Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Summer Break from the Blogosphere

Martin Luther once commented; "I have so much to do today, that I simply must go to bed." As I observe my summer schedule, I think I know how he felt!

This summer is shaping up to be a busy one indeed, and includes the following:

-A Mission Trip to the Carribean: Yeah, I know what your'e thinking. But it really is. Next week I join a couple of our pastors down there to survey the landscape and talk with locals about helping with an indigenous church planting movement. Exciting stuff!

The Southern Baptist Convention: I'll be in Indianapolis June 8-11 for the annual meeting of my denomination.

A Mission Trip to Mississippi: In July, Amy and I will be leading a team of 40 in VBS, evangelism, and construction, as we continue to help rebuild the Gulf Coast area.

A Family Vacation: Because after all this, we are going to need one!

With all this in view, writing here is going to take a "back seat" for the summer. God willing, I should be back around the first of August, and I'll be keeping up with the blogosphere and other news, as always. Hope everyone has a great summer!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pray for the Chapman Family

For the past two decades I have been one of many who have followed the career of Steven Curtis Chapman. He is a talented artist who loves Jesus and has demonstrated huge spiritual growth over his career.

As an enormous fan of parents who adopt, I am also thankful for Shaohannah's Hope, and International adoption ministry founded by Chapman and his wife Mary Beth. This ministry has assisted more than 1500 families in adopting children.

While listening to the news on my way to the office today, I heard that tragedy has struck the Chapman family. Their youngest adopted daughter was struck by an SUV in the family's driveway yesterday afternoon, and died later at Vanderbilt University Hospital from injuries sustained in the accident. You can find the story here.
As the father of two boys, I cannot imagine the grief that has already engulfed this godly family, let alone the dark days that are coming. Let us pray for God's comfort and grace to be poured out on this wonderful family during this very difficult time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Preferred Half of Romans 14

One of the most annoying experiences of ministry often comes, interestingly enough, after I've preached a message. It's that moment when I'm standing in the back of the church shaking hands, and someone comes up and says "great message Dr. Rainey. I wish _________ could have been here to hear it. They need it!"

Honestly, it's hard in moments like that to keep my temper at bay. I want to ask, in righteous indignation, "don't you need it too? What's wrong with you that you see faults in others before you see them in yourself? Haven't you read Matthew 7:1-5?? Are you an idiot?? . . . .

. . .but just before exploding, the Spirit reminds me that often, I too, am an idiot.

For example, many folks on my wife's side of the family come out of a Holiness background. Because of this, they hold strong convictions that I don't hold. I remember early in our dating life when Amy would say "don't talk about movies we have seen around the relatives. They believe going to the theater is sinful."

Of course, my instant reaction was to appeal to Romans 14. After all, Paul has given us clear instruction regarding how to relate to each other on "debatable" matters. There is nothing . . .absolutely NOTHING in Scripture that forbids me from seeing a good movie, especially one in which there is lots of gunplay, fast cars, and buildings blowing up in a hopelessly gratuitous fashion. There is liberty in Christ, and where "movies for guys who like movies" are concerned, I aim to exercise my liberty!!

Furthermore, those who would object to my affinity for fast cars and bullets on the silver screen should consider carefully the following verses from Romans 14:

" . . .and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." v.3b
"Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another?" v.4
"Why do you pass judgement on your brother?" v.10
"Therefore, let us not pass judgement on one another any longer." v.13a

Wow, if only my "weaker brother" were here to read these verses. He sure needs it!

Problem is, in quoting my preferred half of this text, I've totally ignored (i.e. violated) the parts that are addressed to me in an effort to point out those parts that are addressed to my weaker brother. Talk about irony!

As a "stronger brother" in this regard, I should instead be looking at the following passages:

"Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains. . ." v.3a
". . .but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." v.13b
"For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died." v.15
"It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." v.21

Do such texts mean that I should totally abstain from "Ironman" this weekend? Not neccesarily. At the same time, it probably means I should keep quiet about it around certain folks out of deferrence for their convictions. OF course, they have their responsibilities as well. But I'm not responsible to fulfill my weaker brother's responsibilities. I'm responsible to fulfill mine.

The same is true for any other debatable issue. My denomination, for example, has, on the whole, very strong convictions about alcohol consumption . . .convictions that I share to a large extent. So when it comes to beer, I switch teams. I'm no longer a "strong" brother. Now, I'm a "weaker" one.

The thing that interests me about any debatable issue is that most folks are just like me . . .they have a propensity to appeal to those verses in Romans 14 that are addressed to their opponents. The problem with this approach is that it not only ignores those texts most applicable to you, but it also violates the spirit of the very texts to which we appeal; a spirit that is best summarized by Paul's contention that "the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to god and approved by men. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (vv.17-18)

Appealing to my "preferred half" of Romans 14 is never conducive to the kind of peace and Kingdom thinking that Paul describes. To pursue peace, I have to appropriate the other half . . .the half that describes my responsibilities when it comes to debatable issues.

With this in mind, maybe I don't need to judge my brother who participates in activities I find I can't participate in without sinning. Conversely, perhaps I need to resist colorful descriptions of "Ironman" in front of certain family members.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all practiced such things, righteousness and peace and joy would be seen more clearly in us by those who need to know Jesus. Just maybe, this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote Romans 14.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Increasing Need for Ethnic Churches

Yesterday I was invited to participate in the ordination service of Rev. Vyacheslav Paliy (he graciously let's me call him Slav). The service, held at the New Way Russian-Ukrainian Baptist Church, a church we helped start three years ago, was a beautiful example of the power of the Gospel, and the wisdom of contextualization. Though I understood very little that was said, it was still a very special time spent with my Russian brothers and sisters.

After the service, I drove less than 5 miles up the road to the First Hispanic Baptist Church of Reisterstown, a church we helped start in 2006. So it goes without saying that yesterday was definitely a multicultural experience for me.

Our association is culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse. Appropriately, our churches are also diverse. Every Sunday morning our churches worship in six different languages. One of every five of our churches proclaims the Gospel each Sunday in the Korean language alone. Still, when compared with the more than 60 languages that are spoken in our area in the school systems alone, we are way behind the curve.

Years ago, Oscar Romo stated that America, "hardly the melting pot described by history texts, has been a land that from its beginning was marked by diversity, not homogeneity." I live and walk in the reality of that statement almost daily, and yesterday I was reminded of how much work remains to be done. North America is becoming more and more unchurched everyday, but not just in terms of population alone. Just as the church is behind the curve in terms of reaching our growing population, we are also behind in terms of reaching all the people groups that now exist on our home continent.

Distance can no longer be used as an excuse of why we are not reaching the nations (not that distance was ever a legitimate excuse to begin with). God has literally brought the nations to our front doorstep. In light of this, I challenge every brother and sister in Christ to do the following things:

1. Research your own area: Just a quick look at, and you will likely be shocked at the vast linguistic and cultural diversity in your own backyard. I just discovered not long ago in Westminster Maryland, a small, socially conservative, largely white community, there was an active Cameroonian church! The world is literally all around you and your church. Do a little research to determine who is there, and who needs the Gospel.

2. Contact your association/state convention for help: If you aren't Baptist, then contact your own denominational agency, or network with whom you are affiliated for help in determining what your church can do to reach out to those you find in your area.

3. Do whatever is neccesary to bring the Gospel to the people: You may need to work with others to bring in an indigenous church planter, provide office space, and part of a salary. Or, it could be just as simple as allowing an ethnic group the use of your worship and education space.

At the end of the age, John tells us that the church will be made up of people from every tribe, language, people, and tongue. The fact that so many ethnicities in my area are without a church is evidence that Jesus is not yet worshipped to the degree that He deserves here! In your area, I am sure the situation is similar. God has now arranged it so that reaching these people doesn't require an overseas plane ticket or immersion into a foreign culture. It only requires seeing these precious souls the way Jesus does.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Back to Pulpit Basics

Sometimes, in the midst of talking strategy, style, and approach (which are all important), we seem to forget substance. To be sure, change is a constant. I speak about cultural change a lot. But one thing must never change if the church is to be what she ought to be, and that is the centrality of the pulpit.

Pastoral care is important. Church Growth is important. Studying culture is important. But nothing, absolutely nothing replaces the regular, deep, faithful, powerful, Spirit-annointed proclamation of God's Word. Such is the preimminent task of the pastor, and without it, the pastor fails at his calling.

I first saw the video below a couple of months ago while at a conference in Seattle. Thanks to Micah Fries, via Timmy Brister, I was able to access the YouTube version, and have imbedded it below. It is well worth four minutes of your time.