Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is the Homeowners' Association more Neighborly than Church?

In my hopefully-soon-to-be-former profession, I frequently encounter people upset about restrictive covenants.

Restrictive covenants are sets of ‘agreements’ that homeowners in a particular subdivision or neighborhood abide by as a condition of owning a home there. Most of the restrictions are fairly simple, mostly common sense, and in south Alabama consist mainly of 1) promising not to put your car on blocks in the front yard, and 2) limiting yourself to 3 chickens, 2 goats or some combination thereof but not exceeding a total of 4 non-pet livestock (I can say this – in jest – because I have, at one time or another: had a car on blocks (in the back yard), raised chickens and rabbits, and grown a row garden complete with scarecrows, all only a few blocks from downtown).

People get very exercised about restrictive covenants, whether their apoplexy manifests in bristling at being told they must put white lights on a leafless tree at Christmas, or bristling that their neighbor two streets over did not put white lights on such a tree. We spend inordinate amounts of time and emotional energy stressing about whether the homeowner’s association – charged with enforcing the restrictive covenants – may, in fact, tell one of the members that his choice of landscape plants makes his house resemble a sunflower farm, and whether it should incorporate and purchase liability insurance to protect the ones unfortunate enough to tell a neighbor that his live-in RV, parked on the back patio and hooked in to the neighborhood sewer system, must go.

By significant contrast, it is virtually impossible in most congregations of Christian churches for members to become exercised about anything. Well, almost. But the things over which most congregations get exercised don’t quite seem righteous: someone sat in the wrong pew; preacher drives the wrong make of car; moderator has an “agenda”; teacher doesn’t use the right curriculum; pool hall across the street wants a liquor license.

The Bible has its own set of “restrictive covenants” for those who are truly neighbors, not merely in the geographical sense, but in the spiritual sense; those who have covenanted with each other to live kingdom lives under mutual submission to each other and to God through Christ. These covenants don’t tell us how many pets we can have, how many cars we can drive, or what sorts of decorations are approved. They do tell us that we are part of one another: rebuke one another, exhort one another, encourage one another, reprove one another. And we are not expected to act a certain way so that our property values will remain high, but so that the witness of Christ will remain pure, the glory of God remain unblemished, so that we may “present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29).

If we were as concerned to “present ourselves approved to God” – a “living and holy sacrifice” – as we are to ensure our hedges are trimmed, sidewalks are edged, and appraisals are high, we might see dramatic changes in the proclamation of the word we claim, in the sanctification of the neighbors we love, and in the glorification of the God we serve.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Spiritual Gift of Audio/Visual Operation

In some early Bible manuscripts, the lists of spiritual gifts appearing in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12 contain a little-known and anachronistic gift: audio/visual operation. Paul's admonition to "desire the higher gifts" was a challenge to excel at running the sound system.

Each of us has probably been in a service, prayer meeting, Bible study or conference in which one technological marvel or another aided in the presentation. Perhaps the sound guy overcame a mic that was feeding back. Or maybe the website engineer created a thrilling looped video feed. Maybe the techical coordinator devised an especially inspiring PowerPoint presentation. Someone might have pointed out to the congregation how the video, sound or slide show was an excellent addition to the program, thanking the one who provided it, and thanking God for providing the church such skilled and talented people.

I certainly enjoy what I call the "geek gifts" -- those things God has blessed us with that make life a bit easier. I do own an iPod, after all. I even allow that those things are not inappropriate for corporate worship. ("Not inappropriate" -- how's that for obfuscation?)

But why don't we hear thanks for those gifts God has truly given? Why aren't we thankful that someone with the gift of discernment pointed out the problem with a particular ministry proposal, so that the church avoided error? Why aren't we thankful that someone with the gift of teaching guided the congregation through a particularly thorny doctrinal issue? Why aren't we thankful that someone with the gift of leadership demonstrated the way to more faithful biblical living? Why aren't we more thankful that someone with the gift of mercy showed mercy to the downtrodden or suffering, in the name of Christ?

We talk of the Spirit operating externally to man, pulling the strings of circumstances to accomplish God's purposes. But in doing so we neglect the teaching that the Spirit's primary method of ministry is indwelling men, reforming hearts, changing wills. One specific way he accomplishes this is through the gifts he bestows on believers.

How spritually impoverished we are, then, when the only "gift" for which we thank God is someone's skill in running the sound board. Instead, we should recognize the Spirit working through men, and through the gifts he bestows, for the edification of the body. We should celebrate the Spirit accomplishing the purpose of God, protecting us from error or harm, shepherding the flock, alleviating suffering -- and all (mostly) through the gifts he gives to men.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Proof is in the Pudding (or Grades, as it were)

My wife recently told me that Russell Moore (www.henryinstitute.org) spoke about his adopted sons (any mention of adoption captures my wife's attention, though our four small children leave her little of it to spare). He reports that he became quite perturbed when people asked if the two adopted sons -- who bore no blood relation -- were "brothers." When he responded that they were certainly brothers, the next question was whether they were, you know, "really" brothers. "Yes, they're really brothers" Moore is quick to point out, and their brotherhood demonstrates the adoption we have as children of the living God.

When I tell people that I am in seminary, I get sort of the same response: "Are you really in seminary?" I suppose the fact that we have not moved to campus and go about our lives seemingly as usual contributes to the incredulity. (Plus, I still practice law - a profession people apparently consider closer to Poltergeist than Preacher). But then, I've always carried about copies of An Invitation to Biblical Hebrew.

"Is Faircloth really in seminary? He's always read that dry stuff, anyway. I once even saw him reading How to Read a Book, of all things."

"Yeah, he's really in seminary." Wink, wink, nod, nod.

Here's where I stand now: after starting The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fall, 2007 I've completed 21 hours; I'm taking 12 hours for Fall 2008, and the gpa is sure to decline afterward, not because of the work load, but because my "invitation" to Biblical Hebrew seems less like invitation and more like abduction and hostage situation, wherein my captors give proof of life via the screams elicited from scraping my bare chest with a barrel cactus -- right to left, of course.

"Daddy, why are your fingers bleeding?"

"I got Hebrew vowel points jabbed under my nails."

So, anyway, here's the list of classes I've completed:

Elementary Greek
Systematic Theology I
Introduction to Old Testament I
Greek Syntax and Exegesis
Systematic Theology II
Introduction to Old Testament II
Biblical Hermeneutics

Here's what I'm taking now:

Systematic Theology III
Introduction to Biblical Counseling
Elementary Hebrew
Inroduction to Church History I

Here's what I'll be taking in December:

Recovering Your Eyesight I
Advanced Sleep Deprivation
Re-Acclimation to Sunlight
Speed Reading for Dummies

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just Enough Just Ain't Good Enough

The opening chapel services at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have stimulated conversation regarding the power of the word of God. Although I was not privileged to hear the sermons of fellow Alabamian David Platt, I have heard him on other occasions. As many of the comments suggest (see www.saidatsouthern.com), much is lost in simply reading the transcripts or even in listening to recorded sermons. Gauging by that commentary, though, it seems that many came away understanding that Dr Platt and others were advocating a ‘radical faith,’ or a faith that was ‘all in.’

During the past week I also read commentary regarding the problem of churches being without pastors and decrying the lack of ‘good preaching’ (see www.gritsgrace.blogspot.com), in some cases because those churches have a litmus test opposing Reformed or Calvinist preachers. I was thinking, then, that in many cases we want ‘just enough’ of Christ not to be deemed pagan. For instance, Arminians want just enough of the effects of sin and just enough of God’s sovereignty to avoid the most serious charges of self-help salvation.

The Spirit recorded for us other examples of this from the life of Jesus. In Matthew 8:1 through 9:8 we are given several examples of ‘just enough’ philosophy. Jesus had just finished the Sermon on the Mount, and this passage records events that confirm the inauguration of the kingdom of God through the lordship of Christ. Jesus here heals the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law; rejected two would-be disciples; calmed the sea; healed two demoniacs; and healed the paralytic, and then pronounced his forgiveness.

The reaction to Christ’s lordship in these verses is instructive. Those in Christ’s presence seemed to want just enough of his power for physical healing; just enough adventure to avoid being too pedestrian; just enough sovereignty for physical rescue; just enough power over spirits to free enterprise; just enough authority for healing and forgiveness. Yet this attitude leaves us short of a lordship of Christ that demands his control over our bodies, whether in sickness or health. A lordship that calls us to leave those things in life we find comfortable and socially expected. That exhibits his sovereignty not only over the waves, but over our life. That effects reconciliation even when it disrupts commerce. And that demands and exerts the kind of authority that not only heals the body, but forgives sin and reconciles to the Father.

‘Just enough’ of God, then, is not enough.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Sablogical" -- sabbatical for bloggers

My wife has chided me recently for not posting more. I think her particular form of encouragement took the form, "I've blown past you in total hits." Of course, her blog has the advantage of posting photos of the kids, video clips of them in their hilarious antics, and descriptions of their incomprehensible kid-logic, all of which give her an advantage over a blogger like me, even a 'drummer extraordinaire.'

Perhaps, if I posted video of me playing drums in a rotating cage, head banding, hair flying, dry-ice-smoke wafting...

I started the blog between semesters. During the spring I had taken 12 hours, and was anxious to release in some way. I started fall semester recently, taking another 12 hours. With the full-time job, getting the house ready to sell, co-rearing four kids, and doting on my lovely wife (ok, she is definitely lovely, but my 'doting' may be a bit too generous), something had to give. It has been, obviously, the blog.

So, I suppose I must officially take a break. I'll post occasionally during the semester, but don't count on anything near 30 per month.

By the way, 10 years ago, today, I married well above my station. Happy anniversary, Carrie!