a part of the church (Mennonites) that is somewhat foreign to many evangelicals and for the questions he raises that apply equally to the rest of the church. Check it out.

Illegal Immigrants and the Gospel

The hot issue of the day has suddenly become illegal immigration and what to do about it in light of a "comprehensive" immigration reform policy. Clearly something is not working and the news has been a-buzz with talk of a compromise brewing in the Senate. Like most "compromises" we have seen lately it seems to amount to giving Democrats everything they want immediately in return for vague future promises of reform that will, like spending cuts, never happen. Of course we need to keep in mind that for all the rhetoric from Republicans, the GOP gets lots of support from lobbyists like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that are all in favor of super cheap laborers so most of this chatter is a bunch of empty rhetoric anyway. So how should Christians living in America think about the issue of illegal immigrants? I have posted about this before and I have never been happy with the way it came across so here it goes again.

What makes this issue so difficult is that it has both a political and a Kingdom aspect and they seem to conflict. This conflict makes our public discourse seem confused and muddled at best, hypocritical at worst. I don't think many Christians come off well when speaking about this issue. First, the political issue.

The oft repeated pragmatic political argument is that illegal immigrants fill a crucial niche in our economy, doing "jobs that Americans won't". That may or may not be true but what certainly is true is that at the same time that we are getting arguments about illegal immigrants being needed for low wage, low skill jobs that sit unfilled we have millions of Americans who are refusing to work thanks to government transfer payments. If I were to lose my job I would not run out and get a job picking vegetables or butchering chickens because I wouldn't have to. I have a disincentive to settle for an undesirable job because of various social safety net programs. Instead of being a temporary bridge between employment, unemployment and other transfer payment have become an alternative to employment. People respond to incentives and when the incentive to stay home overrides the incentive to take a less than desirable job, the results are predictable. When we have millions of people out of work we should never hear an excuse for illegal immigration based on "no one to fill these jobs"

It is also virtual political suicide for Republicans. Adding millions of new Democratic voters in states like Florida, Georgia, Texas, etc. is not a recipe for future wins at the ballot box. Do they think that newly minted citizens working at the very lowest wages are suddenly going to become champions of lower taxes and reduced social spending? Especially since many Republicans are dumping social issues as fast as they can to appeal to a broader audience and those social issues are the only right-wing issues that might appeal to former illegal aliens. It is a lose-lose issue for the GOP. Oppose "immigration reform" and get painted as intolerant. Embrace it and get little credit and millions of new Democratic voters. So the political issue makes real reform pretty unlikely especially since the Left smells blood on this issue and is in no mood and has little incentive to compromise.

The political issue are not nearly as important as the Kingdom questions and the theological issues are even more thorny given the high correlation between evangelicalism and conservative politics.

Can I just ask this one favor at the outset? Can we stop trying to paint Joseph and Mary fleeing with Jesus to Egypt as proof that Jesus was an "illegal immigrant"? That is such a clunky and frankly ridiculous argument that it acts as nothing more than a cheap rhetorical trick. First as far as I know Egypt didn't have immigration laws like those of the United States. Second Joseph was commanded to flee with Jesus directly by an angel to avoid Jesus being killed by Herod and also to fulfill OT prophecy. Not quite the same thing as seeking better employment opportunities. Third they were not immigrants, if anything they were visitors. Joseph wasn't looking for a better job, he was fleeing so he was if anything analogous to a political refugee, a category of people we already make special provision for. Finally, once Herod was dead they went home. Jesus was not a proto-illegal immigrant so please stop with that. It unnecessarily muddles the discussion and it cheapens the Biblical event of Christ fleeing to Egypt.

As far as how we treat and speak of illegal immigrants, we must be mindful of the commands to love everyone whether neighbor, enemy or sojourner. I try to avoid the "social justice" language of oppression when talking about illegal immigrants as their oppression is the result of willfully breaking the law. Being arrested and deported comes with the territory. That being said illegal immigrants who need Jesus are not less deserving of our love and mercy as the church than a native born citizen of English descent. We don't need to dress their plight up in politically correct language nor do we need to demonize them as invaders. We just need to see them as human beings made in the imago dei who need the redemption that only comes via faith in Christ Jesus. There is not one Gospel for middle class, white native born Americans and another for illegal immigrants.

As an aside, I wondered about this the other day. What should a new believer in Christ do if they are here illegally in light of Romans 13 and rendering unto Caesar? It seems to me the proper thing to do would be to leave and try to re-enter the U.S. legally.

This is where the problem of entangling the Gospel and the powers of the world becomes so troubling. You can have, as I think I do, a very reasonable political and economic argument against unfettered immigration or amnesty for current illegal immigrants but it is hard to set that aside when viewing the need to take the Gospel to the illegal immigrant in America. The same holds true when looking at warfare, an enemy of the United States is also someone I am called to love and take the Gospel to. Issues like illegal immigration make me question once again the wisdom of being "politically active" as followers of Christ. More to think about on this topic and the broader question as well.