Thursday, October 16, 2014

A quick note on tax deductions for the church and Caesar

The latest buzz in the world of religion, American style, revolves around is the unconscionable and frankly illegal political fracas in Houston where the lesbian mayor has decided to not only participate in the disenfranchising citizens (odd that the left is only concerned about allegations of disenfranchisement when it impacts people that vote for leftist candidates) but is pursuing the private and privileged speech of citizens that dared to hold a view contrary to hers.

This was instructive from National Review:

To understand the full extent of the city’s overreach, it is worth quoting the actual subpoena: The request for sermons, for example, seeks “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to H[ouston] ERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” “Or in your possession” — suddenly a Billy Graham sermon is the legal equivalent of child pornography. 

 The inclusion of material that refers to Annise Parker makes clear just what is afoot: “political retribution,” says Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the five pastors. ADF has filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, and is now awaiting the city’s response. 

It is obvious to all but the most dense among us that this is an outrageous assault on liberty whether those being targeted are Christians or Jews or Muslims (or Hindu, Buddhist, etc.). This is the worst sort of government excess, combining an assault on free speech, freedom of religion and the right to free association with a blatant attempt to intimidate anyone who dares hold a contrary view on a contentious subject via a clumsy, overly broad and intrusive fishing expedition aimed at chilling free speech.

All that is true, crystal clear and completely expected by anyone who has even a cursory grasp of the Bible. What is also true is that the church has helped contribute to this situation by our parasitic dependency on favorable tax treatment from Caesar. In a classic example of having our cake and eating it too, the church in America demands the enjoyment of special and privileged treatment from Caesar while at the same time demanding that the state stay out of our business. Guess what? That is coming to a screeching halt and I mean like right now. The church in America will, like it or not, find herself in the position of choosing between remaining in the favor of Caesar by abandoning every fundamental truth of the Gospel or by choosing the truth over tax breaks. Some groups that already had a pretty tenuous grasp on the Gospel have already chosen the path of remaining in the cozy embrace of the world. Others will take the hard road and face the consequences. One thing is certain, the church better figure out how to get our fiscal house in order in a less tax friendly environment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Repost: A Season of Consummation and Melancholy

Last year about this time I wrote this post on the rhythm of agricultural life in the Midwest. The nearly twelve months that have elapsed since I wrote this have been very difficult for me and for my family. I am not prepared or inclined to share much more but it has been one of the most trying seasons we have endured. As I look back and hopefully learn this post came to mind.

We spent some time over the last week opening up a corn field. That isn't something you see in industrialized agriculture where the monstrous combines rapidly blaze through a corn field, slowed mostly by the need to continually unload the corn or beans before returning to harvesting at speeds that would be incomprehensible to farmers a few generations ago. Opening up a corn field is an Amish thing, creating space on the ends and through the middle for the horses to walk while pulling the corn picker. As we worked as a family in the field in near silence from our surroundings other than the whispering rustle of corn in the autumn breeze, I was thinking about how the seasons of life parallel the seasons of the harvest. When I was younger and my children were as well I did the heavy lifting. Now as the years slowly take their toll on my body while hopefully doing the opposite for my wisdom I rely more and more on my children. My older kids are the strong arms to chop corn and the younger are the strong backs to bend over to pick up ears of corn again and again never seeming to weary. On a farm kids are more than decorative ornaments to adorn our Christmas cards and Facebook pages, they are an integral part of daily life. On many farms they are nothing less that indispensable. Were it not for my kids we wouldn't have fresh raw milk to drink. Most of the more demanding chores around the farm wouldn't get done. Each year that passes sees a subtle shifting from parents to children. It is a fascinating progression to watch once you get over the fact that you are the one getting older and the inevitable jolt to the ego that comes from having your son handle something that you probably could still do but really shouldn't. All is part of the Creator's grand design for life.


As October swiftly winds down here in Indiana I am reminded anew of the uniqueness of autumn in the Midwest. There is just something special when you live here out in the country that isn't replicated in other places we have lived around the nation . Sure New England has the fall colors and "Up North" Michigan has hunting season in the brilliant fall hues of seemingly endless forests. More southerly states have delightful weather, when we lived there the fall in Kentucky was a wonderful relief from the oppressive summer heat. I am sure other regions of our fair nation have their own charms in autumn but none match the Midwest for me. Perhaps it is just the natural affinity for the place one grew up. Whatever it is, nowhere we have lived can match autumn in the Midwest. It is something that is a part of what makes us who we are.

While suburbs mark the changing of the season from summer to fall with going back to school, curbside piles of leaves to picked up and the beginning of the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season (a shopping season that is starting to blur together into one massive frenzy of shopping and consumption), autumn in the Midwest means the harvest. Not the harvest in the sense of "Harvest festivals" and a few corn stalks in your yard. I mean real harvest. All around us for the past few weeks the quiet fields of corn and soybeans went from the passive state of green to a frenzy of activity. Combines mowed down acre after acre of crops while trucks and tractors hauled away what is estimated to be the largest corn harvest in American history. It is incredible to watch fields of beans and corn disappear into the maw of a combine and turn into rivers of golden corn and beige soybeans.

In a unique and jarring contrast we also have the local Amish harvesting their crops. In one field you have a state of the art John Deere combine, a machine that will set you back in excess of half a million dollars, with the ability to cut up to 18 rows of corn at a time sweeping through fields, casting the discarded husks and stalks behind before emptying into huge tractor trailer trucks, trucks often lined up three deep because a modern combine can fill a tractor trailer faster than they can get to the grain elevator to dump the crop before rushing back. It is the pinnacle of American agricultural progress and innovation on display, the one industry where America is still second to none. In the next field you might have a team of four Belgian draft horses plodding slowly but surely through a field of corn, pulling a corn picker that harvests two rows at a time. Instead of corn that has been plucked from the stalk, husk removed and shaken and sifted through screens leaving just the kernel behind, the Amish fill their wagons with corn still on the cob. Rather than ending up in giant concrete silos, their corn often ends up in corn cribs at their home. While they have some modern conveniences, they harvest their corps in much the same way that farmers did in those same fields 100 years ago. Reminiscent of an agricultural John Henry versus the steam powered hammer, the Amish thrive using methods that seem quaint to our eyes and yet they prosper, often beyond their "English" counterparts.

The harvest is a season of accomplishment and consummation but it is also a wistful and melancholy time. The promise of harvest, just a whisper and a hope in spring as bare fields sit seemingly dormant while the seeds beneath the soil stir and grow unseen, has come to fruition. In normal years all the worry and fretting of impotently watching the weather to catch a window between the time the crops are ready and the fall rains vanishes as the crops come off as they almost always do. Farming makes for a powerful dichotomy, on the one hand farmers today have unimaginable technology at their fingertips. Precision farming, super efficient machinery, hybrid crops that produce unnatural yields, chemicals of all sorts to increase productivity and eliminate weeds and pests, all work together to squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre of land. Yet in spite of all the technology the farmer still spends most of the year on the sidelines, completely helpless waiting on the weather. Is it warm enough to plant but dry enough to get in the field? Is it hot and sunny but not too dry in the summer? Are the crops mature and dry enough to harvest but has the rain held off so we can get those green, red and orange behemoth machines in the field to harvest? I can't think of another economic endeavor that is so critical to our national economic security, so ancient and yet driven by technology, that is still dependent on something as fickle and primal as the weather.

There is something sad about the vast fields bereft of crops. Where once there were acres of tall, green corn softly rustling in the wind there is now only stubble. In one field near our home the corn is all gone except for the solitary stalk standing all alone, sole sole survivor of the combine. I know that empty fields mean successful harvests and that those fields are testament to overflowing grain silos holding the American treasure from the breadbasket of our nation. I know that many farm families are smiling as they get their checks, the reward for a year of hard work and worrying. Still they make me sad. Empty bean and corn fields mean that winter is coming, just around the corner. The days will grow shorter and the extra darkness each day that I dread is also on the horizon. The joy of spring with new life in budding plants, fields being planted, lambs and foals being born, it all seems so far away, a distant and unattainable dream. I know that the winter is but a brief interlude and soon enough the horse drawn planters will be working the fields alongside massive tractors but that certainty is not enough to offset the melancholy that invariably settles on me each year at this time.

It is all part of the love-hate relationship so many of us have with the Midwest. Ours is a region that is sneered at by other parts of the country, derided as "fly over" country, an obstacle to fly over going from one fabulous place to another. It is a vast, flat landscape that is so awful to drive through but for many of us it is home, something deeply connected with who we are. So many of us strive for relevance and hipness but choose to live in a decidedly un-hip and in the eyes of many irrelevant region. In spite of the melancholy I feel in fall, the humid summers, muddy springs and freezing winters there is nowhere else that we feel so at home. This is where we belong, amid the generally simple people who make their living building stuff, moving stuff and of course farming. It is not glamorous, just like our football teams in the Big Ten are not glamorous (and not very good right now) but it is home.

Autumn in the Midwest. There is nothing else quite like it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Iran Understands Terrorism Better Than America

I watched a clip last night on an interview by Charlie Rose on CBS with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and was embarrassed to hear the political leader of a rogue state that seems to understand what America does not. Watch the video at this link, I couldn't see a way to embed it at around the 1 minute mark.

Did you catch that? You don't combat terror by arming the next generation of terrorists, you will never "defeat" terrorism by giving rise to a new group of terrorists to fight the current terrorists.


Yet that is precisely what our President and Congress are going to do, walking lockstep in folly when they can't agree on anything else.

Welcome to the Roman Empire. Plenty of people are fiddling while it burns down around us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Romancing the Anabaptists

I love me some Anabaptists. I first got turned on to them thanks to Dave Black, and it is quite an accomplishment and a testament to Dr. Black's infectious enthusiasm that I gave them serious consideration after years of listening to the White Horse Inn where every ill in the church could be traced back to the Anabaptists (and every ill could be solved by applying more "word and sacrament"). So I am of course as pleased as anyone that these Reformation era brethren are experiencing a major revitalization of interest in the church.

Having said that....

I am concerned that many Christians are romanticizing the Anabaptists and turning them into something they were not. In doing so they risk completely missing the very important lessons that Anabaptists can teach the church today by trying to make the Anabaptists fit into a contemporary model that really has nothing to do with what they believed. Yes they believed in and practiced non-resistance but there is a lot more to them than that. As a result of their persecution the Anabaptists rarely had time to sit down and pen lengthy theological treatises and I am afraid that has given license to many contemporary thinkers to "fill in the blanks". This pop culture "Anabaptism" where Anabaptist becomes a word that means whatever I want it to does a disservice to the Anabaptists and the contemporary church alike.

The Anabaptists were a people under constant persecution, not for being too lax with the Scriptures but being too literal. Far from being unorthodox or disinterested in orthodoxy they were a people deeply concerned with right belief and right practice. They weren't especially ecumenical (read Menno Simons speaking about the pope and Roman Catholicism). They held to some pretty traditional ideas on doctrines like hell. They certainly were not loosey goosey about doctrine, in fact they were just the opposite. They suffered persecution because of their refusal to compromise.

Fast forward four hundred years or so and you get a pretty divided manifestation of "Anabaptism". On the one hand you have the traditional Anabaptist groups like the Amish, the Mennonites, the Hutterites and other groups that are visibly recognizable by their dress and manner (usually plain, coverings for women, often technologically averse). I believe that these historically Anabaptist groups would be more recognizable to the original Anabaptists than the second group although I think they (the original Anabaptists) would be troubled by the insularity and general disinterest (or outright aversion) to evangelism their progeny exhibit.

The second group, what I and many others call "neo-anabaptism", includes a smorgasbord of beliefs that are all over the place but (and this is a pretty broad generalization) tend to fall way to the left on the theological scale. Most prominent voices promote "egalitarianism", reject substitutionary ideas of the atonement, advance ideas that border on (or leap right over the border) of universalism or at least a rejection of a literal hell. In spite of my general dislike of these sorts of fanciful notions and the time-space continuum paradox they would cause I would hazard to guess that Menno Simons and company would be bewildered by the positions held by many of those who claim a contemporary affinity with them. When many contemporary Christians talk about Anabaptism what they are really talking about is a romanticized, and perhaps hijacked, version of an important movement in the church that bears little practical resemblance to what their forefathers believed and practiced. It seems like neo-Anabaptists define Anabaptism by definitions that have nothing to do with the Anabaptists other than Anabaptist non-resistance, which looks very different from militant political pacifism (pun intended). I am sure that characterization will rub many in the neo-Anabaptist camp the wrong way but I call 'em like I see 'em.

Some of this is the fault of evangelicalism. There is not really a home for peacemaking in what passes for the church loosely defined under the umbrella of evangelicalism, whether you are talking Reformed denominations or charismatic groups or run of the mill Baptists to non-denominational churches. The idea of practical peacemaking simply doesn't get any sort of consideration, leaving only the fringe left of the theological spectrum as a home for those who eschew redemptive violence. Ideas like redemptive violence, "just war" and the myriad hypothetical situations and geo-political rationales we invoke to excuse or even celebrate our rejection of peacemaking are so deeply entrenched in mainstream evangelicalism that peacemaking rarely gets even a cursory examination. This leaves a lot of Christians without many options. Peacemaking is not a new concept and it certainly is not a "progressive" or liberal idea. It is deeply embedded in the foundations of the Gospel.

Anyway, back to my point. We stand on the cusp of a seismic change for the church in America. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that it will have a similar impact, although a very different one, that the Reformation had on the church. As we look to the past to help us face the future there are few historical manifestations of the church that are as potentially valuable as the Anabaptists. We risk missing the timely and critical lessons they have to teach us if we remove the real people who suffered for standing firm for the truth in a hostile culture and replace them with neutered, politically correct shills for a cornucopia of "progressive" ideology. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of great people who fall into the category of "neo-Anabaptist", many of them Christians doing great things for God. They have some worthwhile things to say and I am not saying they can't call themselves Anabaptists. I just wish they would study more of the actual Anabaptists to understand what made them uniquely valuable to the contemporary church rather than the romanticized version we so often see today.

Funding Syrian rebels summed up

This was something I penned this morning and I think it is a decent summary of the push to fund "moderate" Syrian rebels...

The U.S. House has already voted in favor of, and the Senate is preparing to do the same, a proposal to spend more money we don't have to help people we can't trust in a conflict we don't understand and have no business getting involved in.

If I didn't know better I might think that we are arming these rebels to create a new threat to fight a few years down the road, the better to perpetuate this endless cycle of warfare that accomplishes nothing but killing American young men and women along with countless civilians, spending the U.S. further into debt and enriches people in America that profit from war in corporate board rooms and government offices alike.

Meanwhile NPR reports that ISIS militants have U.S. weapons. Any takers on how long before the latest round of armaments being sent to this region are being used to kill American soldiers?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Here Come The Scavengers

When an animal is wounded, the scavengers start to circle hoping for an easy meal that they didn't earn. You can see this in nature films and you can see it right where you live if you are sort of in the country. A sure sign that a deer is wounded are the circling vultures. Maybe it is just me but I think I am seeing some circling in our popular culture and the wounded beast is the NFL and the well-publicized mishandling of the Ray Rice situation and the subsequent witchhunt.

First on Ray Rice.

It doesn't matter if "she started it" or "she hit me first". Men don't hit women because it is cowardly and unmanly. There is nothing less genuinely masculine than hitting someone weaker than you and that is doubly true when it involves a woman. PC or not it is still true than generally speaking men are bigger and stronger than women. Just a fact. Yet we find ourselves in an era that tries to pretend that men and women are essentially the same at the same time it decries domestic violence and the "rape culture". This muddled confusion is no surprise. For a generation or more men have been inundated with the message that women are nothing special outside of their ability to provide men sexual gratification and perhaps pay the rent when the man is too lazy to get a job. Little wonder that a guy who is 220 lbs thinks nothing of beating a woman unconscious. When my X-box is frustrating me I turn it off, when a woman back-talks me I shut her up. This is the culture we live in and no one says anything unless someone famous is involved. It is the sign of a complete societal failure that men like Ray Rice think that beating up a woman is ever an option.

Is the NFL player base more prone to domestic violence based on a couple of incidents, ugly as they are, than the general population? I don't know if the statistics bear that out but certainly there are plenty of examples of domestic violence by employees of other industries. So why is this conversation dominating the news? Two words for you: Mad. Stacks. (Yo.) (OK that was three....)

The NFL is one of the biggest cash cows around and is paranoid to a pathological level about its public image lest the gravy train derail.

Lots of cash flow plus a huge public profile = easy target for extortion

Groups are coming out of the woodwork to get in on this windfall, offering consulting services and re-education camps informational seminars to tell a bunch of guys, the vast majority of whom are never going to raise their hand to a woman, that hitting women is wrong. That is something they should have, and most of them have, learned when they were toddlers. Never fear, there is no common sense idea that a high priced consultant can't cash in on!

Raise your hand if you think that the oodles of cash being extorted from the NFL will do a thing to end domestic violence. If you have your hand raised you are a sucker. Just a little honesty for ya.

The very real issue of men hitting women (and that is different from a parent spanking a child for obvious reasons) is one that should be handled by teaching our young boys to be men when they are little. We shouldn't have to pull adult men aside and lecture them with psychobabble mumbo-jumbo about an issue that shouldn't even be an issue. Men hitting women is a failure of the understanding of men and woman as co-equal image bearers of God and the divine design of God in creating two complementary genders. It isn't hard to figure out but watch and see as the NFL pays millions in hush money to make this issue go away. Lawyers and consultants will cash in. Players will be inundated with common sense. The NFL will have protected its mad stacks. Women will still be treated like sex toys and punching bags by men who were never taught the most basic of gender rules: boys and girls are different and boys don't hit girls.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Here are a couple some links I have liked (or didn't like but read anyway)

First, one from today by Eric Carpenter Is This A Joke? What has Eric asking that question is the constant advertisements from Ligonier Ministries for a "theology cruise". The "cheap" cabin is "only" $800 (based on double occupancy so figure $1600 minimum). Eric writes:

The add basically invites you to spend hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars on a comfortable cruise around the Caribbean while listening to theological lectures. Could Christianity be made to seem any cushier? 

 The scriptures tell us that life with Christ will often be difficult. We may have to suffer due to our affiliation with Jesus. Many Christians around the world today have great struggle in their lives on a regular basis. Meanwhile, those of us with money are expected to share it with those who have little. 

In light of these things, how can a comfy theology cruise be justified? While the truths taught during the theology lectures will probably be solid, the very existence of this cruise conveys something else. It says that living for Jesus is easy and fun. Frankly, this cruise appears dangerously similar to what the prosperity gospel teaches.

Yes, yes. I am a free market guy. I believe that citizens in an allegedly free society can do whatever they want with the money they earn. I also had a conversation with an Amish friend last week about the way we use wealth and the idea of being a stumbling block to the brethren. These sorts of cruises smack of the sort of elitist influence buying we see among politicians. Spend enough money and you get to hobnob with the cool theologians. The rest of you less fortunate types will have to be content with podcasts. When you consider the innumerable solicitations via mail and email I get from Ligonier warning of dire consequences if they fail to raise some insane amount of money this month, it makes you wonder if they have their financial (and Kingdom) priorities straight.

NPR reports on the way that the Islamic State (that isn't Muslim according to the Prez) uses the regions it has conquered to fund their activities, How The Islamic State Smuggles Oil To Fund Its Campaign. Well done America. We keep destabilizing this region leading to conditions where radical groups rise up and we end up going back over and over again, wasting billions of dollars we don't have and losing countless lives we can't replace or justify.

Two articles from the Washington Post on the way police use forfeiture seizure and fines to fund themselves, often at the expense of the poor, Stop and seize and How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. I have remarked before that many (most) institutions become primarily concerned with self-preservation and perpetuation over time and it seems that law enforcement is no different. In a related story we read how a Family Could Lose Home Over Son’s Drug Possession, even though it was a minor amount.

This one really rubbed me the wrong way, Hacking Traditional College Debate's White-Privilege Problem. From the intro...

It used to be that if you went to a college-level debate tournament, the students you’d see would be bookish future lawyers from elite universities, most of them white. In matching navy blazers, they’d recite academic arguments for and against various government policies. It was tame, predictable, and, frankly, boring. 

No more. 

These days, an increasingly diverse group of participants has transformed debate competitions, mounting challenges to traditional form and content by incorporating personal experience, performance, and radical politics. These “alternative-style” debaters have achieved success, too, taking top honors at national collegiate tournaments over the past few years.

I get that college debate can be kind of boring and staid but in the real world there is a place for reasoned dialogue within a framework. Being able to argue your point in a calm and rational way is a critical skill in the workplace. When a meeting is winding up you can't just get up and shout "F the time!". That gets you fired and rightly so. This is just another way that the "academic" world is so removed from the real world that it is actually hurting people preparing for life outside of the campus.

Russ Moore speaks to the issue of domestic violence in light of the Ray Rice video and suspension, The Church and Violence Against Women. He says:

An abusive man is not an over-enthusiastic complementarian. He is not a complementarian at all. He is rejecting male headship because he rejecting his role as provider and protector. As the culture grows more violent, more consumerist, more sexualized and more misogynistic, the answer is not a church more attenuated to the ambient culture, whether through a hyper-masculine paganism or through a gender-neutral feminism.

Complementarianism rightly understood is the very antithesis of violence against women because it understands that men should treat their wives as Christ treated the church.

That is some of what I have been reading for the last week or so, enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

That is what they were laughing about

I saw the picture of former Presidents Clinton and Bush laughing together the other day and wondered what was so funny. I think I figured it out so I created a meme to capture their moment of jocularity.....

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Foolishness of Fear

Of all people those who believe, truly believe, in Christ ought to be the least fearful around.We should have absolute confidence in the eternal perspective and promise of God.

Why then, at least based on social media, are Christians so terrified of anything and everything. I mean like trembling in fear exhibited in impotent and empty bravado and rhetoric. Two recent events have highlighted this disturbing trend for me.

The first was the widely publicized return of two American missionaries who had contracted Ebola while serving in the mission field. I emphasized the words above because it was staggering to see that a number of Christians were dead-set against having these American missionaries come back to....America. One of the people I noticed just frothing at the mouth about this was a prominent blogger who talks a lot about the sovereignty of God. I guess that sovereignty only extends within the four walls of church buildings. What was really troubling about the reaction to the returning of these missionaries was the implied accusation that they kinda had it coming for going somewhere with sick people. It seemed that some people who claimed to be Christians were of the opinion that if you want to leave the comfortable confines of your pew and be somewhere more than 15 minutes from an American medical facility you just gotta take your chances and you certainly shouldn't come back here where you might infect some other Americans. In spite of crazy precautions being taken, which to someone who is not a medical professional or "scientist" made me quite confident that no contamination would happen, there still were many of us who thought that the risks outweighed the benefit to these American missionaries coming home for world-class medical care, care which worked and saved their lives enabling them to continue to serve Christ in a more meaningful way than posting on a blog.

The other event is ongoing and has to do with the persecution of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere that has escalated in recent months.We have been inundated with horrific reports and photos, many accurate and others not, leading to calls from many Christians to turn once again to Caesar to rescue our brothers and sisters from the sword by using the sword. I understand the impulse. We have family members being tortured and put to death by people who are one step above animals. Our immediate response is to use the unquestioned might of the American military to put a stop to it. What we forget, mired as we are in immediacy bias, is that every single time we have sent American troops into that region it has turned out badly. Western interventionism is one of the root causes that has destabilized this region and allowed an already demonic religion to be turned into a semi-organized force that now threatens our siblings. These atrocities against Christians and the public beheading of the two journalists are callously designed to draw America into more direct conflict with ISIS/ISIL. They don't fear American intervention. They want it. Anyway, geopolitical issues aside the greater concern is how Christians in the West respond to persecution when it happens overseas. The answer is usually a combination of empty social media gestures and calls for airstrikes even if we know deep down that those airstrikes invariably kill innocents while trying to defend innocents. I am concerned that as Christendom crumbles and the cozy Kingdom-hiding cocoon of American religious tradition evaporates that many of people will respond in the same way here at home. Bigger picture, every time we are faced with a new threat, real or perceived, we respond in fear.

Brothers it shouldn't be this way. We are motivated by fear far more than love in the church in America, at least in the largely white and middle- to -upper-class church I am familiar with. Fear of terrorists. Fear of illegal immigrants. Fear of criminals breaking into their houses. Fear of sickness. Fear of poverty. Fear of someone taking away "our way of life". Fear of everything and anything except what we ought to fear.

Our Lord had a lot to say about this issue. Jesus told us that fear of man is fear misplaced.

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

What have we to fear from man? What can ISIS to do us? Behead me? Go ahead, may my last moments be spent praising God as my Anabaptists forerunners often did before being martyred by the religious authorities. Perhaps in my death, as I pass from this world to eternal life, the manner of my death might be a witness to my killer that he in turn might repent and be saved. The historical Anabaptists understood what Paul wrote in Philippians...

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Php 1:27-30)

Suffering as He suffered is just part of our lives. We are a people set apart from the world and our changed lives are a direct challenge to the world, a challenge that is usually met with revulsion, mockery and persecution. When we let fear of man dominate us, our impulse is to turn back to the world for security. This fear dominates us and emasculates our witness. I am not seeking out suffering but I am not surprised if it comes. We live in a culture of fear but we are fearing all of the wrong things.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Institutional Mindset and Gender Roles

There are some conversations that keep coming around and around so I blog about them again and again. Reformed theology used to be one of those but I haven't bothered in a while because it has been hashed over so many times that it just wore me out and the Arminian answers are just so awful. So now I write about things like non-violence which also gets a visceral reaction and of course gender. Today was one of those gender days and as usual the discussion has gone around in circles, circles based on whether we should examine what Scripture says to inform our decisions on application or whether we should look to see what Scripture doesn't say to override what it does. I know that is a loaded and smarmy statement. 

One of the common arguments against the historical and I would say glaringly clear teaching on gender in the Bible is the notion that Paul is addressing an issue in the culture of the day, making concessions or teaching for pragmatic reasons or dealing with some specific problem. The accuracy of this is pretty easy to ascertain by simply reading what Paul wrote. What is Paul's reasoning for his teaching on gender (emphasis mine)?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:12-14)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
(Eph 5:22-24)

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)

For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Cor 11:7-9)

So we have the creation order. We have the relationship between Christ and the church. We have man as the glory of God but women as the glory of man. An image of male headship that is not incidental or cultural but intentional. God could have created Adam and Eve simultaneously but He did not. He made Adam, declared him incomplete and in need of a helper and created Eve out of Adam. There is a very explicit pattern here that is repeated in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 and it deals with the order and method of creation.

So what we have to work with is sufficient to inform our interpretation and application but what we don't have is almost as important. No hint of the culture of that day. No suggestion of pragmatic reasoning. Nothing that implies that this is something only for this time and place, having no universal application. I have said this all before but many who find the Biblical teaching on gender odious and embarrassing in our enlightened era simply refuse to accept it.

Here is what is so troubling about this to me. Because we can't get past our institutional religious setting we think that "If you ain't a pastor, you ain't nothing". The only service and leadership in the church that matters is "preaching". Ironically "preaching" as we understand it doesn't even appear in Scripture so we have elevated an extra-biblical practice to a position of overwhelming prominence and in doing so have diminished every other calling in the church and especially diminished the calling of wives and mothers. This is true even among those who, on the surface, reject institutional religion but still can't let go of that need for ecclesiastical recognition.

Being a mother and raising children. Caring for the home. Submitting to a husband who is often an idiot but needs your support anyway. Those are infinitely more important and difficult than preparing and delivering a 45 minute sermon once a week that no one will remember next month anyway. The church should be doing everything in our power to support and encourage our sisters in this noble endeavor. Instead we subtly look down on them and say they are not good enough. You need a career! You must be allowed to "preach"! You must be granted a religious title! Being a mother and wife is hard enough without piling on extra expectations. The simple fact of human beings is that we cannot do it all. We are not made to do it all. There are 24 hours in a day and about a third of them we need to sleep. There are only a limited number of years to bear children. We exist in time and space so if you are in location A doing activity Y you cannot also be in location B doing activity Z. We should encourage wives in what they already have on their plates instead of piling on more. 

Being a mom and wife is stressful enough without making our sisters feel like they are not doing enough. If you care about women, care enough to affirm and support their calling as women and quit trying to make them into something that God never intended regardless of what the culture around us might say.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just Joe being Joe

I saw this tweet from the Vice-President of the United States yesterday and am reminded yet again why politicians should not be allowed to have Twitter accounts (see: Weiner, Anthony)

Um Mr. Vice-President that sounds lovely and all but what rights do your granddaughters not have that your sons and grandsons have? Voting? Nope got that. Free expression? Got that too. Keeping and bearing arms? Just kidding I know you don't believe in that but they have that right too. Owning property, driving, going to school? Check, check and checkity-check-check. Turns out that women have every actual right in this country that men do so Mr. Vice-President, your noble quest is complete and you can rest easy. Sleep well sir.

Joe Biden. Dick Cheney. Al Gore. Dan Quayle. We have had quite a string of...interesting....Vice-Presidents, all one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. If you think about it for very long you might break out in a cold sweat. I have said it before and I am sayin' it again, I am eternally grateful for a God who is sovereign because humanity is just a mess.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You don't need a psychological profile to call an elder but you do need to know them

I read this article by Joel Hathaway at the Gospel Coalition this morning and my jaw just dropped: How Pastors Get Hired Today. If I didn't know better I would think it was a joke but it is deadly serious. Just read this paragraph:

Large Churches Tend to Know Better

Large churches are increasingly hiring staff with consideration not merely to a resume or theological statement, but also various technological and human-metric resources. These churches hire consulting firms and make use of the MBTIRightPath, or the DiSC. They check social media, including LinkedIn. They use Behavioral Interviewing questions in both the written and verbal interview steps. They search for candidates via networks, depending largely on recommendations by people they trust.
I have found that these searches produce better results. They largely focus on candidates serving faithfully elsewhere. And their jobs almost never get posted where you can say, “I applied.”
Wow. How did those poor saps in the first century manage to find elders without LinkedIn and psychological profiling? Not to mention the enormous investment of time and money required to find a stranger to hire, knowing that you are likely to lose them in a few years when they move to a bigger church and better compensation package. Well it turns out that if you know the men you are calling and observe their lives, rather than basing your decision on "metrics" and a resume, you tend to actually....well know them. Of course for the early church the calling of elders was not framed in terms of an employer-employee relationship. They were volunteers and self-supporting. That makes an enormous difference because there is an inherent conflict in any relationship when it becomes an employment relationship. There is a reason many companies have pretty strict rules about co-workers dating or the employment of family members. It goes both ways and if the church is anything it is supposed to be a family. When family members start employing other family members they understandably and inevitably start seeing them more as employees and less as brothers.

This essay by Joel makes a common human error. When something is not going right (and judging by the reports of pastoral burnout, turnover and unemployment among clergy, it is going horribly wrong) we tend to try to make what we are doing better rather than asking if we are going about it in the wrong way entirely. The problems with clerical burnout and turnover are not going to be solved by the latest, greatest personnel screening fads from the business world. It might be solved by trying to get away from the professional ministry model and back to a relational peer model we see in Scripture. No matter how sophisticated your methodology or how fancy your technology or how expensive your consultants, you just cannot replace simply knowing one another and calling men based on the character qualities we see in Scripture, qualities you cannot ascertain by looking at a LinkedIn profile.

Check out my post Home Grown Elders for more on why the church should raise up men from within the Body to serve rather than going after hired guns to come in a minister to people they don't know.