Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Caring for Pastor's Wives

Of course, this is something that hits very close to home. I have commented before on the 'burn out' rate of pastors as being somewhat of a crisis in the church. I truly believe that the neglect of the home and family is a big part of the problem. But, the problem doesn't come only from the pastor's neglect of his family, but also from the church's neglect of the pastors families. Pastor's are reticent to call the church to care for their families- it seems self serving and manipulative. But, it is a necessity- if we take the strain upon pastors and their families seriously.

Mark Driscoll has a great post and vodcast over at The Resurgence. Scroll down to 'Death by Ministry- pt.10" Check it out.

Here are his main practical points regarding the care of a pastor's wife:
  • She needs a clearly defined and guarded role.
  • She needs some help with the kids and house.
  • She needs some help getting to and from church on Sundays.
  • She needs a designated parking place.
  • She needs a handful of safe relationships with other godly women.
  • She needs to choose her own friends and define her own relationships.
  • She needs to see her first jobs as Christian, wife, and mother, not free hire for the church.

Pastor's wives, especially those with little ones, have a great burden in ministry- their husbands are up very early on Sunday, and mostly out of the picture till that afternoon (unless we have evening programs!). But, as different than other families whose husbands are up early and out late on any given weekday- our wives have to get the kids up, bathed, fed, looking 'sunday a.m. best', and to church on time and relatively sane. This is a HUGE feat done by yourself (especially with four kids under 6!) and it entails a lot of pressure and anxiety. Then, there are the many nights of entertaining in ministry. Then there are the 'demands' of other families upon the pastors and their families (in terms of interaction, friendship, expectations). In terms of home care, and child care- pastors don't make a ton of cash, and there are frankly not a lot of resources here to spare. There is also the reality that the pastor and his family works, lives, breathes, relates, ministers, etc. in the church. There is no 'escape'- and this is fraught with pressure, fear, and unrealistic expectations. If I paint a bleak picture- I don't do so because any of us are necessarily in 'crisis' - but this is a crisis that is never far from any pastor or any church. We should guard and fight it where ever and when ever we can.

My own church is a very loving, and serving body. There are so many of you who serve and love the pastors and their families faithfully and constantly. Tori and I have received so much care, gifts, love, appreciation over the years. And I know the same goes for our other pastors at Four Oaks. Your care and love is important and felt constantly by the pastors of Four Oaks. I could give so many examples of how our church takes this care seriously and provides the help that I present below (and that Driscoll outlines above). So, this is no rebuke for our church family.

That being said, I think this exhortation must be constant (like so many constant needs and concerns that face us) - and those faithful servants in the church understand that God's people need such exhortations constantly. Hopefully there are some that read this post (outside our church or inside) who need to hear it- even better, whose pastors need them to hear it. If God uses it to this end, then wonderful!

Often times and in many churches the daily, and mundane struggles of maintaining a home and family that face a wife in ministry is not attended to by the church body.

Here are some practical ways you can help your pastors (and I speak of ALL the pastors- not just the Braun's, and not just at Four Oaks):

  • offer free babysitting. Be serious about it. If they don't take you up on it, don't be offended (this is a personal thing, and not just anyone can do it- but you can offer).
  • offer to clean house (IF you know how to clean a house...don't offer help that is in reality not a help) even better- give a pastor's wife a day of housecleaning from a professional. It goes a long way when someone helps your wife by scrubbing floors and toilets. A LONG way.
  • offer to help with the kids on a regular basis- help with homework, homeschooling...help that is regular is wonderful because it allows the pastor's wife to plan and gives constant relief.
  • offer to help on Sunday mornings and other heavy ministry days. Again, don't see this as an opportunity to hang with the pastor's wife, but to come and watch the kids while she gets ready, help bathe, feed, get in the car, etc. (it goes without saying I'm speaking to the women of the church). And, again, don't be offended if she declines. This is highly personal territory- and not just anyone can do it. But, it never hurts to offer.
  • do little (or big!) things to show her you love her and care for her and her family - bring a meal; give a gift certificate for a massage; give a gift certificate for lunch out; take her kids for the afternoon; write her a note of appreciation and encouragement; offer your vacation house for a weekend getaway (for her or for them!); help with landscaping and gardening; offer whatever your special gifts and talents are to her to bless her, her home, and her family.
  • pray for her and fight for her...what? I mean, do spiritual battle for her and her family. Fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil that wants to claim her and her family. Fight against gossip and slander and against her, her kids, and her husband. I can't tell you how important this one is! A pastor's wife is devastated by the slander against her husband or kids. When you hear it- confront it with vigor and vehemence. Send it back to hell, or it will bring hell to a church.

If you attend another church- then please take this to heart and search out ways to care for your pastor's family.

If you attend our church- well... do the same!

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Monday, July 30, 2007

A Couple of Good Articles on 'Pastor-Blogging'

Here are some great pointers on how to be cool, hip, emerging, and relevant as a pastor-blogger.

Here is a good piece on why pastors do/should blog.

I know you're out there...

I think that the comments are officially open. I know that you are out there...aren't you?
(I know you are, Google Analytics says so).

Sorry for my blogging tech buffoonery. Da*#it, Jim, I'm a pastor, not a web geek.

And, read this little piece from over at Challies.

Could you get elected?

Check out a Pew survey from last February. According to the survey, 25% of people are less likely to support a candidate who has been a minister. Bummer. Guess I'll keep my day job.

Although, you'll notice that 22% are more likely to support a candidate who attended a prestigious university. Go Gators!

HT: Evangelical Outpost

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Evangelicalism and the New Politics of Personality

I was directed to an interesting article in Harper's by my brother Tim over at BaylyBlog. Tim's post was commenting on the pathetic responses of the Democratic candidates to the question of women registering for the draft. The rather scathing assesment of Rudy's political career by Kevin Baker in the latest Harper's is evidence enough that some of our leading 'republican' hopefuls aren't much of an alternative for those who see a difference between men and women and despise the idea that our mothers, daughters, and sisters should stand in our place in defense of our country (ah, but that is not my point in this post!).

I was struck by one of Baker's introductory statement's regarding the new 'post ideological' age of politics:
"In the new politics the cadidate is everything. The post ideological party distinguishes itself from its rivals not through any particular program or deep moral conviction so much as by the character and charisma of its particular leader - its Sarkozy, or its Berlusconi, or its Clinton - and by its brand selling strategies."

It is interesting how such a statement may stand as an indictment of the current state of evangelical Christianity as well. More and more our churches and our 'movements' are not defined by any ideological, doctrinal, or moral framework but rather by the personality that is sold to us. These leaders themselves ARE the brand, and the publishing houses, mega-church power structures, and market savvy gurus are the might who make right.

I was reading a rather famous and extremely popular bible study guru's latest study materials recently. I was struck at how middle of the road it was, how bereft of real doctrinal clarity, how lacking in any real exegetical work, and how bland it was in application. I had to wonder why this was so popular? The answer of course lies in ourselves to a large degree. But there is, I believe, a more sinister force at work, as cynical and dark as that sounds.

The deal is, this person is marketed flawlessly. Upon entering the local bookstore I felt drawn to the beautiful hair, the sparkling white teeth, the gleam of pastoral love and joy in the eye. The display was sharp, slick, and good looking - overpowering and dwarfing all other materials in its shadow. I felt in my bones a deep longing to purchase this book and fix my life! And of course, this happens in a variety of ways, with a host of teachers, leaders, and Christian self help gurus.

We need to be very concerned with our 'post ideological' and 'personality driven' church. We can fight it by establishing our lives in the midst of covenant relationships under biblical authority and teaching in the local church. This sort of community and leadership should never be replaced by the latest title (and shiny personality) being peddled to us in all its polished glory over at Zondervan.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bruiser Bo Braun!

I have 3 daughters and 1 son. But that 1 son is fulfilling all his duties as resident rough-houser and bone breaker. Yesterday he had an incident on the monkey bars:

You'll remember that Bruiser was born weighing in at a whopping 11 pounds. Upon his glorious entrance to God's world he broke his arm (I like to joke that he was so big that he came out eating a chicken leg). At two he tumbled down a couple of steps and busted his head (10 stitches?). And now he has broken both his ulna and radius. He has had more stitches and broken bones before the age of four than I have had in all my wonderful 35 years of existence.

I knew I shouldn't have bought him The Dangerous Book for Boys !

He keeps me stocked with great sermon illustrations.


Friday, July 27, 2007

A compilation of church bloopers.

The kid's reaction to getting denied communion is priceless. Ex opere operato indeed.(Can you tell that I'm on 5:30 baby duty?)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Emerging Posters

Phil Johnson has some great motivational posters for the emerging church over at spurgeon.org.

Here are a couple of my favorites.

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Bayly Blog on the Worship Wars

Go over to the brothers Bayly for a great post regarding 'niche' and diverse worship services.

A very wise man, and former member of Tim's church (Church of the Good Shepherd), summarizes his arguments against this common practice in three excellent points:

1. A divided worship compromises the unity of the church.

2. A divided worship discourages the humility of mutual submission and encourages spiritual pride.

3. A divided worship unbiblically elevates musical style as the most important factor in worship.

I encourage you to read the whole letter over for yourself and give your feedback.
Hopefully a post will be coming with thoughts of my own on this issue.


Solzhenitsyn on Public Repentance

Here is a great interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

A good quote: "I have grown used to the fact that, throughout the world, public repentance is the most unacceptable option for the modern politician."

When one's worldview rejects the notion of indwelling sin and embraces an idolatrous view of the self as autonomous and supreme, then repentance is out of the question. Solzhenitsyn is such a prophetic voice because he is a living and articulate reminder to the world and its leaders that sin and evil are real, and that grace and truth are its only antidote.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Biochemistry's Big Elephant

"The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell--to investigate life at the molecular level--is a loud, clear, piercing cry of "design!" The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta. The magnitude of the victory, gained at such great cost through sustained effort over the course of decades, would be expected to send champagne corks flying in labs around the world. this triumph of science should evoke cries of "Eureka!" from ten thousand throats, should occasion much hand-slapping and high-fiving, and perhaps even be an excuse to take a day off.

But no bottles have been uncorked, no hands slapped. Instead, a curious, embarassed silence surrounds the stark complexity of the cell. When the subject comes up in public, feet start to shuffle and breathing gets a bit labored. In private people are a bit more relaxed; many explicitly admit the obvious but then stare at the ground, shake their heads, and let it go at that.

Why does the scientific community not greedily embrace its startling discovery? Why is the observation of design handled with intellectual gloves? The dilemma is that while one side of the elephant is labeled intelligent design, the other side might be labeled God." (Behe, Darwin's Black Box, pp. 232-233)

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Politics and the Pulpit

The Evangelical Outpost has a great evaluation of David Gushee's "Rules for Evangelical Politics".
I am perplexed by such 'rules' that seem to be handed down from on high. Yes, as pastors we must be careful that we are not lording our authority and influence over the flock. Yet, we have a duty to inform the hearts and minds of our people with the truth of God's Word. As Carter says, "Political choices are almost always moral choices." We are all thankful for the 'political' and prophetic voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King. But, somehow, not so thankful for the 'political' and prophetic voice of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Why is it that guys like Mclaren, Campolo, and Donald Miller find it so easy to shred the 'religious right' for their so-called political pandering, while simutaneously pushing a leftist and decidedly 'liberal' agenda of their own?

We need to be concerned when our pastors must follow the rules of politically correct social engagement at the expense of truth, integrity, and prophetic power in the pulpit (regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum).

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Comments Back Up

Hey, all. I'm glad to say that I'm once again enabling comments here at Bright Wings. I was able to figure it all out (being only a humble pastor, and no high falootin geek that many of you are), and hope I'll be able to better moderate the comments in the future. Let me remind you of the rules, gentle reader:

1. No anonymous blogging. If you can't identify yourself when you sign in, for whatever reason, please do so in the text of your comment. If you post anonymously I will most likely remove the comment, and most certainly ignore you.

2. This blog is intended for the edification and strengthening of the church and is an arm of my pastoral ministry at Four Oaks Community Church. If you are a member or regular attender of Four Oaks, be careful that you do not turn the comment section into a forum for rebuking your pastor. Of course, all of what I say is open to criticism and reasonable dialogue and I, in fact, welcome it. There is a fine line here, but many have clearly stepped over it in the past. So, be careful and wise in how you comment (just as I shall do my best to be careful in how I blog!). I say this more to protect you and the unity of the church than to protect myself from harsh criticism.

3. I cannot keep up with all the comments. I will respond where appropriate and where I am able. Please don't assume my silence is negligence or capitulation, it is mostly just me doing something else that I see as more important (like memorizing Scripture, reading John Owen, or staring blankly at the slowly rotating fan above my desk). But, please leave a comment! I will read them and so will others.

4. I will moderate the blog as I see fit. If I remove a comment and you don't like it, just post another one and I'll most likely take that down as well. You see, power corrupts and weblog comment moderating power corrupts absolutely.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Stressed Out Baby

Think about it. In a matter of just a few hours and over the course of two days in all, a baby:

  • leaves the peace and comfort of her home, travels the narrow little birth canal and enters the cold, hard world crowded with a mass of lights, yelling, camera flashes, beeping machines, crying dads, exhausted moms, thrilled grandparents, and bewildered siblings

  • learns to breathe with her brand new lungs; yes, it is a reflexive activity, but come on...

  • learns to eat; yes, another reflexive activity, but come on...

  • must poop out what can only be described as something issued forth from the Exxon Valdez (a substance created by God to torture dads as they learn to change a diaper on zero sleep)

  • is poked, prodded, tested, pricked, and manhandled over and over by a well meaning but quite overzealous hospital staff

  • goes for her first car ride, bundled and packed into a carseat that is able to withstand the impact of an 18-wheeler if installed by a team of army engineers

  • has unwittingly initiated a bitter rivalry with her two year old sister

  • is quite confused about just when all the normal grown up humans sleep, establishing her own unique circadian rhythms and forcing her father to stare blankly at infomercials through the watches of the night

  • poses for more pictures than a runway model in Milan

  • goes through an entire wardrobe of the cutest li'l outfits you-ever-did-see, while soiling them all

  • spends hours as these two strange, though strangely comforting, people oooh and aaah over her

  • goes from one bizarre rocking, vibrating, blinking, singing, gurgling sitting device to the next

  • endures all these new and exciting aspects of life on earth with little to no ability to communicate except for pitiful yelps and howls

And you thought your life was stressful.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Spurgeon on Church Growth and Seeker Friendliness

"Now that is what I desire for Christ's church, and what every Christian should desire. We want Christ's church to be as large as possible. God forbid that by any of our winnowing, we would ever cast away one of the precious sons of Zion. When we rebuke sharply, we should be concerned lest the rebuke would fall where it is not needed and bruise and hurt the feelings of any whom God has chosen.

On the other hand, we have no wish to see the church multiplied at the expense of its purity. We do not wish to have a charity so large that it takes in chaff as well as wheat. We want to be charitable enough to use the fan thoroughly to purge God's floor, yet charitable enough to pick up the most shriveled ear of wheat and to preserve it for the Master's sake, who is the Husbandman.

I trust that God will help me to discern between the precious and the vile so that I may say nothing uncharitable that would cut off any of God's people from being part of his true and living and visible church; at the same time, I pray that i may not speak so loosely, and so without God's direction, as to embrace any in the arms of Christian affection whom the Lord has not received in the eternal covenant of His love." (C.H. Spurgeon, The Holy Spirit and the One Church)

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Psalm 127:3

Welcome to the world, Chloe Eloise Braun!
May you grow to love the God who made you, serve the Savior who loves you, and be filled with the fruit of the Spirit who was given for you . . .


Monday, July 16, 2007

Growing Lumps into Wings

"For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures in to sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and a that stage the lumps on the shoulders -- no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings -- may even give it an awkward appearance." (C.S. Lewis, Nice People or New Men?)

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Getting Dressed for Worship

Our church is one of those ‘come just as you are’ type of churches. This is a good thing until it becomes a ‘come just as you are but you better not wear a tie unless you’re preaching’ kind of deal. With this often follows a ‘you better not wear a suit unless you’re preaching a funeral’ attitude. Before you know it, we’re full circle and have become a band of ‘spiffy casual’ Pharisees. The bottom line is this: when we put an emphasis on the outward - whether a traditionalist’s zeal for some standard of propriety marked by suits, ties, or doily-necked floral dresses; or a twenty/thirty something’s demand for a pastor with cool jeans, emo hair, and skinny coffeehouse glasses - we miss the call for worshippers who worship ‘in spirit and in truth’. God said plainly, and repeatedly, to his people that he does not delight in sacrifice (outward displays of religion- whether the religion of traditionalism, or the religion of ‘relevance’ and ‘authenticity’) but in the inward sacrifices of a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Let’s be careful here, recognizing that sinners are prone to idolatry and prideful religion in all of its forms, and just because we cry, raise our hands in worship, say a hearty amen at all the right places, or dive headlong into the trite sentimentalism of our age this is still outward and our innards might be in the same sinful condition as ever they were if there is no repentance and faith, no spirit and no truth.

Worshipping ‘in spirit’ according to Christ’s prophecy in John 4:23-24 can mean a lot of things. But at the very least we can define this ‘spiritual worship’ biblically from the Apostle Paul, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world…” (Colossians 2:20). Worshipping in spirit is worship that is ‘other worldly’, that is dead to the world, alive to the Spirit and oriented away from the world and the flesh. Worship is not regulated by worldly, and fleshly concerns such as ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (Col. 2:21) – read 'do not use hymnbooks, light more candles, don’t use electric guitars' – but by spiritual, heavenly, and truthly concerns. These questions about what to wear, what to sing, and how loud we crank up the amps are not wrong in and of themselves. But, our answers and our practice must be fundamentally Godward, spiritual, and truth driven. Paul says twice in this chapter beware of worldliness masquerading as spirituality via false humility (2:18, 23). This false humility seems to be an outward show of some deeply religious, deeply sentimental, deeply ‘spiritual’ activity. But, like all ‘shows’ of holiness and spirituality- it is ultimately hollow and powerless ‘in stopping the indulgence of the flesh’.

The question is this: what are we to do? How do we break the cycle of vain religion, which usually begins with earnest displays of authenticity, without wringing our hands over every vain act? Such a question is anticipated, even begged, in Paul’s argument, and he goes on to answer us. So, in the spirit of godly and humble preparation to meet with God and his people for worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ it would do us a world of good to read this passage, reflect upon it, and put it into practice. Whether you're wearing a t-shirt from Old Navy or an oxford from Brooks Bros. take special note of verse 12, translated best by the NIV, "clothe yourselves with compassion kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience'.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming, In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Boots or the Belfry?

When the crop was harvested, Pa said, they'd be out of debt and have more money than they knew what to do with. He'd have a buggy, Ma would have a silk dress, they'd all have new shoes and eat beef every Sunday.

After dinner he put on a clean shirt and took three dollars out of the fiddle-box. He was going to town to get his new boots. He walked, because the horses had been working all that week and he left them at home to rest.

It was late that afternoon when Pa came walking home. Laura saw him on the knoll and she and Jack ran up from the old crab's home in the creek and into the house behind him.

Ma turned around from the stove, where she was taking the Saturday baking of bread out of the oven.

"Where are your boots, Charles?" she asked.

"Well, Caroline," Pa said. "I saw Brother Alden and he told me he couldn't raise money enough to put a bell in the belfry. The folks in town had all given every cent they could, and he lacked just three dollars. So I gave him the money."

"Oh, Charles!" was all Ma said.

Pa looked down at his cracked boot. "I'll patch it," he said. "I can make it hold together somehow. And do you know, we'll hear that church bell ringing clear out here."

Ma turned quickly back to the stove, and Laura went quietly out and sat down on the step. Her throat hurt her. She did so want Pa to have good new boots.

"Never mind, Caroline," she heard Pa saying. "It's not long to wait till I harvest the wheat."

(Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Banks of Plum Creek, pp.190-191)

Changing History and Eliminating Israel

"...the case against Israel currently being made on university campuses, in the media, and throughout the world relies on willful distrotions of the historical record, beginning with the first arrival of Europeans in Palestine near the end of the nineteenth century and continuing throughout the U.N. partition, the establishment of the Jewish state, and the wars between the Arab states and Israel, and culminating in the ongoing terrorism and responses to it. The historical record must be set straight so as to heed the philosopher Santayana's warning that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it . . .

. . . it is impossible to understand the conflict in the Middle East without accepting the reality that from the very beginning the strategy of the Arab leadership has been to eliminate the existence of any Jewish state, and indeed any substantial Jewish population, in what is now Israel. Even Professor Edward Said, the Palestinians' most prominent academic champion, has acknowledged that "the whole of Palestinian nationalism was based on driving all Israelis [by which he means Jews] out." This is a simple fact not subject to reasonable dispute. . . Various tactics have been employed toward this end, including the mendacious rewriting of the history of the immigration of Jewish refugees into Palestine, as well as the demographic history of the Arabs of Palestine. Other tactics have included the targeting of vulnerable Jewish civilians beginning in the 1920s, the Palestinian support for Hitler and Nazi genocide in the 1930s and 1940s, and the violent opposition to the two-state solution proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937, then by the United Nations in 1948. . ." (Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, pp. 6-7)

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Pushing Darwin to the Limit

"Biochemistry has pushed Darwin's theory to the limit. It has done so by opening the ultimate black box, the cell, thereby making possible our understanding of how life works. It is the astonishing complexity of subcellular organic structures that has forced the question, How could all this have evolved? . . .

. . . The beginnings of modern biochemistry came only after neo-Darwinism had been officially launched. Thus, just as biology had to be reinterpreted after the complexity of microscopic life was discovered, neo-Darwinism must be reconsidered in light of advances in biochemistry. The scientific disciplines that were part of the evolutionary synthesis are all nonmolecular. Yet for the Darwinian theory of evolution to be true, it has to account for the molecular structure of life. It is the purpose of this book to show that it does not." (Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, pp. 15, 24-25)

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Praise, Worship, and Wrath

I received an email from our trusty worship pastor, Joshua Hughes, this morning with an mp3 attachment entitled, "Destructor". Go over to the Mars Hill site and hear the song for yourself in a variety of styles: www.marshillchurch.org/Search/?q=destructor (listen to the 6th track down, the one recorded by E-pop).

In the body of the email Josh wrote:

"Pretty cool sounding track with some dope metering and playing. Erik, you are always looking for good songs about holy wrath..."

And, of course, this is true.

The good of 'traditional' hymnody is found in the breadth and depth of praise preserved in this corpus that is patently missing from our 'contemporary' expressions of worship. How often in our praise ditties do we hear the power and majesty expressed by this line from the hymn 'O Worship the King' ?

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space. His chariots of wrath, the deep thunder-clouds form, and dark is His path ont he wings of the storm.

Why can we not praise God for his justice and wrath? Must we be consigned to sing only those praises that might be sanctioned by the trite sentimentalism that rules our day? Can we not sing of God's gracious love and righteous vindication?

Consider the thought provoking and praise inducing (when was the last time your heart was pricked and provoked by a praise song?) words from this song, 'Destructor':

From the first time You flooded the earth
to the last time You burned off the curse
to the way that you hated Your Son
when You hung all the sin of the world, the world
Holy (repeated)

Heaven will disappear with a roar
The host of God will come to destroy
Sin is a declaration of war
God will have His glory one way or another

In reverence we'll come to the throne
Indebted to Your holy Son
The vine of the earth will be crushed
Your light will shine over the world, the world

Holy, holy ...

Hopefully we'll be worshipping the Lord with this song soon enough. I'll look forward to doing a couple other favorites of mine from the Trinity Hymnal - 'God the All Terrible' and 'In Thy Wrath and Hot Displeasure'.

Thanks Josh.

((thanks Mars Hill!!))


The Base of Operations

You’ve heard me refer to the church as ‘the covenant community’ if you’ve come to church more than a few times. What does this mean? Understanding this sort of community is crucial to us winning the war for our marriages.

There are different sorts of community. And when we hear that oh so common call for ‘authentic community’ from our postmodern and emerging neighbors we really need to ask, “What exactly do you mean?” Now, this sort of analytical question tends to stir up deconstructionist ire, but that’s the fun part. If by ‘authentic community’ we mean, ‘hanging out at Starbucks with a WOW worship playlist on your iPod and a George Barna book study with a couple of your friends and a token pagan’, then this is not biblical ‘covenant community’. If by ‘authentic community’ we mean, ‘doing life together and experiencing a common journey by sharing our hurts and longings in a safe place of acceptance and non-judgmentalism’, then this is not biblical ‘covenant community’.

Huh?! So, can we not meet at Starbucks? What’s wrong with iPod worship? Surely you’re not against sharing hurts and ‘doing’ life together? Are we not on a journey? Are we supposed to be judgmental? What are you saying?

These things are all various components of community that are important in a given context, and have some biblical validity in their place. It is what is missing in these paradigms of community that make them biblically inauthentic, however culturally relevant and ‘authentic’ they may be on the surface. Until we place ourselves within a ‘covenant community’ context, our fight for the survival of our marriages and families is so much spittin’ in the wind.

A ‘covenant community’ is a community that is gathered under the covenant love of God, sealed by the blood of His Son, and ordered and surrendered under the Word of God. In their children’s catechism our kids are taught that a covenant is ‘a relationship that God sets up with us and guarantees by His Word’. O. Palmer Robertson calls a covenant: a bond in blood sovereignly administered. In his instructions to his disciples at the last supper, Jesus called us together into a ‘new covenant’ relationship through his own blood. Our bond together is through the blood of Jesus, and it is a bond that is initiated, ordered, and governed by God in His Word. We are a community on the basis of the work of Christ, appropriated by faith. So, we say with the Reformers that there are two basic marks of the covenant community:

1) the preaching of the Word and fundamental submission to its authority [established by God through his sovereign will and under His Word]; and

2) the right administration and observance of the sacraments or ordinances of the Lord’s Supper [a relationship with vows and obligations, commitments and duties- always initiated, sustained, and even superintended by God’s grace in Christ]. In this second mark there is a third dynamic that must be present in biblically authentic communities - the practice of church discipline (which is bound up in the admission of members to the Lord’s Table through repentance and faith).

For us to relate properly to one another in the bond of unity and faith, we must do so in the context of a healthy covenant community. If we are to champion each other’s marriages, w must do so in the biblical framework God has supplied. Sadly, many believers have abandoned such communities outright, or they essentially abandon the church by their lack of commitment and involvement. Adding to the problem, many churches have abandoned their calling to preach the Word faithfully and call their people to submission to God. Many pastors and elders/leaders have given themselves over to worldly paradigms for community and fail to meet the basic qualifications and duties laid out for them in the Scriptures. The church is to establish and pursue a repentant and believing community by calling people to examination of their hearts as they come to the table, and a profession of faith and the bearing of fruit in keeping with repentance as people come to the waters of baptism. There must be a bold and unwavering resolve on the part of God’s people and godly leadership to confront sin and call for holiness, and deal with hard hearts in keeping with Jesus’ process for reconciliation and discipline.
Building a healthy program for ‘church life’ is a commitment to at least four things in my understanding:

1. An ongoing celebration of the blessings and faithfulness of God to us in the covenant (ongoing celebration of the gospel)- through worship, fellowship, evangelism, and enjoying the blessings of life with God’s people.

2. Living in the God-ordained contexts for growth, relationships, and accountability (in our church this means engaging one another in our fellowship group model that is under the pastoral leadership of the elders).

3. Embracing the authority, judgments, and counsel of God-ordained leadership (alongside a commitment of godly leadership to exercise biblical authority, judgment, and wise counsel).

4. An ongoing, grace-saturated pursuit of repentance and reconciliation according to Matthew 18:15-18.

The covenant community and these four dimensions of commitment and involvement become the ‘base of operations’ for believers as we wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Are you availing yourself of this covenant ammunition as you fight for your brothers and sisters, your wife and kids, and for the hope of the gospel?

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Winning the War

I think the most important key to understanding and applying what Paul says about marriage, divorce, and remarriage is recognizing that we are at war. By the way most believers live there does not seem to be any sense of urgency in the face of the bombs falling all around us. The Apostle Peter says that the devil is most assuredly on the attack, and being the lion that he is, he likes to ‘prowl’ before he ‘howls’. This means that once the roar is heard, it might be too late. He masquerades as a ‘minister of light’ but is no doubt a master of war. He has a way of wheedling his way behind the lines and getting the knife in before the benign smile fades from our countenance. Satan seems to be zeroing in upon three fronts of battle, and we would do well to take a look at them in more detail.

Fighting Worldliness and Moral Chaos

Our enemy is the ‘prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience’. He is able to incite chaos, moral disarray, perversion, and outright anarchy in the world and in the hearts of men. And this is most assuredly the case in our culture. We live in a nation that debates the virtue of sodomy and the validity of homosexual relationships (even in our ‘evangelical’ subculture). We live in a culture that debates the legality of the dismemberment of newborn children. We live in a culture that blithely accepts the of naïve demands of egalitarian feminism in almost every quarter. We have a 50% divorce rate, an absolute crisis of marriage and parenting within certain minority communities, a plague of sexually transmitted diseases, an army of disaffected and morally indifferent males who are the product of thirty years of a failed gender feminist experiment, and a pathetically neutered church that that seems only able to stare blankly into the abyss. Am I painting too bleak a picture? I didn’t even mention David Hasselhof and America’s Got Talent, which bears all the marks of a Satanic attack upon good taste, and is, no doubt, a sign of the apocalypse.

Fighting a Narrow and Graceless Legalism

As we fight the war, we must pour resources into the attack on sound judgment, wise application, and discernment. The twin enemies of the gospel are crass libertinism and narrow legalism. In each ditch there is a profound inability to exercise ‘spiritual insight’ and instead opt for either a kneejerk dismissal of truth, or a quick tempered judgment that is founded more in a reaction to sin than in a spirit filled response towards godliness. Legalism circumvents discernment, fences Torah, goes God one better, and makes it easier for the lemmings to limp along toward the edge without having to think all that much. Biblical discernment and leadership is hard work. It’s hard work because it takes energy not only of the will but also of the mind and heart. It will not do to quote Malachi 2:16 in the face of a culture of divorce with a sense of righteous indignation and be done with the matter. If we are going to win the war on marriage, we must ready ourselves to dig into the whole counsel of God’s Word and apply it with wisdom in a variety of contexts and crises. This must be done with great discernment, hearts filled with grace, and a steely resolve. We need to fight the battle with the artillery of God’s Word and not with the pea shooters of our narrow legalistic judgments or the suicide bombs of libertinism hung about our necks.

Fighting a Passive and Professional Framework for Community

Let’s face it, when it comes to facing the fiery tribulations of life, do any of us want that guy from 7th Heaven giving us counsel? Pastors have become, for the most part, a merry band of invertebrates who have succumbed to the demands of the board, the latest poll in the pew, or the oh so eager desire for next month’s paycheck. As an old seminary prof of mine liked to say, “make your living from your faith and you’re going to lose one or the other”. Yes, there are godly and faithful pastors who are committed to shepherding the flock come hell or high water. But in my limited evaluation of the landscape of the American church that these men are relatively few and far between. If you have ever been on a pulpit search committee, I’m fairly certain that you’d agree with me. There are hundreds of churches, hundreds, here in Tallahassee. That means there are hundreds of pastors. And I know for a fact that many of them are fundamentally passive when it comes to preaching the hard passages (or in preaching any passages), confronting sin, standing for truth, and involving themselves in the crises and struggles that plague our people. Most of them, more than you want to know, just got finished surfing the net looking for the latest downloadable sermon series fashioned after some inane TV show. ( I would like to see a sermon series drawn from the Sopranos, though I’m fairly certain that our benign evangelical sensitivities couldn’t bear it.)

Adding to this quiet passivity, there is the devastating professionalizing of the pulpit. Mounting pressure to build bigger churches, perfect a public persona, and maintain peace in the pew at all costs squeezes the life out of the pastorate. In the face of such pressure, along with the natural, fleshly desires for reputation and power, many pastors simply do not have the time, energy, or conviction to involve themselves in people’s lives or engage them with the word each week. And the fault here lies as much with us as people as it does with our priests. We get the leaders we deserve, folks (don’t roll your eyes at me, Oakster, you got just what you deserve!). When churches become the halls of pristine, and world-savvy professionalism there is little room for the messy work of confrontation, confession, repentance, and redemption. There is room for slick, well-marketed divorce recovery workshops hitting a distinct ‘felt need’ in our culture, but not much room for painstaking formative and punitive discipline which deals with the fundamental ‘sin-need’ in our hearts and lives.

Are you aware of the war being waged on your marriage and family? Are you armed with every piece of armor available to do battle? Are you shoring up your defenses on the three fronts of attack? Let’s fight the worldly assault holiness, godliness, and gracious gift of the Spirit’s power. Let’s arm ourselves with life giving truth and not narrow legalism. Let’s refuse passive professionalism in our church families and engage one another with God’s Word, and call our leadership to a higher, biblical standard of living, loving, and shepherding. Let’s commit our fight to the sovereign Lord, who has already won the battle and has known and designed the end from the beginning for His own glory and our good.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wilson and Hitchens Debate

If you have not discovered Doug Wilson and Credenda Agenda, I encourage you to check them out:

http://www.dougwils.com/ (Wilson's blog, nicely titled, Blog and Mablog. I like it, though I think LaHaye and Jenkins might take issue with such a title. Perhaps they might think it aptly titled seeing as how Wilson and his ilk are yet another sign of the oh so near apocalyptic judgment.)

http://www.credenda.org/ (A webzine that always proves provocative, insightful, and full of some sharp wit. Enjoy being offended, confused, and edified by Pastor Wilson. Always a sign of a good prophet. Yes, Wilson and his band of merry men are under some serious scrutiny with their 'Federal Vision' stuff. If you know about all that, then know as well that I - a good reformed baptist - am thoroughly agin' it {the Federal Vision, that is}. In my view, Wilson takes the covenant paedo baptist arguments to their logical sacrementalist end. If you don't know all about that hub-bub, well, count yourself blessed {if you're a inquisitive, and have a few extra days to spare, you can read all 'bout it here: http://www.federal-vision.com/ . So, while I am not in agreement with all of Wilson's stuff, I must say he is always a breath of fresh air.)

Also, check out the e-debate between Hitchens (author of the latest atheistic diatribe, "God is Not Great") and Wilson on the question, "Is Christianity Good for the World?".

More posts coming. Just a li'l something to chew on.

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