Sunday, March 18, 2007

On Adoption - I stand corrected

A few months ago, I posted an article about the need to adopt kids from the foster care system here in the United States. In that article, I under estimated the need to make adoption from certain overseas countries a priority as well. My basic approach was simple, "Why spend thousands of dollars to adopt overseas, when the United States will pay you to adopt kids from the foster care system right here in the United States?"

The naivete of my approach was revealed to me this morning in a brief conversation with two dear members of our church. Several years ago, they adopted "Masha" (now Marsha) from an orphanage in Russia. Masha, who was sixteen months old at the time, was severely under-nourished, was failing to thrive, and, according to the physician that saw her after her adoption, probably would not have survived past her fifth birthday had she stayed in the orphanage from which she was adopted. Basic needs of the children were just not being met in this particular orphanage (and there are thousands just like it around the world). Marsha's adopted parents literally saved her life by taking her home with them, because at sixteen months it was growing increasingly unlikely that anyone else would have adopted her.

So how has this conversation affected my view of adoption? Well I am just as passionate as ever about adopting through the foster care system. I am also in the very early planning stages of a camp for foster care kids in the southern Indiana area for 2008. At the same time, my eyes have been open to the need for American families, who are financially able, to adopt children from overseas. The couple I spoke with, prayed about this decision a great deal and were convinced the Lord had led them to adopt from Russia. After the conversation I had with them this morning, I am convinced they were as well. Christians should adopt. From overseas if called to do so; from right here in America if not. We need to open our homes to those without parents. That is true religion.

What should the American church do?
1) Encourage the members of their local churches to adopt from here in the US and from overseas. We should also become involved in the foster care system.
2) Put pressure on foreign governments to make sure that better care is taken care of their orphans. This can happen as we write letters to our congressional leaders and encourage the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to step up the pressure as well.

Once more, will you pray with me about adopting in 2008?


Monday, February 19, 2007

Lent in a Baptist Church?

When I first announced that we would be observing Lent at CrossRoad Church it created quite a stir amongst several members and frequent attenders. One well-meaning, but hopelessly sarcastic, friend even asked me if we were giving up being Baptist for Lent! For others it was no joking matter. There was concern on their part that we were doing something that identified us with the Roman Catholic Church and that was unhealthy. Today, as we prepare to kick off our observance of Lent, I thought I would make an effort to quell some of our members' fears and encourage all of you to use this time to seek a closer relationship with God as we prepare for Easter.

Isn't Lent a Roman Catholic thing?
The answer to this question is Yes and No. Yes, Roman Catholics observe Lent, but so do Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Just because the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) observes Lent, however, does not mean that we are somehow sacrificing the gospel or identifying with the RCC with our observance. Lent, as a church observance, actually preceded the formation of the RCC by at least 200 years. The early Christian theologian Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the disciple John), wrote of the early church's observance of Lent in the mid-second century. At that time Lent did not last forty days, but it was a pre-Easter time of preparation and focus for the church.
Granted, Baptists have not traditionally observed Lent (this reality is owed to our free church tradition and general eschewal of all things liturgical), but that does not mean that we should not or cannot take an extended period of time to prepare for our Easter celebrations.

The Who, What, When, and Where of Lent
When Lent first began to be observed in the church, it was common practice to baptize new Christians once a year. The baptisms took place on Easter. All new Christians were discipled (catechized) from the time they trusted in Christ until Easter when they were Baptized. The early churches, in an effort to help these young Christians grasp the significance of both their baptism and Easter celebrations, required them to fast for forty hours prior to their baptism. The fast was then broken after their baptism when the church celebrated its Easter feast. Gradually the entire church began to observe Lent as a way to prepare for their church's Easter celebrations. The length of time gradually was extended from forty hours to forty days. The number forty was intended to remind the Christian of the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness and the forty days Jesus spent fasting alone in the desert prior to the public launch of his ministry that would carry him to the cross. The Israelites wandered because of their disobedience; Jesus purposely sought out the desert to fast and pray in preparation for his ministry, a ministry that would ultimately reconcile us to God the Father. The observance of Lent has remained forty days since that time.

But Why Lent?
Just because we have answered the question of the origins of Lent does not necessarily mean that we should observe it. We first need to answer the question of why. There are two reasons why I desire for CrossRoad Church to observe Lent. The primary reason has to do with the original intent of the observance. The early church asked new Christians to observe Lent to impress upon them the significance of their redemption and the celebration of Easter. Eventually it became important enough that all Christians were asked to observe it. I want the members of CrossRoad Church to use the next few weeks as a time to accomplish the same objective in their lives. That is why we have chosen the specific Bible studies and sermon emphases we will be following in the next few weeks.
The second reason why I desire for CrossRoad Church to observe Lent is because I want our folks to grasp the fact that we stand in continuity with early church and all those that have been redeemed by Christ in the past 2,000 years. The church did not start the day we were redeemed, it started the day of Pentecost. I want our church to develop a sense of their spiritual heritage.

If you have questions or comments I would love to hear them. Tomorrow I will unpack how we plan to observe Lent as a church.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Reflections (Humility)

This week I have been spending a portion of my devotional time re-reading C.J. Mahaney's Humility: True Greatness. In one chapter he provided a great quote that we should all commit to memory. I forwarded it to the men that I am currently mentoring earlier this week. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all Christians need to think through the issue of biblical humility.

The quote:
“In every step of our Christian growth and maturity, and throughout every aspect of our Christian obedience and service, our greatest foe is pride and our greatest ally is humility.”
John Stott

Monday, February 12, 2007

On What do We have to Agree in Order to Cooperate?

"Can't we just all get along?" It is a great question to ask. The proper answer requires a rather Clintonesque desire for clarification. What do you mean by "get along?" That is, in what situation are you asking the question?

If, by "get along," you mean "ignore asking or answering difficult questions and sacrifice truth on the altar of unity," the answer is no. We will eventually lose the gospel. A casual look at the mainline denominations in the United States and Europe is a tragic example of what happens when churches lose the gospel. Rodney King Christianity does not work.

If, by "get along," you mean "agree to disagree on issues; have open, honest dialogue; and engage in debate without disparaging or questioning the motives of those with whom you disagree," then the answer should be yes, we can "get along." In fact anything else would not demonstrate a Christ like spirit and would bring shame and reproach upon the church of Christ.

If, by "get along," you mean "cooperate in ministry," then we have to step back and examine the type of cooperation desired and how close the relationship would be. The closer the relationship, the more we must be in agreement in order to cooperate. How can two walk together unless they are in agreement (Amos 3.3)?

The challenge is deciding on which areas we must agree in order to cooperate. Do we have to agree on which translation of the Bible is the best before we can cooperate with other churches to send missionaries over seas? Not really. Do we have to agree on what constitutes a New Testament church before we partner with others to send church planters overseas? Yes, at some level we must agree.

There are different levels of cooperation between Christians and each level requires a different level of theological agreement in order for genuine cooperation to take place. Al Mohler has coined the phrase theological triage to describe the process by which we examine these issues. Triage, is the practice physicians and medics employ in emergency medical situations to decide the order in which to treat patients. For example, if you and I show up at the emergency room at the same time with injuries, our injuries will be assessed by significance and immediate danger. If I have a broken ankle and you have severe chest pains, you will be seen first because a potential heart attack is much more important than a broken ankle, no matter how painful it may be.

If we apply the process of triage to theological issues (using Mohler's principles), we arrive at at least three levels classification:

First order theological issues, are those things which define us as Christians. They include at a minimum, the fundamentals of the faith (as classically defined): 1) Inspiration of Scripture, 2) Virgin birth of Christ, 3) Christ's death as a substitutionary atonement, 4) bodily resurrection of Christ, 5) the historical reality of Christ's miracles. These issues are foundational ('fundamental') to the Christian faith. To abandon one of these issues would eventually lead to an abandonment of the faith altogether. To these issues we might also add the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. Agreement on first order issues allows cooperation, but only on a limited basis. For example, as Baptists, we can stand with Methodists and Presbyterians who also affirm these issues in an effort to defend the gospel, impact the direction of our government (pro-life and pro-family causes), and do social ministry. We cannot, however belong to the same denomination because we have radically different understandings of church government and authority outside of the local church. Baptists see no hierarchical authority outside of the local church, Presbyterians and Methodists do. This disagreement would cause significant issues as we embarked on ministry endeavors that required more cooperation.

Second order theological issues, are those which often identify us as a denomination. These issues are often clarified by a particular denomination's statement of faith. For most Southern Baptists, our confession of faith is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Included in these statements are first and second order theological issues that would prevent cooperation on a denominational level if significant agreement did not exist. The issues discussed at this level include church government, the nature of baptism, salvation, etc. and are addressed in generic terms that generically at this level. These issues have to be clarified

Third order issues are those which would not prevent denominational cooperation but would make it difficult to belong to the same church. These issues can be both practical and theological. Style of worship, the doctrines of grace, convictions about home schooling, roles of deacons, application of specific principles of church government, and questions about whether or not women can teach men in any environment are all examples of issues that may be considered third order issues.

Can you think of an issue I have not addressed? Pose the issue and let's discuss it. This is a hot topic in SBC life at present. The members of CrossRoad Church should be able to discuss it in an informed manner since we are a cooperating church of the SBC.

As always, if you prefer not to post a question (or cannot figure our how) you can email me:

Yours in Christ,

Friday, February 09, 2007

Adoption: A Biblical Perspective

Marcie and I have made no secret of our desire to adopt several children once I complete my studies at Southern Seminary. While we have two wonderful children that have been an absolute blessing from the Lord, it has always been our desire to have many more children. My prayer has actually been that we never have an "empty nest." When asked why we would adopt, I have always replied that it is a very biblical concept. After all, we as Christians have been adopted into God's family and are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. This morning I was forwarded a wonderful article that communicates the same perspective. I hope you enjoy reading it.

While I promote and encourage the concept of adoption frequently (and it is a topic you will hear much more of in the future), I have not been outspoken enough in my desire to see American children adopted. I praise the Lord for families like the Moores and Stinsons that have stepped out in faith and gone to great lengths to adopt children from foreign countries. It is a practice which I would like to see replicated more often in our churches (one of my very good friends recently adopted from China). At the same time, I want to encourage the American church to consider adopting children that are currently in the American foster care system. Do you realize that there is a tremendous shortage of American families willing to adopt in this country? We currently have families from other countries coming here to adopt African-American children because nobody here will. What a travesty!

While I am not yet familiar with Indiana's specific nuances with regard to adoption procedures, I do know that in other states (for example, Florida), that if you adopt a child that has been in the foster program, you not only get to avoid the exorbitant fees associated with other forms of adoption, but you also get help maintaining that child's insurance, etc. In Florida, if you adopt a child from the foster care system, the state will actually pay for them to go to college!
Granted, there are a number of different issues raised by adopting through the foster care system rather than adopting an infant internationally or from the United States. Potential behavioral problems are but one significant issue with which Marcie and I will probably be faced (which is why we are waiting until after I finish my Ph.D. in December to adopt). The church, however, has a golden opportunity to impact the US in a significant manner by reaching out to these children that have been abandoned by their parents. I hope that you will begin to pray with me about adopting in 2008. Adoption is just another example of how we can share the love of Christ in a tangible way. It is also a great way to grow our children's ministry!


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Actions Make the Words We Speak Louder

It was no secret to many of you that I was pulling for the Chicago Bears to win this year's Super Bowl. In spite of my second favorite team's crushing loss at the hands of the Colts, I still managed to cheer for Tony Dungy. Dungy, the head coach of the Colts is one of the classiest guys in the NFL. When he got up to receive the Vince Lombardi trophy and thanked God for his opportunity to be there, I knew that this was a man that who wasn't just taking the en vogue route of giving a "shout out to God." This was a Christian with deep convictions that realized that all belongs to the Lord. I knew this to be the case because I have silently observed Dungy's actions since his time as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has always lived his life in a manner consistent with his publicly spoken faith in Jesus Christ.
Apparently I am not the only one who has been paying attention. I came across this article Wednesday morning while reading the Orlando Sentinel. The sports writer does a better job than I can of demonstrating two truths. First, actions do speak louder than words. Second, when we live consistent lives that bring glory to God, our actions make our words LOUDER.

Enjoy the article and then stop back buy and tell me what you think.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday Reflections (Romans 15)

I meditated on Romans 15 this morning as part of my devotional time. It is truly a passage with which all Christians should remain familiar. Paul wrote...
15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is rare that I have an "emotional" experience when I reflect on Scripture (I am just not wired that way), but I have to say that this morning was an epiphany of sorts. Paul, as he discusses the Christian's life in light of the gospel (chapters 1-11 of Romans), ties unity in the church to the "strong" Christian's ability to bear the failings of the weak. Why was the impression of this passage's emphasis such a sobering moment for me this morning? Because I experience frustration on a daily basis in my service of the church (as does almost everyone). Too often I go through life just viewing this frustration as a "cross" that I must bear. In other words, I notice all of the failures of those around me and assume one of my ministries to the church is just to "put up" with them for the sake of the kingdom.
Then I prayed through this morning's passage and was reminded of all of my failures as a husband, father, and pastor. Failures which others in my life are forced to bear. That is when God used this passage to humble me and reveal the significance of verses 5-6. For every "failure" or "weakness" of someone else that I bear, the chances are that someone else is bearing just as many of my "failures" and "weaknesses." I have no reason to view my self as some kind of super servant. Every strength I have is balanced by a weakness, a failure. A contributing factor to unity in the church is the ability of the strong to bear the failings of the weak. Who is strong? I am. You are. Who is weak? I am. You are. We move toward the unity that enables us to speak with one mouth and heart for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ when we learn to bear each others weaknesses and failures. Paul said we don't do this to please ourselves, but to build one another up. That glorifies God.
I said all of that to say this: thank you for bearing my failures. I pray that God will continue to give me opportunities to build you up in the Lord. Planting a church is hard work. It is work that exposes our many shortcomings. Let's embrace the concept of Romans 15 as we attempt great things for God in 2007.
Yours in Christ,
By the way, I will save "The insults of those that insult you fallen on me [Christ]" for another post. Its implications are just as significant.