We are off and running

We have officially started our adoption journey and are off and running.  We have met with an organization that we feel God is leading us to pursue for an adoption.  The name of the organization is Adoption Network Law Center.  You can learn more about them here.  This organization matches birth mothers and adoptive families from all fifty states.  We have already met with a counselor, and are excited about the potential opportunity to adopt with ANLC.  At this point, we are in the fundraising phase.  We need to raise approximately $30,000 ($20,000 for ANLC and $10,000 in other fees).  We have sent out some letters and are exploring fundraising ideas.  Jen has already sold several necklaces that she has made by hand (you can check them out on her Facebook page).  Once we have raised enough money we can continue the process.  Needless to say, we are excited, but we know that we must remain patient.  Please continue to pray for us as we seek God’s will and timing.

If you would like to donate, you can contact me at matt@matthewmccraw.com or give through our GoFundMe account.

Our Adoption Journey Begins

Our family has long had a heart for children.  We believe that God has a special place in His heart for His little ones.  Our goal is to love children with the kind of love that He has for them. One particular way that we hope to show God’s love to children is through the ministry of adoption.  We have long contemplated adoption and feel that God is now leading us to take the next step.  We appreciate any and all prayer and support as we journey this path to grow our family and show the love of God to children seeking a loving family.

Some clarification on my post about local church youth and children ministry

I received some feedback about my recent blog post concerning local church youth and children ministry.  Most of it was affirming and supportive.  I also received some feedback that voiced confusion over my stance towards family-integrated classes.  Some wondered if I am opposed to family-integrated ministry.  To be clear, I am not opposed to family-integrated ministry at all.  In fact, we practice family-integrated ministry at the church where I serve (in addition to age-graded ministry).

The crux of my argument was that youth ministry and family-integrated ministry are not inherently good or bad.  They are supplemental to the three areas of worship that every Christian family should practice (personal worship, family worship, and corporate worship).  The reason I mentioned family-integrated Sunday school in my closing thoughts was simply to point out that it is not the fix all (as some suggest).  I am, and will continue to be, a fan of both age-integrated and age-segregated ministry.  Each church must determine which type of ministry best fits the needs of the people, accomplishes the mission of that local church, and ultimately obeys God’s specific commands given in Scripture.  I hope this brings clarity.  I love family-integrated ministry and age-graded ministry.  I participate in both and support both.

Is youth ministry unbiblical? A defense of local church youth and children ministry

If I hear one more Christian speaker say that youth ministry is unbiblical I think I’m going to…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I guess my frustration level will simply grow.  This seems to be a growing trend these days.  My frustration centers around two main areas: the use of the word unbiblical and the logic of throwing something out simply because it hasn’t been used properly.

First, let’s bring a little clarity to the term unbiblical.  When I hear that word I think of something that is against what the Bible teaches.  For instance, drunkenness is unbiblical, children disobeying their parents is unbiblical, lack of love for your Christian brother is unbiblical, forsaking fellowship with other Christians is unbiblical…get it?  I’m not sure that you can put youth ministry in that category.  I would say that youth ministry is extra-biblical.  This is, youth ministry is something that is not in the Bible.  You know what else is extra-biblical?  Organs are extra-biblical (the musical kind).  So are most of our church staff positions, and gyms, and hymnals, as well as overhead projectors, business meetings, seminaries, colleges, newsletters, websites, and much more.  Just because something is extra-biblical doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad or good.

To say that youth ministry is unbiblical is to say that there is something inherently sinful about it.  So, is there something inherently sinful about young people between the grades of sixth through twelfth gathering together under the guidance of godly adults to learn the Bible, fellowship, and attend trips together?  Youth camp: sinful?  Mission trip to Mexico: sinful?  Junior class movie night: sinful?  Leadership retreat: sinful?  Youth ministry: unbiblical?  I don’t think so.

Can youth ministry be done in a way that undermines God’s established order for the family?  Absolutely.  It can also be done in a way that supports and strengthens the family to accomplish God’s design.  What is God’s design for the worship of Him?  I believe it is relegated to three main areas: personal worship, family worship, and corporate worship.  Personal worship is the commandment of every believer to devote their life to God, the learning of His ways, and a life devoted to His glory.  Family worship is the command of God for parents (particularly the father) to take leadership of training their children to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.  Corporate worship is the gathering together of all believers of all ages to worship God through the singing of God-honoring music, the preaching of the Bible, godly fellowship and encouragement, and the observing of the sacraments.  These three things are the non-negotiables.  In order to be biblical, you must do these.

The question is: Can you do anything in addition to those three main realms of worship?  Can you have small groups or Sunday school?  Can you have discipleship classes?  Can you have Wednesday night activities?  Can you have Vacation Bible School?  Can you have childcare?  Can you have youth ministry?  For some reason, many would say you can have all of the former mentioned ministries except youth ministry.

Youth ministry (Children’s ministry has not received the same amount of heat, but I would argue the same principles apply) must never take the place of the main three areas.  Youth ministry is a supplement to family worship, personal worship, and corporate worship; it is not a replacement of any of them. To be sure, there are many churches who have (perhaps unintentionally) attempted to use youth ministry as a replacement for one of the biblically prescribed areas of worship.  However, not every church with youth ministry has done that.

Some have suggested that youth ministry has failed and that churches ought to move to a family-integrated Sunday School class instead of age-graded classes.  I would have two responses to that. First, family-integrated Sunday School classes are also extra-biblical, as no Sunday School classes are present in Scripture. Second, the presence of a family-integrated group still does not fulfill the God-given mandate for parents to train their children in the Lord at home.   I think family-integrated classes could be appropriate for many churches.  Perhaps family integrated classes could be another option on top of age-graded Sunday School classes.  Some churches may be better suited to not bring large changes to their small group structure.  Every church is unique.  We must remember above all else that when it comes to family worship, the best venue is not the church small group, but the home.  Every family should train their children to love God, love the church, and love the world.  If churches choose to offer additional opportunities for fellowship and Bible study, how is that a bad thing?

I stand firm in my belief that youth ministry is not inherently unbiblical.  As with nearly everything in God’s creation, we can use it to accomplish great things or to bring harm to the body of Christ.  Let us seek to encourage all families and all believers to worship God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves.

An Update to My Blog Post on the John 3:16 Conference

I recently blogged about my reaction to my attendance of the John 3:16 conference. Soon after I posted my blog, Dr. David Allen reached out to me. We first spoke via email and then over the phone. Dr. Allen was very gracious, humble, and kind in all the personal conversations we shared. On the issue of Limited Atonement we agreed to disagree. The bottom line is that we have different views as to the application of the atonement. John Piper’s new book does a great job explaining the Reformed tradition. You can get it here.

I told Dr. Allen that my main concern was with the spirit of the event, the unfounded attacks against Reformed Baptists, and the unhelpful comments shared by Dr. Patterson at the end. He pointed out that Baptists on the Reformed side also hurl unfair insults, which is absolutely true. We both agreed that the name calling and cheap shots must stop. Dr. Allen said he could not speak to Dr. Patterson’s comments as he had not reviewed the audio from the event and he could not speak on behalf of Dr. Patterson. That is fair and understandable.

I was encouraged by our conversation and hopeful that we can change the atmosphere of witch-hunting and mudslinging that has taken place in our area of Kentucky and in many other places throughout the United States. Let each of us commit to biblical fidelity, fair discussion, and brotherly love and charity.

The Loving Bigot

“Everyone should have the chance to love whomever they wish.”  “Why are you so bigoted towards gay people?”  “Who are you to tell women what they must do with their bodies?”  These are resounding cries heard from those who are steadfast in their assertion that conservative Christians are hateful bigots. 

The Cultural Conundrum

It has become evident in recent years, that no matter how we behave as Christians, when we stand on the truth of God’s Word, many in society will see us as bigoted or hateful.  The cultural jury has already made up their minds regarding Christians.  If we don’t want our children exposed to worldliness through media or the school system we are haters of free speech and differing opinions.  If we declare that the biblical view of marriage is the only true form of marriage we are narrow-minded murderers of true love (nod to Dan in Real Life).  If we attempt to protect the unborn we are spewing hyper-patriarchy filled venom towards women.

Despite the fact that we may never in fact shown hatred towards a single person, we are nonetheless considered hateful bigots.  This conundrum should cause us to reflect upon our stance towards these social issues.  A recent article from the CNN Belief blog reveals that many Christians still hold to traditional biblical views of hot-button issues like marriage and abortion, yet they are afraid to speak out publicly about their beliefs for fear of being labeled as narrow-minded or hateful.  Others, who formerly held to traditional Christian beliefs, have simply jumped ship, straying from orthodoxy.  Still yet, there are those who seem to wear the term bigot as a badge of honor, as demonstrated in their continual public protests against anything and everything.  The question naturally arises, “Should we be concerned with declaring the truth, or with showing people love?”  Many Christians seem to think that we must choose one or the other.

The Necessity of Love and Truth

As so often happens in conservative Christian circles, people seem to feel they have to pick one extreme or the other.  If one feels that he has been too hateful in his speech towards those with whom he disagrees, he will swing the pendulum completely to the other side and stop declaring any truth that may be perceived as offensive.  The same could be said of those who feel like they love too much.  I believe what God calls us to is not all truth and no love, or all love and no truth, but rather truth and love.  This truth and love is not like an Arnold Palmer drink (half tea and half lemonade), it is one hundred percent love and one hundred percent truth.

We see a picture of this type of love in the first letter to the Thessalonians.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy were missionaries to the city of Thessalonica.  After many were converted, a church was planted in the city.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued to visit the infant church and encourage them in their walk.  The background of those in that city was completely pagan.  They had no Christian heritage.  The ways of God were foreign to them.  Yet, Paul and the other missionaries spoke the truth to them in a loving manner.  They did not water down the gospel message at all; they declared the gospel with an aim “…not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).  Neither did they “seek glory from people” (1 Thessalonians 2:6).  Yet, they were also completely loving to the Thessalonians, treating them “…gentle…like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

The call to preach the gospel faithfully and accurately is repeated throughout the pages of Scripture (2 Timothy 4:2-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 1:16).  We cannot waver on truth.  The gospel is unchanging, no matter how much the culture changes.  We must be stalwart in our stance on the unchanging truth of God.  Simultaneously, we must also share the truth with an inundating love that comes only from genuine followers of God.  Jesus said the world would know His followers by the way that they loved one another (John 13:35).  The way in which we are to worship God is guided by love (Mark 12:30).  The second greatest commandment is to love our fellow image bearers (Mark 12:31).  Paul tells us that the greatest Christian virtue is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).  The Bible has much to say about love, which cannot be ignored.  The faithful Christian must have a full dose of both truth and love.

One Mind at a Time

We Christians have so often been known for what we are against rather than what we celebrate.  We cannot help but be known as hateful bigots when the only time we open our mouths is to say, “You’re going to hell!” or “God hates gays!” or “Baby Killer!”  Dr. Russell Moore points out how we have erred over the last several decades.  While we want to stand on truth, we must not look at our culture and proverbially say, “you kid’s get off my lawn.”

At the moment someone finds out an individual is a biblical Christian, they often assume that person is a hateful bigot.  Sometimes that assumption is justified; many times it is not.  The task of changing the mind of the culture at large is probably unattainable.  The natural effect of the Fall is for the culture to reject the ways of God.  However, I believe if the perception of Christians being hateful bigots is to be changed, it will take place one relationship at a time.  Perhaps when a Christian reaches out to that homosexual who has been rejected by his family, that homosexual will realize while the Christian disagrees with him, he still loves him.  Maybe when the free-spirited nineteen year old college woman experiences the grace-filled compassion of a Christian classmate, she will realize that classmate may be against abortion, but she is not against loving every person no matter their beliefs.  We may not be able to control being labeled a bigot, but we can control whether or not we show love.

 

My Response to the John 3:16 Conference Held in Owensboro.

Last night I attended the John 3:16 conference at Macedonia Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.  The subtitle for the conference was “It is Still, Whosoever Will.”  A description of the conference said, “This is a night of encouragement and worship celebrating our traditional belief concerning salvation.”  The speakers were Dr. David Allen and Dr. Paige Patterson, both of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I was interested in the conference for two main reasons.  First, there has been anti-Calvinistic rhetoric and efforts spreading in our area of Kentucky.  I wanted to see how far this conference would go with that.  Additionally, I legitimately wanted to hear what Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson had to say.  There are some aspects of Reformed theology that I think are absolutely irrefutable if you are a serious student of the Bible.  I wanted to see how Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson would respond to these truths.

Dr. Allen focused primarily on the most debated aspect of Calvinism, which is Limited Atonement.  He distinguished between the intent of the atonement, the extent of the atonement, and the application of the atonement.  He said the biblical view of the atonement is “Universal Atonement” rather than Limited Atonement.  He used several passages (Acts 3:17-26; Luke 22:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Isaiah 53:6) to prove that when the gospel is shared it is shared to large groups of people, some of whom may not be the elect.  He then stated briefly (without any logical explanation) that Universal Atonement and Universalism are not the same thing.  Finally, he stated negative implications of Limited Atonement, such as the inability to give the genuine offer of the gospel to everyone.

Let me start by saying that I appreciate Dr. Allen’s passion and attempt to proclaim the full counsel of God.  With that said, I was thoroughly disappointed in his presentation (although he did receive a chorus of amens during his time at the pulpit).  First of all, he strongly misrepresented Reformed Baptists.  I do not know any who hold to the doctrines of grace that are unable to tell anyone that God offers them salvation in Jesus Christ, through repentance of sins.  This is simply false.  Additionally, his logical conclusions regarding Limited Atonement are flawed.  To say that we cannot preach the gospel to anyone because they might not be the elect is not only inconsistent with Reformed theology, it is unbiblical.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Dr. Allen’s lesson was his inability to distinguish between Universal Atonement and Universalism.  Scripture consistently speaks of atonement as payment for sins.  No one disputes that.  If everyone’s sins in the whole world are paid for by the powerful blood of Jesus, then everyone must be saved.  I don’t see another option, unless something other than the blood of Jesus pays for our sins.  Dr. Allen did say that the atonement is not applied until someone repents, but he presented no logical explanation for how this all works out.  Universalism states that in the end, everyone will be saved.  Universal Atonement says that Jesus’ blood paid for everyone’s sin.  What is the difference?

There are MANY other issues with what Dr. Allen said, but it would take much more than a blog post to cover it all.

Dr. Patterson’s time was spent primarily on election.  He began by stating that man was free to reject God or receive salvation.  He said man is responsible and God is sovereign.  He went on to speak briefly about foreknowledge (I never understood what he was trying to say on that subject).  He then provided a short explanation of Romans 8:28-30, followed with a defense of the biblical view of election.  Finally, he concluded with reasons why election is in the Bible.

I agreed so much with Dr. Patterson that I whispered to my neighbor that it sounded like he was defending the Reformed position.  Dr. Patterson showed without a doubt that there is much that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree upon.  His message reminded me why I admire his stance on biblical truth.

Unfortunately, my joy in Dr. Patterson’s words was wiped away quickly in his final two minutes.  For some unknown reason, he finished with several arrows thrown at Reformed Baptists.  Below are some of his quotes:

“The kind of job we (non-Calvinists) are doing witnessing, we might as well be Calvinists.”

“It’s easier to be a Calvinist (because you don’t have to witness).”

“If I were a Calvinist, I would not witness.”

“I’m not saying they don’t witness, but I’ve got a suspicion.”

These statements (or implications) are not only untrue, they are unkind and unnecessary.

He also said that Calvin was not missional, and you would search in vain to find any evidence that he was.  However, a simple ten second Google search proved that wrong.  See links below:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/11/27/john-calvin-missionary-and-church-planter/

http://www.founders.org/journal/fj33/article2.html

http://www.andrewfullercenter.org/files/john-calvin-on-missions-article.pdf

All in all, I am glad I went.  I do wish that the conference organizers (who were the DOMs from the Western Kentucky area) would have allowed someone from the Reformed side to represent the opposing view.  At the minimum, someone could have corrected the misrepresentations and false information provided by Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson.  However, with that said, I realize the point was not to allow an open discussion, but to encourage those who are already anti-Calvinists.  I hope one day, we can sit together and celebrate what we have in common and openly discuss what we disagree upon without throwing darts at each other.  This has already taken place on  the national level and on many state levels.  I pray that God will allow the churches in our area to follow the lead set by our national leaders.  Let us all seek to be faithful students of the word and faithful missionaries in our communities and all around the world.  Soli Deo Gloria.

The Absurdity of an Atheistic Church

The Sunday Gathering is an Atheistic church that meets in Britain, said to be the first in Britain.  A BBC report about the the so-called church can be found here.  After watching the video and reading the article concerning the Sunday Gathering I could not help but think that this whole thing is completely absurd.  It is ignorant to call this gathering a church, and it is laughable how much a group of supposed atheists try to mimic the services of a God-worshiping church.

Not only are the elements copies of the elements of a Christian worship service (although they are comical and sacrilegious), but the reasoning behind many people attending the service are also strikingly similar to Christianity.  The master of ceremonies, Sanderson Jones, claims the service is a “…celebration of life.”  The theme of the service focuses on wonder.  Jones speaks of how his mother’s death reminded him that life is all too brief.  One attendee said, “it’s nice to get together and have a bit of a community spirit…”  Another said, “I think people need that sense of connectedness…”    Still another predicts of the future of the atheistic church, “There will be a structure, an ethical outlook on life.”  In the video, Jones even spends a moment speaking about the great odds that were required to create life.

To the Christian this is absolutely ridiculous.  Those who reject God are trying to replicate and absorb that which comes only from God, while at the same time acting on truths which point to the existence of God.

Humans do have a need for community.  Life is worth celebrating.  The beginning of life and this planet is a miraculous event.  Worshippers of the one true God have known this for thousands of years.

These people are seeking something because they know inside their hearts that there is something different about them, indeed something special.  They are created in the image of God.  They are created to be worshippers of God.  Although many have rejected God, they cannot help but feel that pull towards something divine, something significant.

There is a reason you don’t see squirrels assembling together and singing songs while taking a moment of silence.  I haven’t noticed any cows discussing where they originated, or what makes the grass grow.  Humans yearn for a connectedness with something more significant than themselves, because they were created with that yearning.

If there is no God, I am certainly not wasting my time by gracing the walls of a church with my presence.  If there is no God, I’m going to do as much for myself, as fast as I can, to get as much pleasure as I can get.  Ethics, morality, significance, beauty, humor, art, love, and the like are all out the door if there is no God.

Praise God that He is there, and that He loves us.  He desires a relationship with His creation.  He has made it possible for all of us to find the significance and meaning that we search for.  The way is Jesus.

A Display of God’s Providence

Thursday I spent the morning and afternoon doing something I very much enjoy: hunting.  My wife and son were out of town, so I had the rare opportunity to hunt twice in one day.  After a dismal morning of seeing only a raccoon and a common house cat, I decided to try a different spot in the afternoon.  Although it was an unusually warm day, I thought that there might be a chance of seeing something in the afternoon as no deer were moving in the morning.

 I’ve been known to have trouble keeping up with all the different hunting seasons here in Kentucky.  It seems like Florida’s deer hunting laws were much simpler to understand.  Yesterday I was hunting with a muzzleloader.  I was careful to obey all the laws related to hunting with a muzzleloader.  I checked my watch for legal shooting hours.  I had a hunter’s-orange hat and vest on.  I even wore a tree-stand safety harness for added responsibility. 

I decided to get in the stand early and relax and prepare for the prime hours just before sunset.  To my surprise, a doe came in around 3:30 PM.  That time of day is rare for a deer, especially on a warm day.  The deer seemed to be oblivious to me, even though I was a mere 20 yards away.  As the deer continued to approach, I thought for sure that this was a gimme shot.  Finally, the deer spotted me when it was about 10 yards away.  It did not run away at first, but simply checked me out thoroughly.  As it started to inch away, I took my opportunity to shoot.  As I slowly pulled the trigger, instead of a “BOOOOOM,” I heard a “pop.”  The primer went off on the muzzleloader, but it did not ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel.  Needless to say, I was ticked off.  I put a new primer in and fired a test shot to make sure everything worked.  I received the “BOOOOOM” that I had anticipated before.  By this time the deer was long gone (and probably any other deer within a reasonable distance).

 As I pouted inside, I texted some friends of mine for sympathy and laughs.  That’s when my distress turned to relief.  A fellow brother in Christ and avid hunter, Clay Hall, told me that muzzleloading season was not in fact a week long (as I thought), but only two days long.  This fact made me an illegal hunter.  If I would have shot that deer, I would have been a poacher.  Imagine the humiliation I would have faced trying to explain to everyone that I didn’t kill that deer illegally on purpose.  Needless to say. I thanked God that the primer went off, but the gun did not fire.  God spared me that day from potential disaster.

God’s providence is an awesome thing. He works through mankind and creation to bring about His plan and will.  Sometimes, it’s something as small as saving one of His children from doing something stupid.  Other times, it’s something on a much larger scale.  In either case, it is because of His grace towards mankind and His working all things for His own glory.  Saturday morning I was hunting again…with a bow.  I saw another doe that morning.  That doe no longer lives in the woods.  Thanks be to God. 

Seven Ways to Remain Spiritually Healthy Through the Summer

As a minister, and particularly as a youth minister, I can testify that numbers at churches traditionally decrease during the Summer.  I really don’t fret much over the fact, because I think that it’s natural.  However, I believe we all should remember that although our daily lives may change drastically in the Summer, our spiritual lives should remain healthy and strong.  Below are some practical pointers that you and/or your family can implement to remain spiritually strong:

1. Stay consistent in your Bible reading.  Summer is an easy time to drop behind on your Bible reading because your daily schedule is so jacked up.  I was recently joking with a friend on a Summer mission trip that I needed to catch up on my Bible reading when I returned home.  Don’t fall behind on this.

2. Read something extra.  Take some time and read something extra from God’s Word, or a beneficial Christian book.  I am currently trying to tackle Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.  It’s a big task for me, but I’m determined to finish it.

3. When out of town, find somewhere to worship.  Perhaps you can find a biblical church to visit, or maybe you can worship with your family in your vacation home living room.  Either way, do not neglect worshipping the Lord with your family or in a community with other believers.

4. Go on a mission trip.  If you haven’t done this already, get to it.  If your church isn’t doing one, tag team with someone else or plan your own.  Side note: if your church is not doing one, there should be a really good reason why they’re not. If there’s not a good reason, perhaps you need a new church.

5. Take advantage of gospel opportunities.  Now that you have more time, perhaps you can share the gospel with that neighbor or friend that you don’t normally have time to talk to.  Perhaps you can show the love of Jesus through meeting physical needs and opening the door to meet spiritual needs.

6. Serve your church.  Use your extra free time to serve your church.  Camp, VBS, maintenance, teaching, pool parties, etc.  The list is endless.  Be creative and take initiative.

7. Don’t be lazy.  You can relax without being lazy.  If you’re in town, go to church.  Use your free time to glorify God and serve others.  Make sure and take some time to relax also.