Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Trimming the Christmas Cactus

Rarely do we suffer the 3 hour plane ride to Phoenix from St. Louis, hometown to both hubby and myself. But family obligations require it, and so we schlep our kids luggage to the airport and go through the rigmarole to get us from here to there, little ones in tow.

When I'm home, I want to move home. I ask myself why I feel that way. The answer is pretty obvious: Phoenix is a consumer's paradise! And a darn convenient place to live, if you can afford it (we can't). After two years not visiting, I am amazed at the sheer growth of homes, skyrocketing housing prices, and shopping venues to suit every need and taste, all nearly a stone's throw away from anywhere you should stand in the Valley of the Sun. Sigh, I didn't know comfortable my life was until I moved away. :)

So what? I want to move home to be one of the millions of consumers of these bountiful commercial goods and services? I am so tempted. However, the yellow lights of caution tell me that a consumer's lifestyle is what has always contributed to the resistance to a Christianized culture here. Left and right, everywhere you go, evangelical churches are being built to house thousands of attenders. The signs of faith are everywhere, yet nowhere. Phoenix has always been, and remains, a culturally secular place (a far cry from St. Louis, where everyone and their brother is Roman Catholic).

I miss Phoenix, yet having been away for seven+ years, I barely recognize it. My heart goes out to this city, a beautiful, thriving, and woefully distracted city where Christmas is a commercial holiday more than an observance of Christ.

As you reflect on your hometown culture, please remember mine in prayers as well as your own. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Live with Darrin Patrick

That's pronounced LYV, not LIV (I love having Darrin for a pastor, but nooo thanks).

Tomorrow on Shapevine, there will be a live interview with Darrin on videocast at 2:30pm CST. Check it out!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Saga Continues...

and is only getting worse. Today, the blogging SBCland is again on fire about the unfurling of Monday's MO Southern Baptist Executive Board decision to give the Acts 29 Network the cold shoulder. Add in the media, and this thing is getting out of control.

Don Hinkle, as first respondent defending the EB vote, says

If a church wants to cooperate with Acts 29 in a church plant, go ahead, it
will just be without Cooperative Program dollars...Why? Because Missouri
Southern Baptist churches did not give their Cooperative Program gifts to fund
the church plants of another organization. Nor did they give to plant churches
who pledge to do one thing, then do another, often putting the church plant and
convention at doctrinal odds — and without accountability, something Acts 29
seems to be lacking.

The Empire Strikes Back. As a lifelong SB, I was always taught that no another authority exists besides Christ, the Bible, and our democratic votes in church. In fact, Baptists have frowned on by proxy decisions via small elites that seem to act too independently and without accountability. So why does Hinkle state just before this quote that the EB is the highest authority in MO SBCland after the Bible? (whoa!)

Is this only about alcohol? The Baptist Press today added its own article, interviewing David Tolliver:

Tolliver said the convention will have no working relationship with churches
"participating with alcohol," which specifically means that Cooperative Program
funds will not be used for "sinful outreach ministries."

Ouch. Sinful? But if alcohol were the only problem, then why not exempt only those churches who do not have abstention clauses in their statements of faith? I suspect that more than the alcohol issue is in play here; only my opinion: misunderstanding, ignorance, and just plain prejudice seem to be at the root of a hasty and ill-informed decision by the MBCEB against funding any A29 churches for being Emerging, which even Tolliver admits is not necessarily a cause for pulling away.

No one seems to be able to define the emerging church. If you cannot define it,
it’s hard to see how you can be for or against it.” (quoted from Mark DeVine's
Southern Baptists, Missouri Baptists, and the Emerging Church)

It certainly looks as though 28 people on the EB were determined to vote their way no matter what the facts say about A29 in particular.

Furthermore, the timing of this decision makes the hostile nature of the EB more prominent. No funding starting January 1, 2008? In two weeks? Pastors who have already established their budgets (both church and personal) with money promised to them from the MBC will never receive the financial help they were expecting. Not only has the MBC voted no-partnership, they have reneged on its own agreement to help pastors and their families in MO.

Add to that one more insult to injury: By Tolliver--
"We will continue to work with Acts 29 churches who choose to also be Missouri
Baptist Convention churches," Tolliver said. "The Executive Board decision
simply precludes us from funding those churches or church plants."

So, churches who are Acts 29 affiliated can still affiliate with MBC, but the money only flows one direction, which means buy your MBC affiliation with Cooperative Program donations, but don't expect anything back if you need it. What a deal.

Fortunately, the St. Louis Metro Association has started a fund to help the churches directly impacted by this recent decision. Please send contributions to

"Show Me Church Planting Fund"
St. Louis Metro Baptist. Assoc.
attn. Darren Casper
3859 Fee Fee Road
Bridgeton, Mo. 63044

I'm ending this post with two timely quotes I think pertain highly to this situation:

The MBC says nothing about MBC Churches that participate in Christian
Family Day at Busch Stadium, the Beer Temple of MO. (comment by Jim Shaver
following Don Hinckle's blog post)

Default capitulation to whoever is strictest or boasts the longest list of
litmus test issues where Christian fellowship is concerned is not only
unloving, but also unbiblical and unspiritual. Not every purity postured
willingness to divide the Body of Christ winsthe favor of our Lord! (Mark DeVine)


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Missouri SBC Bites Hands That Feed It

I can't stop shaking my head at this new development. Bloggers in Southern Baptistland have been all over this story since Tuesday, and it is indeed a sad reminder that all is not well with some of our Christian denominational leaders. Scott Lamb, who works at MO Pathways, writes:

Members of the Executive Board presented and passed a motion during the
miscellaneous business session that sets down a “no-partnership with Acts 29″
rule for MBC church plants. I have not received the exact wording of the motion
yet, but it is a confirmed piece of news from an EC board member.

Don’t misunderstand, this does not mean that churches cannot be in
partnership with Acts 29, just that if they are so aligned then they will not be
able to receive MBC church planting funds. Never mind the fact that Acts 29
church plants in Missouri are thriving.

As part of the church (The Journey) and ministry (Midrash) that apparently tipped off this hostile bridge-burning, let me give readers an insider's look at what all the fuss is about. Midrash began as a movie night about four years ago as a way of encouraging thoughtful discussion about cultural issue touched on in particular movies. Features included films such as Gattaca, Bruce Almighty, and Million Dollar Baby.

Midrash added coffeehouse/bookstore discussion groups about viewpoint issues, such as the Terri Schiavo case, poverty, and the procreative mandate in marriage. The point of these discussions was to create an inviting atmosphere and gather Christians and non-Christians together and raise the level of thought and reflection on what these issues ultimately have to do with a Biblical worldview.

This gave rise to Theology at the Bottleworks (TATB), which would tackle bigger topics and should include more participants. The aim was a casual environment that encouraged the average non-churchgoer to attend. The local Schlafly Bottleworks (a brewpub) provided us with an accomodating space and food service that added incentive for people to come. Yes, that includes alcohol--afterall, it is a bar. Here is where the you hear the record needle scratch and stop.

Now, why my title is what it is: The Journey is A29 planted but also technically an SBC church, which means it donates money to the Cooperative Program, which funds the MBC. The Journey helps pay the salaries of the Executive Board that has just excommunicated it. I am most dismayed that MBC has decided to turn its back on fruitful ministry with all of Acts 29 over our TATB. Unless I miss my guess, this decision affects three other standing churches that share similar A29/SBC affiliation in the Metro area and a handful more in the process of gathering resources to plant all over the state.

Other bloggers have raised a relevant followup question: who's next? If they repudiate A29 over alcohol, is Reformed Theology next on the chopping block? Will other state conventions follow MO's example and give A29 the cold shoulder too? Will this literal brewhaha spill over into the national convention and result in a resolution vote there as well and possibly affect A29 plants everywhere?

I once had high hopes for much cooperation between the SBC and A29. I can only pray that this turns out to be a minor issue in the months/years to come.

Read Scott Thomas' response to the MBC decision. Thomas is director of the Acts 29 Network.

Thanks to Timmy Brister's blog for bringing this to my attention.

2007: The Year of the Unfriendly Atheist

In the late 1970's, philosopher William Rowe termed himself a "friendly atheist" after assessing the Christian theist position as rational, even though he believes that God does not, in fact, exist. Former atheist Antony Flew, although not a Christian, has become a theist after his assessment of arguments for the existence of God as well. From the mid-1990s through today, Christian philosophers have been making great strides in all areas of philosophy and have gained much respect for their academic prowess.

But just when Christian/theist philosophers seemed to have finally gained a measure of respect from their atheist philosopher counterparts, 2007 has seen a retroaction in attitude toward all things God. Correction--all things Christian. This year, more than any in our decade so far, has seen the prominence of the unfriendly atheist. I refer to this year's popularized books, including Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and Sam Harris' Letters To a Christian Nation. Add in the just-released movie The Golden Compass, based on one novel in a trilogy by Phillip Pullman intended to "kill God," atheists have been quite active in 2007 making their case that all Christians are idiots for believing in God.

But what are they saying? I admit, I haven't had time to read the books from cover to cover (but I'll get there eventually), so the reviews and/or exerpts from will have to do. Here's the breakdown:

Richard Dawkins - the core of his argument (found in Chapter 3) goes something like God isn't necessary to explain the existence of the universe; the existence of the universe can be explained without the need for a God; therefore, God does not exist. (The God Delusion)

For further detailed analysis of Dawkins' book, please read Alvin Plantinga's rebuttal at

Sam Harris - kind, virtuous, and patriotic is one who does NOT earnestly believe in God and the Christian faith. His intro states “Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.”

So begins Letter to a Christian Nation…"

Christopher Hitchens - Despite my take that his disbelief is rooted in silly Christians saying silly things to him as a child, he contends that "There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ulimately grounded on wish-thinking." (God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p. 4)

In the end, their arguments are the same tired rantings of bitter aging men who act as though they've been deprived of something over which the Christian church needs dismantling. I've heard many such complaints in my short life, so nothing they've said comes as much surprise. My best guess is that they are still pouting over having been subject to "dangerous sexual repression" in being told to wait until marriage to have sex, or something similarly as grievous. Oh, the humanity. This is the commmon thread among our above authors: it's not the academic arguments on the existence of God, the teachings of Jesus about himself, nor the historical evidence supporting Jesus' resurrection that they spend the most time railing against. Their incessant jabs at the Christian faith center by far on the behavior and attitudes of Christians they have experienced. How interesting...and concerning at the same time.

On one level, I look at their collective attacks on the Christian faith and think, "how obnoxious! If I'm not allowed to be unPC and insult the faith of others, why should these snobs get away with publishing their offensive whining?" On another level, I'm reminded how much our words and deeds as Christians can have enormous impact on even school-aged children (as in Hitchens' case). As Michael Newdow marches his way to the U.S. Supreme Court again trying to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, Christians should keep in mind that we walk a fine, perilous road that demands a higher standard of behavior and conduct. We have to be the best of everything: integrity, kindness, intelligence and wit. It is unfair, but what about the Atonement is fair?

Atheists have banked atheism on sneering Christianity to death (really, is that all they have?). They should be met with the deflating of all their stereotypes of Christians by Christians. Three of my favorite Christians who do this well are Francis Beckwith, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig. In my opinion, every believer should become familiar with their books and papers and learn how to effectively think about the Christian/atheist/agnostic debate.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chinese Take-Out -3-

2. Pastors and leaders need to lead with stronger examples in their own lives.

The office of pastor is a bear, and those who pursue it are brave, brave men. I have great respect for pastors who are trying to fulfill God's calling to lead and juggle church, family, and larger Christian committments. Brave pastors have congregations who will imitate them, don't they?

a. Remind us you're human. Congregations can easily relegate the pastor to some category where they exist as pure pastor (whatever that is), disembodied from normal life and experiences, as some kind of church hunchback, emerging to preach in Christianese on Sundays and have no real needs outside those of the church's. Bah. I appreciate it when Darrin uses examples in his own life to talk about real life and struggles and humbling experiences. Tell us
your opinions and when you repent of those opinions, if needed. All of this can be quite freeing and humorous at the same time.

Live a real life. You still have one, don't you? So tell us about it. I can't dictate parameters for any individual, but I know that churchgoers need to know that you are still attached to reality and that you know how to talk to non-Christians about matters of faith without sounding weird. We need to know that so we can do the same.

b. Find accountability in good, trustworthy people. No one likes it on any level (myself included--I avoid accountability whenever I can). For so many reasons, pastors cannot be alone in their duties. They need someone(s) on their side to both an objective voice and admonishment when necessary. In my own life, I've seen several pastors who have not had accountability, and the results are dismal for anyone in contact with these men.

c. Do something outside the church, and bring others with you. I love it when pastors attend conferences, connect with people from other places, gain outside perspectives on Christ's church, and reflect on what it all means to their own local churches. I really love it when they tell the congregation all about it. Pastors are the church's eyes and ears to Christendom, and we need badly to know where we stand.

Maybe people are nosey, and maybe they just want to be more involved. Pastors are in the unique position of showing people the right doors to open to work their spiritual gifts and abilities. Many churchgoers lack spiritual direction and want someone to point them in the right way. someone once told me that leaders should always be looking and preparing their replacements.

d. Show us what shepherding really looks like. Until I attended the Journey, I honestly didn't know anything about what pastoral care was, because it was by and large absent throughout my life. One evening, my husband and I met one of our pastors to talk about ministry stuff, and in the car we had a typical married argument. As we walked inside, there was no real hiding it, although I tried. After obligatory "how are yous," our pastor picked up on it and I admitted we had a fight. I expected him to brush it off as one of those things married people do, but instead he helped us deal with a relationship issue that was a source of disagreement between us. That's just one example. I have others.

e. Give us a passion. This is probably the most important point. A Christian's passion should be to see the world saved. Unfortunately, this passion is rarely ever realized in the life of the church. I'd love to see a pastor in the Asian community exhibit this passion and fervently seek to impart it to others, like it's job #1 (it is, isn't it?). This might require a lot of one-on-one dialoguing as well as preaching in sermons. This is one point that needs constant attention, so I hope pastors don't get tired of reminding people all the time. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Making Feminists Cringe. Oh Well. -6-

Sudan's President Pardons Gillian Gibbons

Read this story at

To go along with this, feminist and former N.O.W. chapter president, Tammy Bruce, recently went on Fox News to give her take on N.O.W.'s silence over Ms. Gibbons' case. She says that N.O.W. should have come to Ms. Gibbon's defense as an obvious no-brainer. What prevented them from making any statement is their current left-leaning politics and their shared disdain for the Bush administration with other leftist groups. So strong is their committment to the left that they are willing to "throw women under the bus" for the sake of maintaining liberal politics.

Read more in her online article.

In this case, Ms. Gibbons was falsely accused of insulting Islam. Rather than rallying behind her and demanding her release from a Muslim government, they turned a blind eye because, apparently, being negative toward a Islamic government that jails and beats women for no good reason is politically incorrect. What if the Sudanese government were Christian instead, and some parents got upset over a teddy bear named John the Baptist, or even Jesus? I assure you, the world would hear outrage coming out of N.O.W. spokeswomen everywhere.

Some say that feminism can be redeemed to again promote the social welfare of women everywhere. That would depend on how one defines feminism. As far as the current definition goes, one of women married to liberal politics, I disagree. Feminism doesn't need redemption, but feminists do.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Religio-blogging Catches Newspaper's Eye

On Tuesday, USA Today featured a look at Christian blogging in the Life section of the paper. The article highlights blogging activity for Southern Baptists, Catholics, and Episcopalians. Overall, the article is neutral on reporting the hot topics among each denomination, though of course, the clashing in cyberspace is what gets printed. Frank Page, SBC President, is quoted twice for exclaiming "For Christ's sake, stop!" in referring to the heated disagreements over SBC matters.

Page fretted in a Baptist Press column that battling bloggers frighten off
"lost souls and new believers." He wrote, "Lost people are seeing the deep
division and sometimes hatred that is flowing froth among churches and among those who are involved in convention discussions. For Christ's sake, stop!"
The article similarly points out vociferous disagreement over the gay issue among Episcopalians and the larger Anglican church. It runs aground when it comes to Catholics, as it seems the author couldn't find anything more controversial than the Pope's decision about accessibility of the Catholic mass.

My curiosity is piqued. Why quote Frank Page thus? Why point out the war of words occurring in cyberspace to the largely uninterested public? I think the media is again doing what it does best when it handles the religious sector in any way, and that is to mess up the story or make one out of nothing. It seems to be playing the latter this time. Whatever.

But, a few people are getting their 15 minutes out of this. Two bloggers in each denomination have mentions as representatives of the fray. They are:

Southern Baptist
1. Ben Cole --,
2. Wes Kenney --,

1. John Zuhlsdorf
2. Rocco Palmo

1. David Virtue
2. Louie Crew