Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Unintended Consequences of Biblical Convictions

In many of the churches we've seen, especially where doctrine and worship are taken seriously, fellowship is woefully lacking. You can attend for months without anyone inviting you into their home, or even seeking you out after the service. It's as if you wake up invisible on Sundays. Why is that?

I've asked that question of several pastors whose congregations have struggled with this problem for years. Diverse reasons are given, but the most common one is that the people live too far apart. And after many attempts to overcome this problem, the pastors have all but given up.

While distance is an obstacle, it's no new thing. Are we really to believe that a 30 minute commute to a meeting place is a first in the life of the Church? And from my conversations with friends driving from all over the region to attend the evangelical mega-churches, they aren't wanting for fellowship. No, I think the problem lies elsewhere for the reformed.

In reforming churches we come to realize the danger of too many programs. And here is where our problem lies. We cut and burn the programs, which have been the main source for fellowship, before we have trained the congregation on how to have fellowship without the programs. In our efforts to take out man-centeredness from worship, many have cut the choir, and naturally there are no more get togethers for practice. In our desire to emphasize family discipleship, we shut-down AWANA, Sunday School, and the youth group. And since we live "too far" to have Sunday evening and Wednesday evening worship, we are only left with the one Sunday morning worship service. It's a wonderful service, but obviously not intended to meet all the "one anothers" of Scripture.

The reason for the near-absence of fellowship in too many reformed churches is simple. We have cut and slashed programs that appear to be unbiblical. But this has had the unintended consequence of destroying fellowship opportunities before a biblical alternative was ready.

I don't necessary advocate going back to the "program-based" church. Instead, the next step in reforming the church, is to re-form her families into one loaf.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Introducing Faith to the Family

Preach Until You Are Free

Candidly, over the last couple of weeks I've had some thoughts about whether we're in the right church. But whenever I hear the preaching, from a man who describes himself as a capital C coward, I can't leave. I've never before seen an older reformed pastor like him that is able to communicate a sermon with such verve, lashing out in fierce anger while preaching on the judgment seat of Christ, and then breaking down in tears over sin.

His delivery style must also be his own creation. He opens the sermon reading from a page of prepared notes, until it seems that something he said takes him captive. His glasses are slowly removed and laid aside, and then he preaches until he is free. That is to say, he must preach it in order to express what is on his mind and heart and until he does, he will not feel free. After a rollercoaster ride, in which the glasses go on and off as he returns to the calm propositions of an intellectual until the next unexpected wave of emotion hits, he closes the sermon by reading his conclusion and, sometimes, apologizing for going over the time he expected to take.

This pastor is more prophet than professional. And yet he calls himself a coward. But in the pulpit he is a lion.

His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot. Jer 20:9

Friday, August 26, 2005

Baby Gifts

The adoption agency gave us this nice gift; it's called a "church baby". As the story goes, during corporate worship grandmothers used to take a handkerchief from their pocket and tie it into a church baby for restless babies. Years later the hankerchief is untied and carried on the wedding day. I guess this gift fell into disuse when families: 1. sent grandmother to Florida, 2. sent the kidos out of the worship service, and 3. switched to Kleenex (who carries a real hanky anymore!).

What we need today are practical gifts! Like this one...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Everyone's home. God is good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters,

for after many days you will find it again (Eccl 11:1). I don't know nearly enough about bread to try this out, but today I got back some "bread" (if you will) in the mail. The birthmother we were matched with in Oklahoma City, who had changed her mind about us because of Kristin's diabetes and our children's coloring, selected a family in Canada to adopt her child. That family agreed to back-pay all the support and legal fees we had paid earlier, resulting in a nice refund for us!

An even better return happens tomorrow when Kristin and Faith come back home! Praise God that New Mexico and Alabama (not the first two states that come to mind when you think of swiftness) worked out whatever legal agreement they needed for Faith to leave the state. I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Vanity Mirrors

Our Lord taught (in effect), "Your obligation is to work as hard as you possibly can and when you have finished to say, 'At best I am an unprofitable servant'" (cf. Luke 17:10). And here, after just three days of taking care of the children by myself, I'm wondering where my Achievement Medal is. How pathetically vain-glorious.

Thankfully my household comes equipped with several built-in vanity mirrors to remind me of my warts and God's pure grace. The more time I spend with the children the more I see my sinfulness and folly passed down to them. (Lord, restrain my sin and foolish ways!) The longer I spend on the phone with my wife the more I realize how she prepared homeschooling material, groceries, etc ahead of time and how that has eased my load this week.

But I still want the 'atta boy's from whoever will give them. God does me good by reminding me tonight, "when you have done all that you were commanded, say, "We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty."

How radically gracious that God responds, "Well done, my good servant!" (Luke 19:17).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Proud Papa Photos

If you read the comments on an earlier post, the next photo of Faith to be posted here was to be of her baptism. But how could I ever have thought of postponing photos like this one?

If I have my story straight (keep in mind I'm 1,200 miles away from the camera), this is the official shot of Kristin receiving Faith from the adoption agency. Kristin is at her parent's house. Two very lovely ladies!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Me and My Bible

The latest edition of Mars Hill Audio Journal opened with a helpful discussion of two uniquely Baptist distinctives, "sole competency" and "the priesthood of the believer (singular)."

Originally, "sole competency" meant that each believer is to interpret the Bible on his own. Unfortunately, the effects of modernity over time saw the "no creed but the Bible" dogma lead to "Unitarian Baptists" and other rejections of orthodoxy.

The priesthood of the believer (singular) distinctive originally was meant to emphasize that each person is accountable to God. But over time, American individualism and egalitarianism morphed this doctrine into a Christian's right to ignore the authority of the Church and the accountability of other Christians.

Thankfully over the last decade or more a significant part of the Southern Baptists have returned to orthodoxy. However, during my time in reformed baptistic churches, sole competency and priesthood of the believer, while never named, were still thoroughly ensconced. I believe this hurt discipleship and, perhaps more significantly, impacted the authority of the preached word and the office of elder.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Adoption! Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

Today was the last day for the birthmother to change her mind. Thank God for journals; as I read an entry this morning from two years ago I was reminded of this, "He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord." (Ps 112:7).

This morning's lectionary reading included the 87th Psalm, the basis for the hymn Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken. Serendipitously, I discovered that the "glorious thing" being spoken of here is adoption! In view is our adoption into Zion, the eternal city of our God. Consider the fourth verse,

And of Zion it shall be said, "This one and that one were born in her"; for the Most High himself will establish her. The Lord records as he registers the peoples, "This one was born there. Selah"

Calvin says of this passage, "that new citizens shall be gathered into the Church of God from different parts of the world. Strangers by birth shall be accounted among the holy people, just as if they descended from Abraham. Although Zion was not the place of their natural birth, they were to be grafted into the body of the holy people by adoption. We may perceive the more clearly how much benefit may be derived from this psalm; and at the same time, how necessary it is to meditate upon it continually." Selah, indeed!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Finding Compassion

Our adoption of Faith is still going well. Kristin flies tomorrow to Alabama and will stay with her parents until she receives state approval to bring Faith home. I'll stay here and keep homeschool going until she returns. It's been a busy week working through the legal documents and preparing for the trip. Yet more and more we're finding adoption is wonderful in many ways. We get to enjoy another blessing (Ps 127:5). But we are also reminded of the Lord's compassion for children in difficult circumstances (Job 29:12-17 for starters), for with God "the fatherless find compassion" (Hos 14:3).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Little Christian Children

I've enjoyed listening to the latest audio release from St Anne's Pub on "Leading our Little Ones to Christ." I was encouraged to try reading J.C. Ryle's Boys and Girls Playing (first published in 1881) to the children again. This time I'm reading it once they are in bed--they're more interested in non-picture books when the alternative is lights out.

This section from the first sermon made an immediate impact on Eli and Grace,
You are never too young or too little to begin thinking of God. Are you old enough to be naughty? Then be sure that you are old enough to be good. Are you old enough to talk? Then be sure that you are old enough to say your prayers. Are you old enough to learn bad words? Then be sure that you are old enough to learn texts. Are you old enough to know and love your mother? Then be sure that you are old enough to know and love Jesus who died to save your souls.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Adoption Update (The Biggie)

Welcome Faith Alethea Bailey!

The adoption is not official yet, but the birthmother surrendered her rights to the child (she has until Saturday to change her mind). Faith is currently with a foster family until we can pick her up. The adoption is very likely; however, there are several things that concern us and we ask for your prayer. Specifically, that a fingerprint check (on us) would go through quickly, the birthmother to have peace of mind with her decision, the birthmother's recovery from an emergency C-section, that paperwork would go smoothly, and the travel arrangements.

We should know more as the week progresses, but we hope to bring baby Faith home in the next couple of weeks. We greatly appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tails of the Bizarre

While we wait for the baby to be born (currently one-week past the due date), Eli and I went camping at a state park in the mountains west of town. We caught trout, rock-climbed, pitched a tent, roasted marshmallows, and enjoyed a beautiful piece of God's creation. Lava fields, crawdads the size of small lobsters, and violent cloudbursts are some of the bizarre facets of camping in New Mexico.

This photo overlooks the canyon that we hiked down. At the bottom is a little river that feeds into one of the few lakes anywhere around us.

During the camping trip I started reading Augustine's Confessions by lantern light. I regret how long this book has sat on my shelf unread! It has one of the best beginnings of any book I've read!

Our church combined worship services today with a reformed Baptist work south of town. The sermons were on community. Bizarrely (bear with me), we bumped into a friend that we haven't seen in several years, since our time at Community Bible Church in Illinois.

In his sermon our pastor rebuked our lame attempts at evangelism, likening us to the Gospel Blimpers, a reference to a Christian movie from the '60s. The bizarre storyline entails a group of Christians wanting to spread the Gospel to the neighborhood, and so for some reason they buy a blimp to spread the Word. They upset the whole town by leaflet-bombing Gospel tracts on freshly raked lawns. This is supposed to be a satire on how we will do anything to "reach our neighbors for Christ" except actually get to know them so we can then love them.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Plowing in Hope

This book helped me articulate part of what makes up good preaching, which is odd since preaching was not in view. Here's a quick summary of the book and then I'll come back to the insight on preaching.

The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a glorious city. We have a divine calling to transform the Earth from its initial natural state to a beautiful network of gardens and cities. As we bring out the latent beauty of creation we glorify the Creator. Importantly, we can expect our best works to follow us into the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev 14:13)! There is a real continuity between this world and the next, between the works done now to the glory of God and the surroundings we will enjoy in our eternal home.

Now for the idea about preaching. Redemption and Dominion go hand-in-hand; neither should be neglected. If redemption is neglected then we're no better than secular humanists, forgetting Christ and Him crucified. And if the dominion mandate is neglected then we fail to know what we are redeemed unto. We will forget that we've been graciously restored so that we can carry out the original culturative calling (Gen 1:28).

The book's author also has a blog.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Baby Watch

The birthmother in Alabama that we are matched with was due Sunday, 7 August. As of today she's not in labor. But I think Kristin might be. There are more butterflys flitting around inside of her than in all of Callaway Gardens.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

When Did God Become So Apathetic?

Orthodoxy used to be so much clearer. No Israelite doubted whether there was a Sabbath to keep. Nobody questioned whether children should receive the covenant sign and the covenant meal. It was simpler back when God would smite those who messed up the liturgy with a little "strange fire". That's a sure way to clear up any doctrinal controversy.

But I guess God doesn't care so much anymore. I don't see Him smiting anybody for strange worship, and there's plenty of that around, so it must not be a big deal. There was a time when He would kill a child for not having the covenant sign (remember Moses' boy?), but most Christians these days don't have Zipporahs to make things right, and nothing happens to their kids. Are we supposed to still keep the Sabbath? Who says you have to dress up for worship? Does God really expect us to figure out what the Old Testament says about these things? Come on, if it was really so important to Him wouldn't He spell it out for us in the New?

I'll dislodge the tongue from my cheek now and only say that where sin increases, grace in Christ abounds all the more.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fatherly Benedictions

Here are a couple of verses that have stood out to me from this week's family readings.

A bed-time blessing for the wise child: "If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." (Proverbs 3:24)

Next, something that every godly man longs for: "In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth." (Psalms 45:16)
Two Men and a Truck

A pastor we knew in Ohio believed that to be happy in a church you've got to serve. If you don't then you'll never feel like part of the body. Scripture backs him up; consider how forthright the command of Romans 12:13 is, "Contribute to the needs of the saints."

So I've been praying about how to serve in our new church. But when the pastor announced last Sunday that help is needed on Saturday to move someone from Santa Fe to here, I wrote this request off as not really applying to me. It's strange how easy that is to do.

Then on Tuesday night, out of the blue, Kristin says I should help out. I'll take that as a graciously-stubborn answer to my prayer.

My pastor and I are going to pick up the U-haul and ride together to Santa Fe and back--I look forward to getting to know him better.