Thursday, February 12, 2009

Helping Octo-Mom: A Test Case for Wise Mercy in Action

(Click title for story referred to in this post) Depending on your perspective, this church has done the dumbest thing in the world or done the only possibly right thing in the world in offering childcare for the 14 kids of Nadya Suleman.

Right off the bat this church has modeled a great principle of mercy ministry: Regardless of how you got to where you are, we are to love you in tangible ways that cost us. But this is where wisdom and mercy have to be wedded together. By giving an "in-kind" donation to Ms. Suleman the church has wisely navigated around a possible sucking vortex: mom has some real problems with finances, priorities, entitlement thinking, over-dependence, out of touch thinking. By giving to a tangible need rather than giving dollars to what might seem by some estimates to be a $2.5 million sinkhole, they have me one need without feeding possible idolatries and addictions.

This is the second principle of mercy we see at work: Some help is actually worse than no help at all. (Don't get me started on the President's stimulus package.) The Law of love in both Testaments requires us to see to it that there is food and clothing given to those whose needs come to our attention. Flat screeens, crack, alcohol, and vacations are not needs contrary to our culture of decadant spending and "everybody is an addict" approach to those who struggle. Giving cash will sometimes fuel the ongoing addiction to this spending and self-medicating.

Recently we have faced needs in our church around Christmas time. The mercy ministry provided grocery cards and avoided making sure there was "something under the tree." The celebration of Christmas as our culture celebrates is a huge exercise in missing the point. The Church can give at Christmas in the spirit of Saint Nicholas (the original being a pastor/bishop) and Christ without tempting people to go with the flow of our spendthrift culture during the "holidays."

One interesting thing that comes out in the article is that Ms. Suleman said she had attended this church in the past and that the older kids enjoyed going. A cynic would say that she is trying to look like she is not just on the handout trail and wants to do what is healthy and right for her kids in the spiritual arena. One thing that our deacons and elders have decided to do in light of the "drive by" calls for aid is to request that people attend worship with us and we can talk with them afterward. We are the Body of Christ and we do extend arms and hands of mercy. We also want people to understand that we are more than an agency. We are the agency of Christ which says (1 Cor. 5): be reconciled to God. God has made us firstfuits of a new creation so that we could be ambassadors to those who are trapped by all the entropic forces of the old creation: greed, lust, idolatry, self-sufficiency, rebellion. When they come to church they hear us confess together in various forms "and such were some of us". (1 Cor. 6.11) They hear our story (we are the redeemed covenant people of God), they get to hear the New Creation story of Christ making all things new (which is in every single book of the Bible if you look at it through the lens of Christ), and then we can hear their story of how Christ needs to make them new (all the gritty details of who, when, how much, etc)

Stories of great need and opportunity like this one will be more and more prevalent as we see our culture cut from the moorings of covenant marriage for life and live on what you make We have great opportunities to touch broken people. We have tough challenges to sift through with all the resources of Biblical wisdom and gifted tenderhearted members of the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Boys 2 Men

The faith exhibited by wise parents of boys is the faith of a farmer, or a sculptor, or anyone else engaged in the work of shaping unfolding possibilities. It is not the faith of someone waiting around for lightning to strike; it is the faith of someone who looks at the present and sees what it will become - through grace and good works.

Doug Wilson, Future Men, p. 9-10

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Without God

Atheists won't let Evangelicals have all the evangelism fun. The image above is from a bus campaign, mirroring a successful campaign run in the UK and Canada for Alpha, a course examining the Gospel as the reason for meaning in life.

While I was filing today (one of my new year's resolutions) I was watching a lecture by Steven Weinberg, 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics; Professor of Physics & Astronomy, University of Texas
2007 Trotter Lectures at Texas A & M University. Here's the synopsis from iTunes:

The advance of science has contributed to a widespread loss of belief in the existence of a Supreme Being. Dr. Weinberg says those who have lost or are losing this belief then face the problem: How is one to live without God?
The gist of the bus campaign and his talk was: religious people have selfish reasons for being good (we want to go to heaven when we die.) Atheists and scientists have good, altruistic reasons for being good - we like people, because people are all there is and all there ever will be (or a vastly improved version of the good people we are today). We don't have any ulterior motives.

Here is his concluding statement to that effect:

I don't claim that those of us who don't believe in life after death can look forward to the future with the same unanimity as those who have convinced themselves that there is life after death. But there is one other consolation I can offer that gains strength from the weakness of everything else that I have said; and that is, that living without God, we can at least enjoy the knowledge that we haven't chosen our beliefs for their comfort, but we've chosen them in the way most admirable, on the basis of our reason and our experience without wishful thinking.

It seems that Prof. Weinberg's whole argument relies upon wishful thinking. He himself has sacred texts, incontrovertible dictums of authorities, and is motivated by a desire for the facts of God, judgement, and moral accountability to be proved untrue.

This fact of agnostic and atheistic faith is something that Tim Keller handles well in his book The Reason for God. Every human is driven by a religious impulse that causes us to be heavily invested in the truths that we hold to be true, even if we don't name them "beliefs". Keller calls all of us "believers" to speak with truthfulness and charity regarding the things we and others believe, and we can best do this by dealing with these truths as belonging to the realm of belief.

Another great resource in examining the issue of rationality of belief for secular and religious people is Longing to Know by Esther Lightcap Meek.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Do Hard Things

I've been lazy most of my life. (I was born early but that probably wasn't because of my assertiveness.)

I want to have a godly work ethic and a godly relationship ethic. Both fronts are a tremendous battle for me.

In the teaching and preaching department I have Isaiah and Leviticus on the go. I'm more crazy than gutsy so don't give me too much credit.

I ran across something that I'd like to do with a band of brothers in my church that want to step up and grow and be holy and intellectually rigorous and godly and winsome all at the same time. To that end is this reading plan for reading Calvin's Institutes in a year. I read it in Seminary for a class, but you know how that goes. Here's the link. Let me know how it goes:

Here's to a godly, gutsy, glorious 2009, by the grace of God.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christ, Christmas, The Creed, Calvin

My sermon preparation has gotten more enjoyable since I now use Accordance, the premier scholarly bible tool for the Mac. At my fingertips are Hebrew, Greek, John Calvin ($30 upgrade from the base edition), Matthew Henry, NET notes, ESV cross references (free bible unlock with Scholar 8 option).

Here's something neat I found this morning as I studied my passage for Christmas Sunday (just trucking along chapter by chapter in Isaiah. It was next but as usual fits perfectly.)

Is. 33:24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.

Calvin comments on this verse:

"It is also worthy of observation, that none but the citizens of the Church enjoy this privilege; for, apart from the body of Christ and the fellowship of the godly, there can be no hope of reconciliation with God. Hence, in the Creed we profess to believe in “The Catholic Church and the forgiveness of sins;” for God does not include among the objects of his love any but those whom he reckons among [he members of his only begotten Son, and, in like Immanuel’, does not extend to any who do not belong to his body the free imputation of righteousness. Hence it follows, that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation."

Thus, we see that the blessing of being gathered to Christ's people is not to be taken lightly, and should not be shunned as is common among people who struggle to see Church membership in the Scriptures, since they believe the Invisible Church is the only church that matters.

In this Christmas season as we celebrate the advent of Christ, may we join together as the people to whom was promised Jesus, whose name means "He will save his people from their sins."