Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book review: Blue Like Jazz

This won't be a review in the traditional sense. I just wanted to share some thoughts on the book, as I've just recently finished it.

As I noted before, I really enjoyed Miller's book. It's refreshingly (and sometimes brutally) honest. It's charming and funny. It's challenging and gripping. In short, it's a really well-crafted book.

I was surprised by the humor of the book, to be honest. I guess I didn't expect the book to be so funny in places...

Take this example (one of my favourites from the book):

When I was in Sunday School as a kid, my teacher put a big poster on the wall that was shaped in a circle like a target. She had us write names of people we knew who weren't Christians on little pieces of paper, and she pinned the names to the outer circle of the target. She said our goal, by the end of the year, was to move those names from the outer ring of the circle, which represented their distance from knowing Jesus, to the inner ring, which represented them having come into a relationship with Jesus. I thought the strategy was beautiful because it gave us a goal, a visual.

I didn't know any people who weren't Christians, but I was a child with a fertile imagination so I made up some names; Thad Thatcher was one and William Wonka was another. My teacher didn't believe me which I took as an insult, but nonetheless, the class was excited the very next week when both Thad and William had become Christians in a dramatic conversion experience that included the dismantling of a large satanic cult and underground drug ring. There was also levitation involved.

After I stopped laughing (and making Carmen read it!), I finished the chapter. He goes on to talk about a booth he and some friends set up on a college campus during a festival that sounds very much like Michigan's "Hash Bash"... I'll not give it away, because you should read it for yourself. But this chapter (11) was one of the most convicting things I've read in quite some time. Would that all Christians would truly "come out of the closet" (as Miller writes) as authentic and sincere followers of Christ.

As for the criticism I hear now and again that the theology of the book is weak ... it's not a theology book! Challies' review, for example, followed along the "bad theology makes for a tainted book" approach. I generally appreciate his insights, but in this case (as is often the case) he went too far. The book is basically Miller's memoirs on faith and practice. Sure, he'll say some theologically-tinted things you may or may not like. But that's OK, folks. I completely disagree with the theology criticism of Challies (and others).

If you're anything like me, this book will resonate with you in a very real way. I hope it will do more than that. I hope it will challenge both of us to live our faith in a more meaningful, moment-by-moment way before a culture that is interested in Jesus but not American Christianity.


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Friday, December 14, 2007

Difficulty reading

I'm not sure why, but for the last few months I've had a hard time motivating myself to read much. It's not like me, and I don't like it.

All that changed in the last few days. I'm back to my normal self. I just finished Blue Like Jazz (loved it! - more on that later) and feel like I'm back in the swing of things. I just started Schaeffer's True Spirituality last night.

So tell me, what's on your reading list at the moment?


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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

I find myself iced in today, something I'm not really accustomed it. Snow? Sure. But too much ice? This is simply not normal for this part of the country. Worse still, today is Sunday. We dared not make the trek to our church services.

But all is not lost. We're taking the day off as a family. Munchies for meals; fun and games; trimming the tree. (The boys and I got our tree yesterday but we've not decorated it yet.)

So far, my list of accomplishments include:

Not showering.
Building a fire (we heat with wood).
Not showering.
Eating breakfast.
Not showering.
Playing Crusader with Noah.
Not showering.
Playing Scrabble with Noah and Bekah.
Not showering.
Eating lunch.

It's been a full day already! As you can see, I've clearly not had time to shower yet and the chances look slim for the rest of the day ...

If, like me, you're iced in with family take the time to enjoy it!


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Friday, December 7, 2007

What do these three have in common?

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the practical effects of our theology this year. It seems like every time I turn around, I'm finding some new area of my own thinking to challenge. Certainly my readings in the world of the emerging church has contributed to this, but it's more than that. I feel like I'm finally seeing the fusion of academic theology and Christian practice in a way I really haven't before.

That leads me to today's topic: What do these three groups have in common?

Signs and wonder Pentecostals
Baptismal regeneration advocates
'God controls the womb' advocates

I suppose I should first define these three groups a bit more closely.

By "signs and wonder Pentecostals", I mean those folk that believe in modern-day resurrections, slaying in the Spirit, holy laughter, super Apostles and the like.

By "baptismal regeneration advocates", I mean those folk (whether Disciples of Christ or otherwise) that believe a person must be water baptized in order to be regenerated (ie, 'saved').

By "God controls the womb advocates", I mean those folk that believe God directly intervenes to control each and every pregnancy that occurs on the planet, and that one should therefore avoid birth control and have as many children as humanly possible.


Okay, so what do these three groups have in common?

Doesn't seem like much, eh? Honestly, these three groups of folk are virtually never in the same company. They tend to represent very different streams of Christian thought. You might find someone that embodies two of these positions, but probably not someone that believes them all.

So have you guessed yet? The common thread between these three (and plenty of other) positions is ...

failure to properly understand narrative Scriptures.

What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean that the Bible must be taken in the way in which it was intended. When the Bible is written as teaching material, you take it "literally" as teaching material. When it is written as inspirational material, you take it "literally" as inspirational material. When it's prophetic, you take it "literally" as prophetic.

And when it's narrative, you take it "literally" as narrative.

Specifically, here's what I mean:

Signs and wonder folk take narrative accounts in the book of Acts and attempt to make the didactic (that is, teaching) texts. But the narrative accounts of miraculous events in Acts are just that - narrative accounts. They're stories written to prove a point, not to teach us about normative behaviour. The point of Acts? That God is working in the world through His growing Church.

Baptismal regeneration folk do the same thing - they take narrative texts (again, from Acts) that describe baptism and attempt to make them prescribe baptismal teachings.

God-controls-the-womb folk do the same thing, only this time they tend to use narrative accounts of the OT that talk about God controlling the womb of this or that woman. They then apply that specific story (ie, a narrative event) to all of humanity and thereby make it a teaching text.

Genre is critically important to understanding the Bible, folks! Without grasping the "why was it written" of any given text, how on earth are we supposed to draw proper conclusions about faith and practice?

We can't.

Honestly, at the theological level these three positions are little different than the lunatic on the street corner who says we shouldn't have TVs because Jesus didn't! Of the folk that say electric guitars are an abomination in the church because the early church didn't use them (though, apparently, they had organs - there's anachronism if ever there was!). We laugh at these two groups, but the fundamental way of thinking about the Bible is similar.

Using good hermeneutics matters, folks. It matters a lot.


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Thursday, December 6, 2007

What's wrong with kids these days?

You hear that question seemingly all the time in culture today. Turn on an AM talk show and the topic is likely to come up somehow. Listen very long to the older generation at any given local church and you'll hear it. Spend time on conservative blogs and you'll read of the woes of "modern kids".

Everyone's got their ideas, and I suppose I'm no different than everyone in that respect. But I don't think I have the answer to this question, just some thoughts...

Before I even start into my thoughts, I want to point out that in many ways there's nothing more "wrong" with today's kids than any other generation. The problems are different, to be sure. But in the same way that today's kids can be stereotyped as self-absorbed and undisciplined, so too can the previous generation's be stereotyped as drug and sex obsessed. Stereotypes exist because there's a certain amount of truth to them, but they never tell the whole story. Keep that in mind whenever you discuss "what's wrong with today's kids".

I have just one observation I offer up for your thought. I think (because I can't prove) that this may be the first generation of parents in America that don't want to grow up. Today's 20- or 30-something parent seems much more likely to devalue what in the past would've been called discipline and sacrifice. This generation of parents seems much more interested in reliving their childhood, or in "never growing up" at all.

You can see this phenomenon in culture all over the place. Here are a few examples:

1. Halloween - it was always a kids' holiday in the past. It was about cheap plastic masks with rubber bands on the back that pulled your hair. It was about fake blood and hockey masks. It was candy, more candy, and a little more candy. Now? Halloween has entered an arena previously occupied only by Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, and Father's Day - Halloween is now the sixth largest retail holiday of the year. And it's not because more kids are buying costumes; young adults (18-24) make up a very large portion of the increase in business over the last 5-10 years. We don't want to grow up.

2. The success of so many bawdy situation comedies. Not that long ago, what passed for entertainment was generally above-board when it came to comedy. Innuendos were abundant, for sure. But the childish over-the-top nature of today's comedy is just that - childish. We don't want to grow up.

3. The cultural acceptance of the "slacker". Once upon a time, no self-respecting man would choose to live with mom and dad into his late twenties. No self-respecting man would want to live with mom and dad a moment past high school! But now? The image of a 28 year old guy living in mom's basement is so common place that it's ceased to be shocking. We don't want to grow up.

4. The booming market for "men's toys" - whether power sports, extreme sports, high-end fishing and hunting gear, video games marketed specifically to 20-somethings, or otherwise. There's no shortage of diversions to keep should-be-men from becoming actual men. We don't want to grow up.

I'm not saying that these four trends are absolutely and/or only linked to the poor state of parenting today. But I do think they're tell-tale signs of a generation of parents much more comfortable being their child's friend, not her/his parent.

Don't hear me letting kids off the hook - they bear individual responsibility for their actions, too. But when we're trying to figure out "what's wrong with kids these days" we need look no further than the homes they come from and the sorry state of their "friends"; oops! ... I mean, their parents.


[Note: I don't think for one moment that I've "arrived" as a parent, or that I'm now above wrestling with these tendencies myself. I'm a 30-something parent, and one that sometimes looks uncomfortably like those I've just taken to task.]

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Presidential politics, part 1

I finally feel like I have to say something about the upcoming presidential election. Frankly, I had hoped to avoid the topic until after the first of the year. But I read something today that pushed me over the edge...

[Note: I'm calling this "part 1" not in anticipation of another specific follow-up post, but merely because I know I'll end up posting more on this broad subject later.]

Let me state my point simply and clearly up front:

I can't vote for Mitt Romney.

Yes, it's because he's a Mormon. No, it's not what you think. Let me explain.

I don't much care whether a given candidate is a Baptist (Huckabee), a Methodist (Clinton), or whatever denomination. I also don't think it's critical (though it certainly would be preferable) to elect a Christian as president. If you boil it down enough, one of the most basic things I'm looking for in a president is good judgement. Some people have it; some people don't. It's a skill that can certainly be improved with practice, but it must be present in healthy quantities in a president.

I just read an article (about Huckabee) in which the authors (a couple of women from the AP) state "He [Huckabee] also resisted wading into theology when pressed to explain why some evangelicals don't view the Mormon faith as a Christian denomination". Some evangelicals?! Some?!

Are you kidding me? I don't know of anyone within the broad camp known as Evangelicalism that would call Mormonism a "Christian denomination". There's a reason for that:

Mormonism is a cult.

So we come to why I can't vote for a Mormon, whether his name is Romney or otherwise. Anyone who's judgement is so impaired as to believe the things that Mormons believe cannot be trusted to govern these United States of America. If you haven't done your homework on this subject, you need to. Try CRI; it's an excellent (and free) source of information about many cults. For those that know nothing about Mormonism, let me at least get you started with a few of the many curious (to put it nicely) things that Mormonism teaches:

Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers.

The Negro race resulted when certain angels refused to chose sides between Satan and Jesus.

America was once covered in cities and populated by peoples that you've never heard of (Nephites and Lamanites, among others).

To really be a special Mormon, you have to wear magic underwear.

Incidentally, the last link (re: underwear) is to a blog set up specifically to educate people about Mormonism and Romney. It's new to me, but at first glance seems to be accurate. See particularly his Top Ten Extreme Beliefs page.

So ... it's not that Romney isn't a Christian. It's definitely not that he isn't my brand of Christian. It's not that his faith is "spooky" or "weird". It's that I can't vote for a candidate who's judgement is so impaired as to not be able to see Mormonism for what it is.

I'd sooner vote for an honest agnostic - one who admits they just don't know whether there is a God or not - with good judgement than a Mormon.

As I sit here, I still have no idea who'll I'll be voting for. But I know for sure some of those I won't support. Romney tops that list.


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Monday, December 3, 2007

My home church

As most of my regular readers know, I'm presently on a (now six-month long) journey to find a church I can serve as a pastor. In the meantime, my family has been attending a very fine church in Leo, Indiana - Church of the Good Shepherd. They recently completely updated their website, so I thought I'd note the link for you. They have many good resources available on the site, including tons of sermons and teachings.

Let me know what you think, eh?


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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Saturday Buffet

My apologies for having missed the Saturday Buffett recently - I was out of state!

Anyway, some of these links are now more than a week old. But I still think they're worth the read (if you haven't already stumbled across them elsewhere)...

First, a very interesting story about incredibly high twin birth-rates in Nigeria - and yams may be the explanation!

On a sad note, it appears another Jehovah's Witness has died from refusing a blood transfusion. I keep telling people that good hermeneutics are critically important; this is a more graphic example of why.

To add just a little bit to the Sean Taylor murder story, read this. Pay close attention and you'll find this example of well-intended but bad theology:

"It's a tremendously sad and unnecessary event. He was a wonderful, humble, talented young man, and had a huge life in front of him. Obviously God had other plans."

So I'm supposed to blame God for Taylor's death? ...

[Note: the story has been updated repeatedly on Fox's website; the quote above is from the original article but has been removed from more recent versions.]

Now for a bit of good news: US abortions rates are the lowest since 1974! Before you get too excited, I remind you that we're still aborting 2,300 babies per day in America ... but at least things are improving.

To add my two cents to the whole Golden Compass story: it appears the director fully intends to retain the much more hostile atheism in the next two films. Though he denies it, this sounds like a pretty clear case of baiting kids and families with the first film to get them to swallow the next one easier. It's a strategy as old as time, no?

Finally, just when you thought the good old 'worship wars' were dying down... the Pope decides to go back to the old ways.

Enjoy the first weekend of December, folks!


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Thursday, November 29, 2007

How many children? (part 2)

I started a discussion of "family planning" a little while back (you can find the first post here). There, I focused on the folly of thinking of children merely as "economic entities" and therefore making children not a "blessing" but in fact a burden.

Today, I'd like to address the other end of the spectrum - those that say Christians should allow God Himself to decide how many children to have...

There are plenty of folk that would have us simply "let go and let God" with regard to family planning. They generally advocate that married couples should not use birth control and should have as many children as the LORD gives them. The logic behind this position is simple:

God opens and closes the wombs of women.
God is sovereign over our lives.
Therefore we should allow God to decide how often to open or close the womb.

Advocates of this position are usually quick to point out that having 7 children does not make one more blessed than having 2. At least they should be quick to point this out.

Before I get started, though, let me remind you that for a brief time I held this position and I still presently move in some circles that advocate it. In other words, I don't think mine is an uninformed "outside" interpretation.


There are two levels of problems I have with this position. The first is strictly practical; the second (and more important) is more theological.

First class of problems: pragmatic.

Advocates of the "God controls the womb" position typically have a number of practical dilemmas to overcome. First, as I hinted at above, they often act as if there is a hierarchy of blessedness, with those who have the most children at the top. Many of them don't believe this, but most of them give this impression nonetheless. Second, as a corollary to the first, they often give the impression that women without children are somehow deficient. 'Is God closing this woman's womb due to some secret sin?' 'Does He know she'd make a poor mother?' These questions are almost never actually voiced, but women going through the pain of childlessness often hear echoes of these sentiments in the company of "God controls the womb" folk.

Another pragmatic problem has to do with cost. Don't hear me advocating the silly "children are too expensive to have more than one or two" nonsense that passes for wisdom these days. And I'm certainly not buying the argument that says we must put all of our children through college. No! But let's be honest, there are costs associated with having children and some folk simply cannot afford ten. Those that have significantly more than they can wisely afford usually end up increasingly on the government dime, an issue which has ethical considerations not usually worked through by this camp.

There's another pragmatic problem that begins to touch on the theological, too - what happens when husband and wife disagree on this issue? Generally it will be that the man wants no more children and the woman wants to "leave God in control", though sometimes the situation is reversed. But what do we do now? Most folk would argue (in the first case) that the wife submit to her husband's wish but pray that God will show him the error of his ways. So what if the husband has an operation to end his potency? Now what? Talk about a rift in the marriage relationship!

But what if the situation is reversed - the husband wants more but the wife doesn't? Now we have a situation where most would advocate that the wife submit to her husband's desire and attempt to conceive a child she does not want. I know that she'll likely change her mind once she delivers the child, but that's not the point. The damage done to the marriage relationship could be considerable.

Second class of problems: theological.

As I noted above, I think these problems to be more significant that "merely" pragmatic ones. [Note: I'm not silly enough to think that theological problems don't have pragmatic effects, nor that pragmatic problems don't often have theological roots - the categories are just handy for this post.]

At its core, the major problem I have here is directly related to hermeneutics - the branch of scientific inquiry that has to do with how we interpret texts (in this case, the Bible). Advocates of the "God controls the womb" position tend to make more out of narrative texts than should be. They take portions of Scripture that were written as descriptions of events and try to make them commands. To put it another way, they tend to take what is descriptive and make it prescriptive.

So you find an example in the Old Testament of God "opening the womb" (of which there are several) and you broaden that narrative event to become a general principle for all the living. 'If God opened her womb, He must be in charge of everyone's womb.' Of course there's a certain amount of truth to the claim - God clearly has the authority to and ability to do this in each and every sexual encounter throughout humanity. But this opening and closing of the womb has much more in common with the miracles of the Bible than the commands - cases where God chooses to intervene in the normal/natural method He previously established.

One of the biggest reasons I believe this to be the case has to do with death. Every year over 500,000 women die in the act of childbirth worldwide, and countless more babies die in the womb or just moments out of it. We're talking about in excess of a million deaths a year directly related to childbirth! How can I blame God for this? Was death a part of His original plan? No! Is death a "natural" event? No! Is it accurate to say that God "wanted these people more"? No!

Death is a product of the Fall of Humanity. It is no more fair to blame God for death than to blame Him for cancer, leukemia, marital infidelity or hurricanes.

So, if sound theology must not blame God for these million-plus deaths each year surrounding childbirth how are we to understand them? What are we to do when wise medical professionals (not just any medical professional - plenty of them lack wisdom!) tell us the chances are very great that mother or child could die?

Let me put wheels on this: I have a good friend who has precisely one child. His wife had many, many medical issues surrounding childbirth and came much closer to death than anyone really wants to think about. She was told in no uncertain terms that having another child could do any of a number of awful things to her or the baby's body, including death. After much prayer (and some tears) they came to the wise decision to prevent future pregnancies. But let's say they didn't - let's say they adopted the "God controls the womb" position and got pregnant anyway. They'd be forced to say that God caused their particular pregnancy, right - He causes all pregnancies in this model. Then, when she died, my friend would be forced to believe that God either caused her death or knew that it would happen and chose to do nothing about it. Remember, though, that in this system of belief God caused (not just allowed) the pregnancy that He knew would lead to death. In any court of law God would be judged liable for the death, and rightfully so.

The list could go on: why does God cause rape victims to become pregnant?; why does He cause young teenagers to become pregnant?; why does He cause uterine ruptures?; why does He cause so many good and Godly women to be incapable of conceiving?...

This is not just a semantic battle - there's a world of difference between allowing and causing. In the first, God establishes a natural/normal way things work (sperm meets egg and conception occurs) and sometimes intervenes (ie, performs a miracle), or God chooses not to intervene against the by-products of the Fall (ie, He allows people to die of cancer or childbirth). In the second case, God is willfully manipulating events to cause awful outcomes, outcomes that do not reflect the character of God.


Don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating for the "normal" American model of family planning. Go back and read the first post in this topic if you doubt me. But God has given us the principle of wisdom over and over again in the Bible. Making wise decisions - that's the command. But making wise decisions and fatalistically allowing God to control the womb are two different models. The weight of Scriptures is certainly aligned with seeking wisdom far more than a handful of narratives that describe specific workings of God.


PS: Expect one last post on this subject to tie up loose ends and offer a practical example of what I think looks most Biblical.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

User updates

In case you haven't noticed, I've taken a little time to try to make my blog a bit handier and easier to use. Some of the changes were specific requests (or guided by general request); others were just things I thought would be nice.

If you haven't already found them, read on and I'll point them out...

First, I made the logo at the top of my blog a hot link to the main page. This way if you're on a particular page you can either click the link at the bottom of every article or click the logo at the top of every article. Either way you'll get back to the front page.

Next, I updated the explanation for "Hatushili" link - it's not an image to click and not merely plain (and, I thought, slightly confusing) text.

Then I added a custom Google search bar. It searches only this sight, so if you're looking for a specific word or idea this will be the fastest way to find it. It searches every word on the blog - comments, posts, titles, etc...

Also, I changed my "posts by label" into a label cloud. It takes up less space and is a bit easier on the eyes, eh?

Finally, I streamlined what was once the "Ask the Pastor" link and removed some other clutter...

I hope you find the blog a bit improved. As always, I'll happily field criticism here. Or if you have any other suggestions, let me know and I'll see if I can incorporate them.


PS: Nick, thanks for motivating the label cloud idea - I hope your friend can more readily find what he might be looking for!

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Immoral pregnancies?!

So I just posted the other day about the problem of seeing children primarily as economic entities and basing "family planning" decisions upon such a view. I argued in that post that this view is common, even though it sounds awful if you actually put it on paper.

Well, it seems I understated the case. I don't normally recommend overly-long web articles to you folk, but you really should read this.

It seems babies aren't "eco-friendly"...

I hope you just finished reading the article and are now outraged. If not, please stop reading my post and go read that article - the whole thing. Sometimes it's useful to be outraged...

Read it? Good.

Obviously I have serious issues with these women, especially the first one. Remember my contention that people view children as economic entities? How about this statement from the first woman in the article:

"I've never doubted that I made the right decision. Ed and I married in September 2002, and have a much nicer lifestyle as a result of not having children... We love walking and hiking, and we often go away for weekends... Every year, we also take a nice holiday - we've just come back from South Africa... We feel we can have one long-haul flight a year, as we are vegan and childless, thereby greatly reducing our carbon footprint and combating over-population. "

So this is the latest in the "offsetting carbon credit" thinking?! Unbelievable.

The second lady in the article, to her credit, does not appear to be a materialistic hypocrite. Hers is a problem we should not be surprised by. Allow me a brief (but relevant) aside into social history:

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin introduced what was inarguably the most significant concept of the century - evolution. Today we talk about the nuances of micro- versus macro-evolution (at least, we should acknowledge this hugely significant difference... funny how public schools don't, but I digress). But in Darwin's day, the concept was (for most of his followers) as simple as "survival of the fittest".

What followed was horrific, but perfectly understandable. Social evolutionists popped up on the scene and began arguing that only the "fittest" of people should be encouraged to bear children and populate the earth. Then came forced encouragement - Hitler, for example, clearly based his genocidal methods on the concept of "survival of the fittest". For him, Jews were least fit and therefore did not deserve the natural resources they were consuming. Killing them merely sped up the natural process of evolution toward a superior race.

In light of all this, the notion of a Creator-God that sustains all life slowly faded from the social consciousness of many peoples around the globe. "Mother Nature" was said to be able to take care of herself, thank you very much! And since Mother Nature doesn't need our help, it has for some become only natural to believe that ...

... the earth would really be better off without people screwing it up.

The second lady in the linked article clearly believes along these lines. It seem unbelievable that she could, but clearly she does. And I'm sure she's not alone. She's just got the courage to live her convictions to the fullest, regardless of where they take her. Most people of her persuasion only say the earth would be better off without us - she's actually living that principle.

I guess she should be commended... ?

No. She's traded the Almighty God for an idol; an image she perhaps calls Mother Earth. She's quite literally perverted the very nature of God and the universe in her own mind.

And you thought evolution was no big deal, didn't you?



Note: The only possible good news that can be squeezed out of a story like this is a truth that sociologists have recently begun to pick up on: "liberals" are having far fewer children than "conservatives" and will therefore likely be severely outnumbered in the coming generations. [Please don't comment on my use of liberal/conservative - I understand the limitations and am merely using the term as sociologists tend to.]

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who gets to speak for God? (part 3 of 3)

We started this conversation here, then continued it here, in case you're keeping track.

In those two posts, I basically argued against the two primary intentions behind the question "who gets to speak for God?".

Now (finally!) I'll give some of my own thoughts about the issue...

As I mentioned before, people generally use this question as a way of articulating either a) a leaderless/egalitarian position, or b) overall skepticism about the ability to objectively know what the Bible teaches.

I find both intentions unnecessary, but that doesn't mean I object to the question.

So, in my opinion, who does get to speak for God?

First, we need to remember that each of Christ's followers has the right to read and the empowerment to understand Scripture. The Holy Spirit resident within us makes clear things that the "natural man" cannot grasp. This is one of the truths the Reformers fought so hard for, and we should not readily abandon it. I will never advocate a position that only allows a certain select few to speak for God, whether pastor, teacher, elder or otherwise.

But we can't take that position too far. We must also acknowledge that some people have ability to handle Scripture beyond our own, through training, practice, wisdom, experience, etc... For example, odds are good that a pastor of 25 years will have some significant skill in interpreting Scripture - skill to a degree unlikely to be found in a new Christian. But that same pastor of 25 years has no monopoly on truth! He will have just as many biases and preconceived notions as the rest of us. We need each other - all our voices - to help keep one another honest, to gently expose our biases, to gain a deeper sense of perspective.

Those in the life of the local church accustomed to speaking for God (read: pastors, preachers, elders, SS teachers, etc...) need to carefully avoid giving the impression that they have exclusive right to full knowledge. We must be willing to admit just how humble our level of understanding really is. When necessary, we must be willing to agree to disagree.

But yet we cannot escape the genuine authority structures that the Bible lays out for us. Elders have a God-given responsibility to guard the flock against wolves. And trust me, there are plenty of wolves out there - cults, 'isms, heresies, and downright demonic schemes. Elders - especially those that are paid to serve full-time - likely have much more time than others to read and research, to ponder and work through the issues facing us today. In short, they very often have insight and wisdom that we cannot ignore. So, for example, if you want to bring so-and-so's book into your Sunday School class but the elders consider it unwise ... listen to them! Ultimately you retain the right to leave that local assembly - it's the best way people can help keep elders and churches from straying. But so long as you're under the authority of a local church, give serious consideration to the wisdom of its leaders.

Moreover, we are all part of a body - one organism. Therefore it is simply unacceptable to ignore the wise counsel of others, believing that we all "speak for God". It is unhealthy to think of "me" all the time, instead of "us". There's a time and place for "me", but the normal model should be "us".

Take the "worship wars" of the recent past. How much of this would have been avoided by people remembering that the church does not revolve around their personal preferences, but instead heeding the wisdom of the elders and the principles of "us" (not "me")?

I guess more than anything what I'm really calling for is humility.

Elders, teachers, preachers and pastors that humbly recognize their own limitations; that humbly recognize the skills and abilities of others around them; that humbly speak for God as they serve the church.

Congregants that humbly recognize the authority structures within the life of the church; that humbly desire to understand the Word; that humbly speak for God as they collectively do the work of ministry.


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How many children?

As a father of seven children, I routinely get asked whether we're "done" or not. While this question often leads in comical directions, it does bring up a great issue: reproductive theology.

Don't let that sound too boring to you. Trust me; you should read what I'm about to say. Not that it'll necessarily be profound, but it's an issue you should be wrestling through...

In my experience, there are basically two major ways Christ followers view the issue of "family planning" - that is, two different ways Christians think through how many children they'd like to have. There are (of course) variations within these two major paradigms, too. But in broad brushes, the major views can be laid out this way:

Paradigm 1: The number of children we have is entirely driven by our own personal wants. Choosing how many children to have is largely an economic decision - we all want children, but they're expensive. Choose to have what you can afford.

Paradigm 2: The number of children we have is entirely up to the LORD. He opens and closes the womb; He is the author of all life. We will have as many children as He gives us, with no thought toward contraception. Choose to be content with as many as He gives.

There are significant problems with both of these views, but I've found that (fundamentally) most people are in one camp or the other. Obviously, the vast majority of people operate in Paradigm 1. But Paradigm 2 people are increasingly vocal in Christian culture, too.

I have to admit that I've never really been terribly comfortable in either of these camps. I've spent time in both of them (something most can't say) and find neither very satisfactory.

I want to use the remainder of this post to discuss the problems with Paradigm 1. I'll follow that up with a post about the problems of Paradigm 2, then get to what I think is a more Biblical view. Here we go...

As I said, most people are fundamentally Paradigm 1-types. If you're reading this, odds are very good I'm describing you. If so, understand that I'm not trying to be mean or pick a fight. I want all of us to think through the implications of what we're saying - I want us to think critically. Having spent a number of years with this paradigm, please allow me to point out some very real problems along with the paradigm's strengths.

Strengths: Paradigm 1 encourages people to try to make wise decisions. It does not seek to remove the individual from responsibility over hugely important life issues (few issues are bigger than this one!). Having said that, I can't think of any other virtues of this paradigm...

Weaknesses: Paradigm 1 often makes children a largely economic entity. People are encouraged to think of kids in terms of what it will cost them - grossly exaggerated figures are bandied about for cost of education, clothing, vacations, etc... A classic example: virtually every time some meets me and finds out I have seven children they get around to asking, "How are you going to pay for college for all of them?". Though tempting, I don't want to go down that rabbit trail right here - I cite the question to prove the point: people are trained to think of children almost exclusively as economic entities.

Paradigm 1 largely ignores a few major themes of Scripture: a) that God commanded us to "be fruitful", b) that God is the author of human life, c) that the family has from the very beginning been the fundamental unit that God works through. Let's be honest, most couples don't think about the implications of these truths when having the "family planning" discussion. Often token acknowledgment is given, but serious consideration? Perhaps you're the exception, but most prove the rule.

Paradigm 1 takes too lightly the fact that children are a blessing. There are very few specifically named blessings in the Bible that apply to all of us - children are on that short list, yet we often ignore that and focus on dollars and cents.

Paradigm 1 is often in cahoots with materialism: if you want the finer things in life, you can't have too many children. If you want to do right by your children, you'll try to provide for them a better life than you had as as child. It's better to have a few children and provide these things for them than to have many and force them to go without.

As I've done before, I turn to my own family as an example of the folly of this view: we get along just fine on significantly less than the average American family income, even though we have significantly more children than the average American family. Believe it or not, the US government more or less considers our family poor. Those that know me personally would likely call our family lifestyle "modest", but "poor"?!

Paradigm 1 completely fails to wrestle with this concept:

If I have to choose between new cars, satellite TV, fancy vacations, a big house, etc... and a large family, children always trump lots of stuff.

I'm really not sure how any Christian could argue with this concept. But Paradigm 1 encourages us to ignore it. We've allowed the standard cultural expectation for a "normal American lifestyle" to so dominate our minds that we can't think straight.

Talk to someone who is unable to become pregnant - they'll pick the small, crying baby behind Door Number 1 over the pile of goodies behind Door Number 2 every time.

I'll leave you with one more to chew on. I've met many older couples that admit to sometimes wishing they'd had more children.

I've yet to meet any that wish they'd had less.


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Praises and Prayers

First, thanks to those that prayed for my recent trip to Nebraska to candidate for a pastoral position. It went extremely well. If you'd like the details, shoot me an email.

Also, I have two specific prayer requests for your concern:

First, Bill - he works at the business next door to mine and has been undergoing dialysis for about a year now. He need a kidney transplant but has had no success in finding one. He looked really weak today, and I had a chance to pray with him (yes, you can pray out loud at a Shell gas station!). Pray for Bill; for strength, encouragement, healing.

Second, Leo - I met him in Nebraska this past weekend. His wife (Diane) felt poorly and went to see about it, only to find out that she has AML, a form of leukemia that has required her to immediately begin chemotherapy. I was honored to be part of a large group of Christ followers praying for them Sunday, and I ask you to do so also.


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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Togo update

As most of you likely know, I've been very concerned about the plight of sub-Saharan Africa in the last few months. Massive flooding has finally receded, only to be replaced by great concern over water-borne diseases, lack of shelter, and spoiled food stores.

As a result, I asked you all to help my family contribute to a fund to send money specifically to a local church in northern Togo. [More of the details can be found in this post and the posts it references.]

I'm happy to report that through your efforts, we were recently able to wire-transfer $285 to Christ's followers in Togo. I don't know that we'll ever hear precisely how those funds get used, but that's not really the point. They know how best to use it - pray for their wisdom, not some specific goal you might have in mind.

Again, my thanks to those who gave. I ask that you continue to pray.


Type rest of the post here

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Pray for wisdom

As some of you might already know, Carmen and I are flying out to visit a church in Nebraska this weekend. We'll be spending a lot of time with the pastor in charge of (potentially) hiring me.

Please pray that God would give all parties involved tremendous wisdom to know clearly whether this will be a good "fit" for both the local church and its leaders, and for my family and I.

If you have specific questions, feel free to email me.


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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday Buffet

Not much to talk about in this Saturday's Buffet, but what there is is certainly worth reading...

First, we have a compiled list of the most stupid of all British laws. My personal favourite is Number 8:

It is illegal to avoid telling the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing.

Next, there is the sad story of the Tower of Pisa, which apparently no longer holds the record for most off-kilter structure!

Finally, a political story. My regular readers will note that I rarely deal with politics directly on this blog. But this story had me scratching my head: Pat Robertson endorses Guiliani?!

Personally, I'm not sure that I much care who Pat Robertson votes for. I generally wish he would keep his mouth shut far more often than he does, so opening it to tell me who he's voting for isn't doing much for me!

But the point is that Robertson influences (and represents?) tons of Christians in this country, and yet he's willing to throw his weight behind Guiliani?!

I suppose I'll feel compelled to post about the current crop of presidential candidates in the near future. But for now, it's enough to say that I most certainly won't be following Pat's lead next November.


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Friday, November 9, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes...

Does your child have some ridiculously un-funny or just plain nonsensical "joke" tell over and over again? You know, the kind that on paper just really isn't funny, but because s/he is your child (or perhaps because of the delivery of children - especially the cute voices!) you find yourself laughing nonetheless.

My three year old (Gracie) has just such a joke. I have no idea where it came from - I must only presume her (somewhat odd) brain. It really isn't funny, but it makes me laugh every time I hear her say it.

So, do you want to know the joke?...

I present to you the unedited Gracie joke:

What do you get when you cross?

A meat 'n donkey cheese!


I find myself laughing uncontrollably even as I'm typing this! I can't explain it, really. Notice she does not say "What do you get when you cross X with Y"... It's just "What do you get when you cross". Moreover, I have no clue what "a meat and donkey cheese" is!

[More uncontrollable laughter. Sorry....]

Okay. Deep breaths.


I'm guessing your children have lines like these, and I'd love to hear some of them...


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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Social Justice?

As you likely know if you've read my blog for very long, I'm theologically conservative on many issues. You probably also figured out that "conservative" is not, however, a particularly good label for me.

One of the reasons why has to do with the issue of social justice. I am an advocate of helping the poor and needy, and I'm reasonably sure God is too!

But I just read an article from the magazine of my alma mater on the subject that takes the issue far too far...

[You can read the full article by clicking this link, then finding and opening the (pdf) link labelled "Waging a Living".]

The University of Michigan is undoubtedly one of the most hard-left leaning, liberal schools in America. Cal-Berkley is the only school I can think of that leans further to the left. Knowing this, I tend to read everything they send me with a grain of salt. A recent article by Irasema Garza was no exception.

In this article, Garza starts out by discussing the well-known changes in the American economy in the last 20-30 years. She makes particular note of the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the propensity for the very wealthy to become even more wealthy. She seems more-or-less even-handed about it all, at first.

She tips her political hand when she says:

Even today, with record high gas prices, worker layoffs, tax cuts to the top one percent of Americans, an unpopular war, and political scandals and corruption, the majority of Americans still want to believe in the American Dream. But the dream is fading.

I have a number of issues with this blanket statement, but don't really want to go down that road in this post. But the one I do want to address is the whole notion of the "American Dream".

What exactly is the American Dream? It seems to me that it depends upon whom you talk to! For some, nearly all of us are living the American Dream - after all, most of us have a home, a job, a family, and the freedom to do as we please. We're not told what religion to practice, what person to vote for, what job we can or can't do... Sounds vastly better than many in the world have it, does it not?!

But for others, the American Dream is just a more sugar-coated way of saying "hyper-materialism"! There are those that think the American Dream is starting your own business, become uber-rich at an early age, then "retiring" to spend the rest of your life lounging on the beach somewhere. Frankly, that sounds much more like a nightmare to me.

But it's clear that Garza has the later more in mind than the former, that her vision for America and her concept of the American Dream has far more to do with the almighty dollar and good ol' materialism than anything else.

Here's the conclusion to her article:

... our political leaders have a responsibility to redefine priorities and act swiftly. Americans need jobs with better wages, universal health care, better balance of work and family, affordable housing, and more connected communities... If the United States is to remain a world economic power and the strongest democracy in the world, working and middle class Americans have to believe in - and have to be able to realize - the American Dream.

That's just plain silly, folks! Let me count some of the reasons:

1) Odd, I don't remember anything in the Constitution about the federal government's job involving meddling in free markets...

2) Odd, I don't know that I've ever felt I needed my "political leaders" to do something for me before I did for myself...

3) Americans need jobs with better wages? Okay - at the risk of sounding like a nut, why? Because we all need more cars, bigger televisions, larger houses? Seriously, why? Without getting too personal on you, allow me to point out that I know a family of eight (yes, that'd be six children) with an income significantly lower than the US mean household income of $48,201/year. They get along in life just fine, with no wealthy benefactor! Oh wait!, that family is mine... I guess I did get a little personal on you... My apologies.

My point? I believe (and have seen first-hand) that most Americans can live an economically sound life if they are willing to (in the words of Garza) "redefine priorities". But contrary to Garza, this isn't about government priorities, it's about ours! This could rapidly become a post all to its own... Pressing on...

4) Universal health care?! Let's for just a moment set aside the fact that our Constitution makes no provision for such a concept. Let's ignore the many failures of such a system overseas. Let's focus on the dollar and cents of it - where will the money come from? The obvious answer is taxes. There are only two real choices to find these tax dollars: a) restructure the way the fed spends tax dollars right now, moving funds away from many projects to fund this one new (and enormously expensive) one, or b) take more taxes from the people (and by "the people", they most likely mean "wealthy people" - rob from the rich to give to the poor). I find neither option acceptable.

5) Affordable housing, you say? So government is now supposed to pick up some of the bill for the house I want (versus the one I can afford)?

6) The two that drive me the most nuts: "better balance of work and family" and "more connected communities". It is my absolute contention that Garza's version of the American Dream and these two goals are mutually exclusive. Want to maintain a better balance between work and family? Then just do it. Find ways to make your dollar stretch further, so you can spend less time at work and more time at home. A friend of mine advises others to "cheat toward home". Want more connected communities? It takes time and effort, not government intervention. We live in isolation by choice, not because our "political leaders" have failed to set the right "priorities".

At the risk of sounding downright mean, Garza has utterly and completely missed the boat. If you're reading this blog post, you're likely living what the Founders would've considered the American Dream. If you live in America, you are likely VASTLY more wealthy than the average African, even if we here in the States consider you poor.

Appreciation. Thankfulness. Hard work. Sacrifice. These are words to live by.

Even more government intervention? No thanks.


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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Who gets to speak for God? (part 2 of 3)

[In case you missed part one, you can read it here.]

Last time, we looked at those that use the question "Who gets to speak for God?" as a way to support egalitarianism, or even so-called "leaderless" models of church.

Today we look at other primary way people use this great question...

There are plenty of well-meaning folk out there that use this question as a way of supporting their belief that so much of what we call Biblical interpretation is subjective. They've grown weary of the somewhat silly notion that (for example) Greek and Hebrew language skill can resolve all the difficulties of the Bible! [Believe it or not, I was once in that camp ... 15 semesters of ancient languages later I know better!] They tire of people that think they've got it all figured out. You know the type - no room for mystery, no room for disagreement.

So the question ("who gets to speak for God?") gets raised as a way of reminding everyone that no one has a direct line from the mouth of God, as it were. We're all - like it or not - subject to a certain amount of subjectivity when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

There are those that believe almost everything about the Bible is subjective, but I'm not really addressing those folks in this post. In my experience, they tend not to ask the question we're discussing. Nor do they use the question to prop up their claims. They tend to be much more direct and pointed about their issues...

But for those that genuinely wrestle with the many (seemingly) contradictory or at least "difficult" passages of Scripture, asking this question is a good way of levelling the playing field.

There are two appropriate responses to this situation, in my opinion:

1) We must acknowledge the fundamental truth of what they're saying. There is a fair bit of subjectivity in the human interpretation of Scripture. You don't have to like that fact, but it's a fact nonetheless. That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't study God's Word and seek to come to an understanding of if. What it means is that we must carefully guard against coming to quick or easy conclusions, and we must certainly make every effort to genuinely consider the opinions and interpretations of other Christ-followers when they disagree with ours.

Here's a good way to start. Try to eliminate the only-slightly subtle "I'm right and you're not" language from your vocabulary. For example, avoid phrases like:

Anyone who takes the Bible seriously will agree with me.

That's a pretty liberal interpretation.

Sorry, I just don't buy that interpretation.

In others words, when the debate is in-house let's keep it civil and humble.

2) When appropriate, we need to try to help these people understand Biblical hermeneutics. Know going in that there are different hermeneutical paradigms that people use, and some of them you're just going to have to agree to disagree with. But in my experience, once people see that you hold your interpretations humbly but you hold them for well-considered reasons they are much more likely to feel a peace about the whole process of Biblical interpretation. We can't give the impression that people just make this stuff up! Because that's exactly how it looks to many...

If we believe that God wants us to know His Word, we must believe that He's given guidelines for how to do so. Helping people understand this principle therefore comes with the added bonus of helping them understand the very nature of God better.


So, if you're asking "Who gets to speak for God?" because you're frustrated with the know-it-all attitude of too many Christians and what to encourage them toward humility, I'm with you!

But if you're asking the question out of your own doubts and fears, let me help you.


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Saturday Buffet

No fanfare this week. Except to say that if you look at nothing else this week, you must at least check out the last entry in this week's Saturday Buffet.

Here's this week's edition...

Perhaps you never thought about the fact that Daylight Savings Time is (in part) about saving energy? Now you know. And just for the record, you should know that Indiana finally adopted Daylight Savings Time ... sort of.

In this weeks political double-speak category, John Edwards wants us to know that in order to pay for his proposed enormous "College for Everyone" initiative, every taxpayer will have to put in more money ... because "there are no free meals". Unless, I guess, you're getting a taxpayer supported free college degree ... ?!?

Good news from Focus on the Family - they intend to focus more on parenting than politics in the coming years! ... and there was much rejoicing!

In Iraq, the premier has vowed to help our brothers and sisters in Christ as they attempt to stay safe and in the country (more than 50% of them have left already).

In case you avoided my Halloween post (and who could blame you!), here are two more interesting articles on the subject. First, it seems Russia is attempting to stop the import of the "holiday" in schools. Next, in a logically related story, it appears that Victoria's Secret is successfully marketing their products to young girls.

Finally, this one is amazing. Apparently a bunch of guys with a ton of time on their hands took zillions of high-resolution pictures of DaVinci's Last Supper and then pasted them together. The result? You can now view the painting online and zoom right down to the tiniest detail. Seriously, you can find some of the original pencil marks where DaVinci traced images out before painting them! You must check this one out, folks.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

re: Halloween

Every year around this time something strange happens: I get asked why we don't "do" Halloween.

Yes, it's true. The Hyde family chooses not to participate in the Halloween festivities. But odds are good it's not for all the reasons you might think.

Allow me to explain, please...

First, let me say right up front that I respect your right to disagree with me on this issue. If you have prayerfully decided that you want your family to participate (in whatever fashion you choose), God bless you. I have no problem with that.

I do, on the other hand, have a problem if you're involving yourself in Halloween thoughtlessly and without prayer. I would encourage you to think through my reasons for abstaining from this national holiday. If you do so and still come to the conclusion that you want your family involved, great. At least you will have done your due diligence and sought a wise (rather than expedient) answer. We'll just have to practice the wonderful art of agreeing to disagree at that point.

Second, I also want to note that my objections to Halloween are not founded in either the pagan or the Catholic roots of this particular date on the calendar. I really don't find it all that compelling to worry about how people hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago interpreted or intended. Is it historically true that (for example) jack-o-lanterns were intended to drive away evil spirits? Yes. Is that all that relevant for our culture today? Somehow I think not.

But I do have serious concerns about Halloween. They are (in no particular order):

1) The holiday glorifies gluttony and greed. I remember my own Halloween experiences, so many years ago. I can tell you for certain that the only thing on my mind was acquiring as much candy as humanly possible, then consuming it in the least permissible amount of days (preferably by Thanksgiving). Yes, they're only children. But do we really want to encourage this kind of thinking?

2) The holiday glorifies gore. Hopefully this isn't true of the experience the littlest ones have, but surely it's true for many, many Halloween revelers. From the blood to the guts, Halloween is practically filled with the gory and the gross. As a follower of Christ, I'm not sure how this finds a place in my family. And even in the case of the little ones, how can you insure that even they won't be exposed to images altogether inappropriate (and horribly frightening)? You certainly can't control what sort of customed characters show up at your doorstep. Nor can you choose what manner of images your children might see as they go door to door.

3) The holiday glorifies sex. No, you didn't read that wrong. In my defense, I turn to two recent articles on the latest trend in pre-teen girl Halloween costumes. First, check out what the Washington Post has to say about the overtly sexual nature of so many costumes today. Many are actually being sized and marketed to girls as young as 7. Then, check out Mike Straka's take on the subject. He rightly allows for at least the possibility that pedophiles rejoice over Halloween, as well as pointing out the role parents must reclaim. [Note: I'm not comfortable with his stance on adults and Halloween, as noted at the end of the linked article.] Straka (of Fox News) provides a few links to some of the actual costumes being marketed this season. Check them out; I trust you'll find them as inappropriate as they are.

4) The holiday glorifies fear. Many people get a sort of 'high' out of being frightened. I admit I don't understand that, nor can I relate. I'm reasonably sure that God gave us the fear impulse for our protection - much the same reason He gave us pain - and that to tamper with the natural response and purpose of fear likely isn't all that wise.

You can sum it all up this way: there's nothing redemptive about Halloween. That's my default filter for working through these sorts of issues - is there anything redemptive about it? Whether I'm trying to decide upon the merits of a particular book, movie, event, or holiday for my children to be involved in, I almost always come back the question of redemptive value.

Many of the same ethical questions arise around Christmas, frankly. So why does our family celebrate that holiday (even if in an way likely very different from what's considered the norm)? Because there's great (and obvious) redemptive value within it. Same goes for Easter.

But Halloween? Forgive me if I just can't find within it the least little bit of redemptive value.


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Buffet

Hey, what do you know - I'm not late with this edition of the Saturday Buffet!

As always, I've been trolling the internet throughout the week to bring you some of the more thought provoking stuff.

So here we go...

This one goes in the "sad story; ridiculous coverage" category. Here we a story that ought to highlight the extreme poverty these people live in, or perhaps their generosity (notice they shared with a neighboring village). But it seems written mostly to shock the reader, then they throw in a stupid bit about animal rights activists!?

Okay, this one may just get me in trouble. Let's list my troubles with this story:

a) Why are we even conducting such a poll in the first place? Because we know it will likely yield results that are "scandalous" and it'll shock people? I hope not, but I have my suspicions.

b) What good can come of a poll like this? To make a segment of the Christian population feel better about themselves - you know, the "thank God I'm not like the Samaritans" crowd? I hope not, but I have my suspicions.

c) How are we defining a "lie"? Don't get too excited - I'm not espousing some sort of "my truth is for me" view. But seriously, every culture in the world defines lying differently. America is virtually the only country wherein were told that any exaggeration, or anything short of full and complete disclosure is a lie. There are literally hundreds of examples I could give, but I offer just one. Suppose you have a friend who struggles with her weight and she is very depressed about it. Now suppose you overhear the people passing by snickering about how large your friend is. She's had a particularly bad day, and doesn't hear what's just been said. She notices that you noticed them and asks what they said... I would argue that it's just plain hurtful and mean to give your friend "full disclosure", but if you told her simply, "Oh, nothing" you'd be lying ... ?! "Speak the truth in love" doesn't mean you must tell her the hurtful things they said and then offer your shoulder for her to cry on.

d) Wouldn't we be better off spending our time and efforts encouraging the body of Christ, instead of feeding a certain segment of it more "ammunition"?

Okay, I'm finished... You may flame away now, if you must.


I think I kind of like Mike Huckabee, in a way. This story doesn't help much, eh?

And finally, this one is (mostly) for an old friend of mine who I just discovered reads this blog. Like me, he's outraged at the nonsense being conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church. You've likely heard of them - the "church" that runs around celebrating the death of American soldiers... They're the folks with the "God Hates _ags" signs (no, I'll not use that word here). I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the lawsuit approach this article references, but anything to put these folk back in their cave is a good thing, if you ask me.

That's all for now. Let me know what you think of this week's edition, eh?


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Friday, October 26, 2007

Update on Togo

As I've posted about repeatedly (here, here, and most notably here), Africa in general and Togo in particular have been very hard hit by flooding in the past month. The flooding has now largely subsided, and the real problems are beginning.

Problem number 1? People have forgotten.

Not you. I'm happy to report that next week I'll be sending along our collected donation to Togo. Right now, the total is over $200. It's not too late to help out. If you let me know by email that you still want to participate, you can do so.

Pray that ours is but a tiny drop in the bucket of donations that Christ's followers worldwide will be sending.


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Children's Ministry and Postmodernity

As promised here, I'd like to explore the intersection of Postmodernity and children's ministry.

If you wander around the landscape of Postmodern Christian thinking, you'll discover that many people just aren't sure how to engage children's ministry into the conversation. Consequently, you end up with churches that are decidedly Postmodern in their adult and youth ministries, but look exactly like their more Modern brothers and sisters when it comes to ministry to young children.

Oh, by the way, ...

This is a great point to remind you that Postmodernity can be (and in this post, is) used as a cultural term, not an intellectual one. In the near future I hope to have a glossary of (my) terms up on this blog. I hope it will help clear up some of this ambiguity.

Since we're talking about children, and the way they think and act in today's culture, it should be obvious that by "Postmodern" I certainly don't mean "deniers of absolute truth" (the standard far-right definition). I'm talking about culture - that set of values, beliefs and assumptions that make you like (or unlike) the people around and about you. Postmodern culture is largely the only thing today's children have ever known. Take a guy like me: at 34 years of age, I was raised in a Modern context, but have developed a leaning toward Postmodern culture. Today's children have little connection with the world of Modernity. It only seems natural that we therefore try to integrate our approach to children's ministries with an understanding of Postmodernity.

The problem, of course, is two-fold:

A) Most people doing the hard work of children's ministry have never given the Modern/Postmodern discussion any thought whatsoever - many don't even realize there is such a discussion, and ...

B) Most every tool (be it book, program, video, seminar or otherwise) designed for children's ministry was created in a decidedly Modern context.

Therefore, it should be obvious that I'm not going to have all the answers. We as a community of Christ-followers need to be working these answers out together. But I do have some thoughts, and I'd love to hear yours too.

1. We have focused too much on competition in the past. Most children's ministries (think AWANA, or Word of Life, or whatever...) are ingrained with a competitive element. Don't hear me wrong - I'm not against competition! Observe me watching a University of Michigan football game and you'll understand! But I am saying that all of this competition detracts from a focus on community. Postmodern kids want community. They likely can't articulate that, but they want it just the same. Pitting one kid against another doesn't do much for community.

I know what you're thinking - what about group competition? Much better than individual, but (in my opinion) still overdone in children's ministry. I'm not saying we cut it out, but I'm saying we need to rethink the ways we utilize competition, understanding that it carries both potential for good and for ill.

What's the major ill? Besides conflicting with their natural cultural inclinations, it can implicitly teach children that the Christian life is fundamentally about competition. What a horrible thing to teach them, really. Do you want your kids to think - in any way at all - that following Christ is a competition? We are not to be in competition with one another; we are to be in conformity to Christ.

2. We have focused too much on the entertainment model. It has become so well entrenched in today's thinking that to even suggest that children can learn without the latest, greatest technological thingee is looked upon with incredulity. "What do you mean, my kids don't have to have electronic flashing lights to learn their math skills?! You mean to tell me edu-tainment isn't necessary?!"

Let's think this through. A major trouble with teaching kids today is their ridiculously short attention spans. Doubt me? Just ask any elementary teacher! So because of this short attention span, we've decided to try to trick the kids - give them a "game" that is actually teaching them useful information. But what are we sacrificing long-term? Likely, we're doing nothing but encouraging and rewarding their short attention spans!

We're also setting ourselves up for failure. If children learn to believe from an early age that learning is all "fun and games" we are doing them a great disservice when they become adults. Is it any wonder why 2 out of 3 kids graduate from high school and then leave the life of the local church? We've entertained them for years; now we expect them to "grow up" and get to work?! It's unfair. We've set them up for failure, and failing is exactly what they're doing.

Perhaps a better model is the mentor or tutor. It requires a lot more energy and more people power, but pouring the lives of our adult into the lives of our kids has to be more effective than just entertaining them, doesn't it?

3. Compartmentalization. We still have a tendency to see children's ministry as something separate from the other ministries of the local church. This fosters a mentality that children's ministry is mostly about freeing adults to participate in adult's ministry! Instead, we should be thinking in terms of the the family - both the individual families that comprise the local church as well as the collective church "family". Again, don't hear hear me wrong - there's nothing wrong with children being with children and adults being with adults. But we need to recognize that such a condition is somewhat unnatural and should not be the norm.

Again, let's think this through. What responsibilities do we have as parents? Certainly we are to provide for their material needs and some of their material wants. We are to oversee their education, both of things earthly and heavenly. We are to be their guide, leading them to Christ and discipling them to Christlikeness. We are, in short, to care for them as God cares for us. There's a good reason that most children's conception of God the Father mirrors their view of Daddy.

So how in the world are we supposed to accomplish all of this without being around our kids? How can we live up to our responsibilities if separation is the norm, not togetherness?

We can't.


As usual, no firm answers here. I won't pretend to have answers. I, like many, find myself asking hard questions and struggling to come up with answers.

So what should ministering to Postmodern kids look like? I don't know. But I do know that it looks a lot less competition-driven and more community/relationship driven, a lot less entertainment-focused and a lot more mentor-focused, a lot less compartmentalized and a lot more family oriented.

What do you know?


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Exciting News

Here's a shameless plug for my wife's blog: you really should check out this post.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Saturday Buffet (late again)

I have no particular excuse for being late with this week's Saturday Buffet. I could try to make one up, or perhaps I could take suggestions from you guys...

Anyway, here you go...

In the "I can't say I'm truly surprised" category, it appears that a school district in Maine is now allowing oral contraceptives to be given to students as young as 11! I have more problems with this than can be readily summarized here, but we could go down any of the following routes:

a) What about the fundamental role distinction between parents and the state?
b) What about possible health effects of giving hormone therapy to under-developed children?
c) What about the "moral license" this kind of policy grants students?
d) What about the tax-supported status of these schools, versus religious objections?

Perhaps the sky really is falling, folks!

In other sex-related news, it seems men aren't the only followers of Christ who struggle in this area.

Pressing on... James Watson (of Watson and Crick DNA-finding fame) has been uninvited to deliver a speech, since he's been saying some decidedly disturbing things in the media lately. Honestly, though, his comments come directly from a humanistic, macro-evolutionary view of the world that is shared by most of his peers.

There's a new Ten Commandments flick on the market. Disney radio took the word "God" out of their advertisement. People are outraged. [Insert deep groan here!] Forgive me if I think we've got much, much bigger issues to get all upset about...

And finally, scientific "proof" that short people have a chip on their shoulder ... sort of ... I guess.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who gets to speak for God? (part 1 of 3)

There is a great question you hear often in emerging circles: Who gets to speak for God? It's a good question, but it's more complicated than it might seem on the surface. I want to go through the two primary ways people use that question - what exactly do they mean, and what point are they trying to make?

Then I'd like to argue for a position somewhere in between the standard emerging mantra (if there truly is such a thing as a "standard" anything in emerging) and the traditional Protestant position. This will be a three-part series, then. So let's begin...

[Before we dive into this, let me just note that I don't pretend to know how everyone uses this question, nor even most. What follows is my general impression of the ways this question is bandied about in emerging circles. I consider myself fairly well-read on the subject, but by no means an expert.]

First, it's important to note that there are two ways people use this great question - who gets to speak for God? In this post we'll examine one:

The Egalitarian/Leaderless position: There are plenty of emerging (and otherwise) folk out there that seem to use this question to argue for either a generally egalitarian position or perhaps even a truly leaderless model. The argument goes something like this: since we're a "kingdom of priests", no one person has the right to speak for God exclusively on any given issue; therefore, we'll not have either a) traditional leadership roles, or b) traditional teaching/preaching formats.

Solomon's Porch is a good example of this. Doug Pagitt (a name you should definitely know in emerging circles) is the pastor there. This is what their website has to say about their "leadership co-op". Notice in particular that the only thing even bordering on a Biblical notion of qualified leadership is (perhaps) in the phrase "Demonstrate leadership consistent with the Biblical and Historical church example". This is a conscious effort on their part to do away with the notion of exclusively male, exclusively elder-based leadership. I'll not insult Doug and make the "he doesn't take the Bible seriously charge" that so many others have levelled at him. But clearly I understand things a little differently than he!

Doug's concept of preaching also falls into this category. He calls traditional preaching "speeching" and is not very fond of it. Instead, he argues for what amounts to an open mic night, guided loosely by the pastor. Again, "who gets to speak for God"? At Solomon's Porch, virtually anyone. What if a bona fide heretic takes the floor? What about a cultist? What about a grossly immature Christian? What about someone with absolutely no understanding of Biblical interpretation?

The answer? Remember - we're a kingdom of priests and therefore all get to speak for God.

The tough part about arguing against this approach is that it is right on some level. We are a holy priesthood - so says 1 Peter 2:5.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that egalitarianism is the more Biblical position, nor does it mean that monologue (traditional preaching) is less desirable than an open mic. The fundamental problem with this version of the "who gets to speak for God" question is that it neglects the many, many passages of Scripture that deal directly with leadership, teaching, preaching, etc... The Bible is very plain that certain people are set apart as leaders of the church. The Bible calls these people elders and lists very specific requirements that they must meet, and lists a number of the responsibilities of elders to the local church, and lists many of the responsibilities of the local church to the elders. We're not working with a lack of data here, folks!

If elders have a responsibility to keep the heretical "wolves" out of the assembly (and they do), how can you justify risking heresy in the name of egalitarianism? How can you brush off this terrible responsibility with a "who gets to speak for God"?

If elders are required to be capable teachers (and they are) and those especially gifted and able at teaching are to be commended (and they are), then how can we justify the "open mic" theory of preaching with a "who gets to speak for God"?

If elders are given a specific list of (probably minimal) requirements (and they are), how can we justify not including these in the discussion of "who gets to speak for God"?

There's something fundamentally American about the basic notion of egalitarianism, isn't there? We are, after all, rugged Individualists. We blaze our own trails, right? We have our rights, after all! As I've argued before, this kind of thinking has little place in the community of Christ's followers.

Having said all that, I'm not arguing for a position that only elders have the right to ever communicate, teach, preach, lead, etc. I'll get to my position after the next post...

Also, please understand that I'm merely using Solomon's Porch as one example. I don't know what goes on in their assembly nearly well enough to say that all of the above is true of them. This isn't about Pagitt; it's about a particular interpretation of "who gets to speak for God".

If you're asking that question in an effort to by-pass or ignore the God-given responsibilities of elders, you're on the wrong track.


PS: Just for JB...

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Saturday Buffet (a few days late!)

We had our biggest promotional event of the year at work this past weekend. My apologies for using that as an excuse to belate the Saturday Buffet...

In the field of politics and health care, there have been some very wild claims recently. For a critique of some of the gloom and doom stuff, see this post over at

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this document. Apparently a long list of Muslim scholars is blaming Christendom for the lack of peace between us. And, they rightly point out, there does not seem to be a peaceful way to co-exist unless we submit to their desires. "Submission" ... isn't that what "Islam" means?

In the "apparently public outcry sometimes works" category is this set of articles. It appears that initially there was some effort at removing the word "God" from ceremonial flag certificates. However, now all that is behind us. What a relief! Millions are homeless in Africa? No one much notices. But take the word "God" off our certificates and we'll raise a stink you've not smelled since the pledge of allegiance scandal! Glad we've got our priorities straight here, folks.

Finally, this article is most interesting for the way the data is interpretted. It appears to my reading that a study has found humans are perhaps both a) more selfish and b) have an innate need for justice/fairness than do chimps. The effects of the Fall and yet still a shadow of the image of God? Nope. "Chimps choose more rationally than humans".


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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A reasonable approach?

As most of you know, I have worked in the Lawn & Garden industry for a long time now. I've also been working for a rental company for the past eight years. Consequently, I get a lot of industry magazines related to engines, emissions, etc...

I finally got around to reading the June issue of Rental Management the other day. It features a number of articles about "going green" in the construction and rental industry. The feature story is listed second on this page; it's called Being Green.

The article raises an interesting concept that is being played out as we speak, and I think it just might work...

As you might have guessed from my posts in the past, I am a big fan of free-market economics. I am also an environmentalist (of the 'steward God's creation' stripe). Very often these two positions are contradictory. Most environmentalist advocate sweeping federal regulations to require this or that level of emissions. And while I think a certain amount of legislation is necessary on this front, I don't think it's the ultimate answer to the problem.

Enter the rental business.

It seems that many state governments (and an ever-increasing portion of the federal government) are now requiring that contractors demonstrate a specific level of "green building" proficiency before they'll be awarded government bid jobs. Consequently, rental yards that offer green engines, chemicals, etc... can be an asset to the general contractor who isn't quite ready to plunk down the kind of money needed to buy a whole new fleet of equipment.

But the point is that this concept utilizes legislation to a limited extent (for government bid jobs only, not the general public) but leans mostly on free-market economics. I'm inclined to believe that eventually these government bid contractors will find it more profitable to buy their own green equipment, and they'll begin using it on other (non-bid) job sites. This equipment will thereby find its way increasingly into the general market. The demand for the product, fueled by economics, will prompt more research and development and provide and impetus to make these green changes as inexpensively as possible, allowing developments to build upon one another.

It's not the complete answer, but I think this sort of thinking just might be a major part of the answer.


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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saturday Buffet

Today I begin a new series of post: Saturday Buffet! I often stumble across items of interest on the internet (and thanks to those of you that routinely forward along those that you find, too) that I'm going to compile into a single post on Saturday. It'll give you something to read over the weekend ... in case you're bored!

So, without further ado, here's this Saturday's Buffet...

This one came to us via JB - it seems for some twisted reason Ethiopia wants to poison 10,000 dogs. We Americans were (rightly) outraged about Michael Vick and his dog killing; I wonder how many of us even heard about this?

Here's one from Dan - some author actually spent a full year trying to "literally" follow all the commandments of the Bible. He's not a Christian or a Jew, but thought it would be interesting... It raises a number of interesting questions about hermeneutics - did he or didn't he actually interpret these commands correctly? What exactly is a "literal" understanding of a given text?

One of my wife's favourite blogs posted this one - how are hymns different than praise songs? I've read parts of it circulating the internet before, but not this (extended?) version.

Finally, though it's now quite old, I found this interesting. It links to a video done by Solomon's Porch, the church Doug Pagitt pastors. Solomon's Porch is often held up as a model of what Emergent (not emerging) should/could look like.


PS: Feel free to send me links to things you would like to see in future editions of the Saturday Buffet. For those that already have been, I again say 'thanks'!

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Please donate to this African church

As promised, I finally made contact with a friend of mine who not so long ago served as a missionary in Togo, Africa. As you know from my many recent posts and updates, Togo has been very hard hit by the massive flooding that struck sub-Saharan Africa recently. I asked my friend (Wes) if he knew of a specific church that might need some help. He does...

The church is in a town of about 10,000 (as near as I can tell from websites translated from French!) called Amou Oblo. Here's what Wes had to say about them:

The Baptist Bible Church at Amou Oblo was started in the early 1990's by a young man who was saved at the Kempton Memorial Hospital by Justin our hospital evangelist. He soon went back to his home town and began to witness to others and, as a result, a small group of believers were formed. A local pastor began to meet with them, and as is the case too many times, this man was teaching heresy. Soon the other believers realized they needed to stop this teaching and find a new pastor to lead them. In 1996, the small group approached the church planters at ABWE and requested a pastor to come and continue the work there. ABWE at that point had just started a Bible Institute and were training many possible candidates, but that would be 3-4 years away. In the mean time, Justin began making the 1 Hour trip to Sunday Morning Services and Wednesday Evening Prayer Meetings. We [Wes and his wife] began working with Amou-Oblo upon our arrival in 1999. We took Justin each week to teach Sunday School and Preach Sunday and Wednesday. We began to train teachers for children's Sunday school, began a new Christian's class, and baptismal class for those interested in taking that next step. The church really started to grow through evangelism and outreach. By the time we left in 2002 [to return to the US], the church was averaging 75 on Sunday Mornings.

Currently Pastor Bamas has taken the work. He is a graduate of the Bible Institute and a great man of God. He has started 2 new churches [in Yaokope and Patatoukou] along with Amou-Oblo and travels 30 miles to these new churches on Sunday as well.


This church is situated in an area hit hard by the flooding, and they need our help. I just saw a news headline that wondered out loud why no one in the international community seems to care much about this particular crisis. Remember, folks - we're talking about over 1.5 million people who have been made homeless by this flooding. Think about it. Take the population of the following US cities: Lynchburg, Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Baltimore (cities I know many of you are familiar with) and you still don't have 1.5 million. Image all of those people flooded out of their homes...

If you have any money you can spare, please contact me via this email account and let me know. I'm going to pool our efforts and pass them along to Wes, so that he can be sure they get to the church there in Amou Oblo. My kids have been wanting to know how they can help these destitute people, and this will be a tangible way for them to be involved. What better way to teach our kids about compassion, love, and the importance of the Gospel?

Please, let me know as soon as possible what you'll be able to share. I prayerfully await your emails...


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