Memory of a Kindness: Ron Baines

This past week, the Reformed Baptist community lost an influential member in the passing of Ron Baines. While others knew him better, the Lord used him in our family during a difficult trial. May this memory help others as they mourn, and encourage us to “not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not give up.”

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In the late summer of 2001 my husband and I moved to central Massachusetts. My husband had just been called to serve as an associate pastor of youth of an evangelical congregational church. We were excited about this new position and of the support we had received from the members. Ninety days after his starting date, about a month after 9/11, the church terminated the senior pastor in a bitter, ugly, and emotional congregational meeting. Seeing the process as unbiblical, my husband spoke against voting out the pastor at the meeting, but it did not sway the majority of the congregation. We were faced with a church split, members whose thought processes we did not understand, and no guidance from a senior pastor. Many of those members who had been the friendliest left the church. Young, married for only a year, and expecting our first child, we were unsure how to proceed.

Calvinistic and baptist in doctrine and practice, my husband had been introduced to the 1689 Confession a few years beforehand, so he sought out a Reformed Baptist church nearby where we could attend evening service. That church was Heritage Baptist Church in Worcester. That was when we met Mike Renihan and Ron Baines. After hearing our situation, Ron invited us over for dinner to talk further.

I believe Ron was working bi-vocationally at a meat-packing plant at the time, yet he and his family still took the time to extend hospitality to this young couple. For dinner we had steak with carmelized onions, and it was delicious. Afterwards it was easy to converse with Ron and his wife, and Ron in his down-to-earth style explained how he viewed the bond between a pastor and his church as one that should not be broken without much consideration. This advice impacted us tremendously, and the Lord used it to influence our decision to remain at the church where my husband served for two more years. Also, hearing about my interest in American religious history, Ron gave me a copy of “Marriage to a Difficult Man“, which at the time was out of print. I still have that copy fourteen years later.

While we were never fully involved with Heritage, the Baines family’s kindness towards us continued. My husband was able to audit classes with the Reformed Baptist Pastoral Training Institute and learn much from Ron and the other pastors that taught the small group of men. Ron’s wife picked me up for  ladies’ Bible studies, and their daughter knit a sweater with football buttons for our newborn son. That sweater has since persevered through several rowdy children. And like that sweater, the memory of the kindness of Ron Baines and his family has persevered and influenced more than they know.

Review of “Portraits of Faith”

Beeke, Joel R. Portraits of Faith: What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God.  Reformation Heritage Books; 2015. ISBN: 978-1-60178-447-6

What is a good description of faith? How do you capture the many facets of what faith entails? Joel Beeke, in Portraits of Faith: What Five Biblical Characters Teach Us about Our Life with God, chooses to survey several aspects of faith by highlighting five biblical figures.  As he writes, “You can best understand faith by seeing how faith operates by the Spirit in the lives of fallen sinners like us.”

Beeke briefly examines the examples of Adam and Eve, the Shunammite woman, the Canaanite woman, and Caleb to demonstrate what faith is like. Through them, we see the simplicity of faith, the submission of faith to various providences, ways faith is matured, and a picture of persevering faith. Like many pastors’ sermons, stories and illustrations are also used to further describe the aspect of faith presented. (This book is, after all, a result of addresses made at an evangelical conference.) This is not a scholarly exegetical work, and it is not meant to be so. We do see a brief glance of Beeke’s Presbyterian theology when discussing children, but it does not deter credobaptists from gleaning the crux of the message.

While a short book, each chapter has study questions for further reflection. According to the preface, this was done so that this book could coincide with two other books of addresses Beeke has written. If one were to use this book for a formal group study, they may want to look into the other books as well.  Portraits of Faith would work well as a study with relatively new believers. This would also  be an easy, refreshing devotional read for a more seasoned believer. As Beeke points out, his purpose is not to focus solely on faith, but to use the characteristics of faith to point us to the Savior. In that he succeeds, and thus I recommend this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

Review of “Why bother with church?”

Why bother with church? And other questions about why you need it and why it needs you, by Sam Alberry. The Good Book Company, 2016. ISBN: 9781909559141

As Christians, I think it is safe to say we’ve all been there. Whether due to discouragement, laziness or the enticements of the world, there are seasons when we just don’t want to be involved in a church. And there are plenty of professing Christians that simply don’t see the importance of being part of a church. If you are struggling with the idea of church or haven’t even given it much thought, Sam Allberry’s Why bother with church? is a helpful book.

Allberry writes in a friendly, conversational style in this easy read. Acknowledging that church is not a popular notion in our society, he then proceeds to show how the church is vital for growth as a Christian. By surveying various passages of Scripture, the reader is shown how Christians are meant to assemble as the church. More than that, we are encouraged to not just attend church, but be involved in the lives of those who are part of our local church.

After making his case to join and be involved in church, Alberry goes on to provide several chapters filled with guidelines to help one find a good church to join. The correct priorities of a church, the role of elders and deacons, various forms of church government,  and church discipline are all explained. He addresses those who have found church boring, been hurt by church in the past, or have experienced burnout from a church. His treatment of those situations acknowledges what some have experienced while gently encouraging those to not withdraw from the idea of being part of a local church. Finally, Alberry describes how to be a good member of a church. He mentions several duties of members and explains each one.

Throughout the book there are answers to common questions such as “Hasn’t the church done more harm than good?” “Why can’t I view my small group as my church?” “Why are there so many denominations?” Pausing in the midst of the chapter to address these concerns makes this book particularly valuable to give to those who  are new to the faith.

Due to its friendly, sympathetic tone, its ability to point biblically to the need of church, and its thouroughness in explaining what constitutes a healthy church and church member, I recommend this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

Embarrassed By the Circumstances

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? -Romans 10:14, NASB

Storytime at the library a couple years ago: a way to get to know other mothers, get the children out of the house, and let the older children browse for some reading material. The young mother sitting next to me casually mentioned during our small talk, “We’ve been looking for a church, but haven’t been able to settle with one.” “What are you looking for?” I responded. “Well, my husband likes a traditional liturgical service and we want something for the kids.” My mind flashed to our small church: meeting in an upper room, simple service, no bulletin, no instrumentation except for MIDI files, not even a nursery. I was at that time the only female member of our fellowship. Do I tell her about our church even though it had none of what she wanted? Unable to answer her, I smiled and let the conversation shift. An opportunity slipped away.

Recently, I was browsing the area Facebook yard sale page when I noticed a post by a young woman asking about churches in the area. Several commenters mentioned the local contemporary, seeker-sensitive church. She probably wouldn’t be interested in our church, I thought. While our church has grown some, we still meet in an upper room with no nursery and no rockin’ band, guitar, or piano. Our financial resources are extremely limited. Would it even be worth it to mention our church?

Does anything embarrass you about your church? Do you let your concerns about appearances get in the way of whether you invite others to church? It can be easy for those in small churches to become self-conscious about its lack of resources and crowds. The singing might be awkward at times. We don’t have a lot of members in attendance at our church. There is no xyz program. Our preacher preaches longer than 40 minutes. We don’t have certain demographics. If they come, people might not come back!

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If this is ever the case with you, I have to ask: why do YOU go to the church you do? Does it preach the Gospel faithfully? Do we believe that it is God who saves souls, and not expensive sound systems and lighting?  So why are we sometimes reluctant to share about our church with others?

I have concluded the answer is pride. A rejection of the church can seem like a rejection of you. Especially among the leaders of the church, whose families are committed to and invested in the work, it is easy to view the success or lack thereof as dependent on the personalities or actions of the leadership. I have heard a godly pastor’s wife mention the temptation to over-analyze when visitors come: “If they don’t come back it’s probably due to me not talking to them enough. Or maybe I talked too much?” This from someone whose husband is published and respected throughout the Reformed community!

When these moments of embarrassment about our churches arise, we forget that it is not the pastor, nor the pastor’s wife, nor the congregants, nor even ourselves that keep someone in a church. It is God and His Word working in the hearts of those who hear His Word faithfully preached. Our duty is to obey His commands. When we treat others as numbers, no matter what story is behind the number, they’re still a number at the end of the day. When we look for ways to love and serve others, we put the focus off of ourselves and on treating others as the people they are. Paul Washer in one of his messages at the 2015 G3 Conference said churches are built through the preaching of the Word and prayer. If we believe this to be the case, then any lack on our part materially should be no hindrance to God. Let us trust God to change hearts regardless of circumstances.

As for that Facebook post, I did put our church down as an option. I don’t know what the outcome will be. The person may never show up, but unlike that day in the library, I can know that I demonstrated love to Christ by not being embarrassed of his body, the church.

No, I’ve not been raptured.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away… – Isaac Watts

So I’ve been away from the blogosphere. Tim Challies once hosted a blog post about why female bloggers might have their blogs grow “cold”. It’s an interesting article. I admit that I feel badly when I see blogs that haven’t been updated in a while (although what defines “a while”? A week? A year?), it also helps me to see that my spiritual health is not dependent upon any one blog.

That said, I also wonder why particular bloggers fade from blogging. You might be wondering why Reformed Baptista has barely squeaked out anything in about 6 months. There are a number of reasons. After suffering a miscarriage this past summer, I intentionally focused more on my family. That takes time. Time that is not available for writing blog posts. Also, my church has been growing, which is a blessing, but that means its needs grow as well. There’s also this matter of witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses, another time consumer. Add to that my lack of technical savvy, and you see how there might be a lack of posting at Reformed Baptista.

Does this mean the blog is through? I don’t think so. There are still many topics I hope to address, other blogs to spotlight, and still some awesome women “behind the 1689” to be heralded! These posts just may take some time to materialize, however, so I humbly ask your patience in waiting for them.

A Review of “Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness” by Jeremy Walker

Who is a Christian? Where is the Christian’s home? And what does the Christian do with the times and places in which he finds himself?  These questions are examined in Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness by Jeremy Walker (Reformation Heritage Books, 265 pages).

Divided into 12 chapters, each chapter focuses on an aspect of the Christian’s walk through this life. Walker looks at our identity as Christians, the definition of “world”, the nature of this world, the ruler of this world, our equipment to stand fast in the midst of this world, our objectives, our relation to the governing authorities, works of charity, our relation to the delights of this world, our future home, our duties, and to Whom we owe allegiance. Each subject is treated with due consideration, with many chapters containing summary thoughts and specific counsels at the end.

Take your time chewing on the topics presented in this book. A 10 easy steps to perfect Christian living it is not; nor is it a feel-good “do whatever you want” pep talk. Isolation nor assimilation are advocated. Rather, Walker trods the narrow way carefully and deliberately. Scripture is prodigiously examined for insight, with supplements with quotes from noted theologians and preachers. Many valuable principles are gleaned for the reader’s benefit.

I came away from this book sobered and apprehensive about the great responsibility the Christian has in this life, yet I was not overwhelmed, for Walker consistently reminded the reader of the power and nearness of Christ. We are not left to fend for ourselves in dangerous and evil times. Knowing such an advocate is present with us, we are roused to face the opposition with courage and boldness. These reminders are desperately needed for the Christian in the midst of a rapidly changing world.

Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness is a robust encouragement for the soul. I recommend it. May it aid other Christians in their journey.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Cross Focused Reviews.

 

Outward/Inward Appearances

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“Boys with long hair? Girls that shave? The world’s gone to pot. No one knows whose is who’s whose these days.” – The Monkees

A New England prep school in the mid-90s granted me my first glimpse of transgenderism. A classmate of mine, who had the previous three years been known as a young woman, arrived the Fall of our Senior year with a boy’s haircut and asked to be known as “Alex”. While our relationship never grew past the acquaintance stage, we had sat at the same tables and eaten with mutual friends. Being an unbeliever at the time, this was not a big deal to me, just as those who came out as gay and lesbian weren’t a big deal. They were intelligent, talented people who treated me nicely.

Now western society is agog with the transitioning of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner. This time it is a big deal to me. I believe in Christ and His Word. There is male and female, and one’s physical composition and DNA play a vital role in determining whether one is male or female. Despite the mantra we have been taught since childhood, you can not be anything you want to be. I grieve for Bruce/Caitlyn, for transgender people who struggle with understanding who they are. I grieve for myself, for the struggle of remaining sin and the influence of the world around me. What is our only comfort in life and death?

“People are people, so just throw your hands up.” – Toby Mac

The mental stamina needed to understand the redefinition of terms and protocol when dealing with this brave new world is taxing. Transgender vs. transsexual vs. Transylvania, and cisgender? It is understandable to me, then, to see many in society shrugging their shoulders, giving praise along with the rest of the crowd, and moving on. I read from conservatives that I am doing no favors in calling Bruce/Caitlyn “she”, yet I find myself slipping up and thinking it anyway. Transgender activists insist that to be respectful one must use the preferred pronouns of the transgendered person and not refer to them by their former name. In writing this article, proper pronoun protocols have not been followed from either viewpoint. Fear of possible backlash for that reason alone makes this can’t-we-all-get-along writer want to run for the hills and hide in a cave. It would be so much easier, I think, to go along.

“For the LORD sees not as mans sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Capitulating to cultural norms of attractiveness is one aspect that seems to characterize those who have transitioned. It is not enough that the transgender woman thinks he is a woman; society must think so as well. Pedicure/manicures, long hair (as in past the shoulder), and make-up seem almost a necessity. For transgender men, facial hair is important, along with a short male style haircut. “Passing” for the gender you believe to be is a source of anxiety. The standard is the approval of humanity. Yet to pass yourselves off as a male or female implicitly admits that you are deceiving the public whose approval you crave. Deception is wrong. Your truth is not God’s truth.

Christians are also not to seek the approval of men. Yet do we not fall into this same trap, even in Christian circles? What about our appearance would we wish to change, not because the Bible says to change, but to find favor with those around us? What about being a “real” man or “real” woman in Christian society? As the saying goes, “you will know they are Christians by their t-shirts.” “Godly” men grow beards, smoke pipes, and would never take a ballet class. “Godly” women wear long skirts, long hair, keep themselves “attractive” to those around them, and decorate their homes impeccably.

Culture has affected Christians greatly. God’s Word does not have much to say about the appearance of men and women, except that our clothing be modest and that we present ourselves as the men and women that we are. If men wish to grow beards and women wear long skirts, that is permissible. If men wish to shave and women not, that is permissible as well. We have great liberty in our outward appearance, but that outward appearance ought to reflect the truth of the Spirit indwelling us and sanctifying us.

“For you formed my inward parts….My frame was not hidden from you.” – Psalm 139: 13,15

God knows Bruce /Caitlyn Jenner better than anyone else, even Jenner himself. God knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked; God’s Word never fails. Transgender people and Christians alike need to turn to Him and repent of our sin. Following Christ is hard and involves denying self, yet His Truth is ultimately more beautiful and freeing than any truth we create for ourselves. May we cling to Him and His righteousness alone.