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Archive for July, 2013


Lay leaders are often very busy. They can often work long hours and have kids to raise. This can make on-going training difficult. This can be frustrating for the pastor, and the elders and other leaders. They often want to learn more but find the realities of life an obstacle.

“In any group of any size, a leader will emerge. Someone who takes initiative, assumes responsibility for the activity and direction of that group. … But in the end, I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership.”

Steve Timmis’ new book, Gospel Centered Leadership, is an answer to some of that frustration. It is a short book with short chapters on important subjects that encourage and challenged leaders new and old. He includes questions to help you think through the implications of the material. His fundamental position is that church leaders lead from an on-going faith and repentance. Apart from this, their hearts become hardened by sin and they will inevitably be unable to counsel, guide and direct the sheep.

Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of Jesus as the Head of the Church. Gospel centered leaders submit to His authority and recognize that they are merely under-shepherds. It also happens in the context of culture. Each culture has definite ideas about leadership. The church will usually follow that style of leadership, but should repent of unbiblical notions of leadership within that culture. For instance, Korean churches in the US often have a more autocratic style of leadership then other churches in the U.S. This is not a problem as long as they don’t “lord it over” the people.

“In simple terms, headship is all about creating an environment in which those in our care are able to flourish and thrive.”

Christ rules through His Word, and thru fallible, sinful people. Timmis notes the numerous failures of biblical leaders. They all anticipated Christ in what they did right and in their failures. We will also fail at times. The gospel enables us to receive forgiveness, get back up again and keep leading. It keeps us humble regarding our skills and abilities, and confident in God’s love and provision to us in Christ. While he recognizes that all Christians should minister to others, he does hold that the office of elder is restricted to men.

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John Frame has, I think, done the Church a great service in writing The Doctrine of the Christian Life. It is the material from his course on Christian Ethics. The 3rd section of the book is Christian Ethical Methodology. As expected, he breaks this into 3 parts: normative, situational and existential.

“In general, a Christian ethical decision is the application of God’s revelation (normative) to a problem (situational) by a person (existential).”

The normative aspect of Christian Ethics is revelation. God exercises His lordship by communicating His character and will to us. Unlike non-Christian views of deontological ethics, we have a recognizable standard. Frame affirms both general and special revelation as part of that standard. Both can be misinterpreted by sinners such as us.

We don’t just have a Law given to us. God expects us to imitate Him. He is the ultimate norm for us. There is an aspect of “What Would Jesus Do” that is accurate.

But the overall focus is the authority of Scripture. He spends time on inspiration and the attributes of Scripture. He has an important chapter on the sufficiency of Scripture. This is often misunderstood. The Westminster Confession formulates the sufficiency of Scripture “concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” It does not limit this to explicit statements (a problem I often run into in theological discussion), but also includes “any good and necessary consequence.” In other words, doing theology is not merely quoting Scripture but THINKING through the consequences of what Scripture says. As a result, the divine words we have are sufficient for our needs.

“The sufficiency of Scripture does not rule out the use of natural revelation (“the light of nature”) and human reasoning (“Christian prudence”) in our decisions, even when those decisions concern the worship and government of the church.”

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Though we brought our son home in January 2008, we were not done facing that reality. Or with waiting. In his first year in our home, Eli had 3 surgeries. Since then there has been another, and more await him. Somehow an out of work pastor adopted a child who had 3 surgeries without going into debt. God continued to work in ways we could never have anticipated. If we had not adopted a special needs child, we’d still be waiting and estimates for those with our log in date were recently 2015/6.  That would be almost 10 years of waiting.

 

Waiting for these things is not like waiting on a late friend or appointment. You have no idea how long you will wait. Waiting for a new pastoral position would stretch us in ways we never imagined. I knew the economy was tanking and more pastors would end up looking for new positions as churches closed. I started doing some pulpit supply to stretch the severance package. Though this time would be hard, we saw God sustain us.  An opportunity fell through right before the severance ended. Then I was stated supply for a local church for about 6 months. Then I had 2 part time jobs and preached whenever I could. Then one of the 2 jobs went full time while I kept the other job and preached regularly.

 

During the wait, we came amazingly close to a few other positions. We became very acquainted with many passages on waiting. There were many tears due to disappointment and frustration. Yet it was a time in which we saw God provide for us financially and emotionally through various friendships accumulated through years of ministry. We were in the best place for us to wait.

 

After 2 and ½ years, we packed up the Pods and moved west. It was not what we planned, but it was The Plan. One of the things that happened while we were waiting was the desire to adopt again.

With China not an option we, like many others we knew, looked to Africa. A number of countries had just begun permitting international adoption. It was difficult deciding which country from which to adopt. We ended up choosing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recovering from 2+ years of under-employment meant we wanted to keep costs down. The DRC did not require a trip. You could hire a courier. We would learn that given enough time, anything can change in international adoption.

 

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Since I’ve been on vacation, I’m a little late to the party, so to speak, when it comes to Man of Steel. If I could use one phrase to sum up the movie, it would be “over the top.”

It bears the marks of both Zach Synder (300) and Christopher Nolan. There is plenty of action, loud action. The rather simple plot line seems to be convoluted, or confusing, at times. The story line takes you places you aren’t sure you need to go. And the story line doesn’t necessarily go in a straight line. That might be what happens when you try to put two movies into one.

I am getting ahead of myself.

This reboot is large parts of Superman (origins) and Superman 2 (the conflict and enemy). After Kal-El leaves Krypton, the rest of the origin story is played out in flashbacks largely woven into some original material. As his father Jal-El, Russell Crowe (who played Robin Hood) has infinitely more to do than Marlon Brando ever did. Much of it was quite physical, unlike Brando’s role. He got to revive some skills he needed to play Maximus. The story begins with a planet that has run out of energy and is ready to implode because they have tapped into the core to get power. You can’t help but wonder if this is some political statement. But the Jal-El, the scientist, and General Zod both accuse the government officials of endlessly debating things while everything fell apart (another political statement). But they have different opinions about what should be done. Essentially the point is no one listens to the scientists.

It is quite interesting because they used an unusual form of population control: no natural births. They were able to create children genetically suited for the roles they will perform in society. Jal-El and his wife rebel against the government policy, seeking the hope of Krypton. With the destruction of Krypton immanent, they send their newly born son, Kal-El, to a new planet where he will be “like a god.” There are a number of allusions to Christ throughout the movie in addition to his name (similar to voice of God), including a scene in a church as he wrestles with his place in the world, Jesus in the garden is seen in the stained glass over his shoulder. But Superman saves the world through his strength, Jesus through His sacrifice.

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This happened on Wed. but I’ve been a bit busy since then. So, enjoy the tale.

I had a late afternoon flight, so I was able to get some reading in before packing to return home. CavWife was going to drive me down to Albany. We had two options: the Envoy and the Cream Puff. It was a hot day. Amie’s mom assured her that the A/C in the Cream Puff was working on their trip into town that morning.

We put the kids down for naps and rest, had lunch and finally finished watching an episode of Waking the Dead. I loaded up the Cream Puff for the trip to Albany. The day was about to get strange.

The A/C worked intermittently, but mostly didn’t. It was one hot ride to Albany, for all the wrong reasons. I noticed the car was also running a little hot. Not dangerously so, but I mentioned it to CavWife so she could keep an eye on it. We also passed a few cars on the side of the road, including a Word of Life van. I was glad that I had not been similarly stranded in many a year. Thankfully we didn’t get stranded. But …

When we got to the airport, she wanted me to park in the garage so the car could cool down for her ride. I unloaded the bags and went to lock the doors since it didn’t have a fob. It was a ’93 after all. That was when I noticed the river of coolant coming from under the Cream Puff. That …. was …. not …. good. Since we were on the 4th floor of the garage, I figured there was no way a tow truck was getting up there. I figured that we could fill up the empty water bottles at the terminal and get enough water in there to safely get the car to the ground level. I then called AAA. Since we have AAA Plus, we could get a free tow to the garage her parents used in Warrensburg. When we got to the terminal, that A/C was oh so sweet.

After we checked my bags we got the call from the tow truck. Since my flight was slightly delayed, I figured I had enough time to get them on their way. So I went to meet the tow truck driver. His name was Chuck. We put the water in, and they drove off after assuring CavWife his truck had A/C, particularly since they might now get stuck in rush hour traffic.

I went down the the 2nd level to take the walk way over to the security before going to the gate. I gazed over to the ramp to see Chuck pushing the Cream Puff down the ramp.

There was a really long line for security, and the A/C seemed to disappear. I kept in contact with her via text. Seems like Chuck disappeared for awhile. When he returned, he told her he was not bringing her to Warrensburg. It was too far for him. Hmm, we told them where it was going so we weren’t sure why they sent him. But Chuck assured her all the tow trucks had A/C. He lied.

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Vacation is a time to be refreshed. One way I get refreshed is by reading some of those books I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time to read. One of those books is Tim Chester’s Delighting in the Trinity. As I have mentioned in other places, there are far too few books on the subjects of the Trinity and Union with Christ. Those books have taken up a fair amount of my free time in the last few years.

“The root of sin is always idolatry. We turn from the true God to find satisfaction in other things and other ways of life.”

Chester’s book is one of the shorter books on the Trinity. He, I think, is shooting for a different audience than either Saunders or Letham. This is intended to be a more accessible book, and it draws on his experiences and concerns as a faithful Christian living in an increasingly secularized England. He sets up the book, in chapter 1, by mentioning conversations he’s been having with Muslim friends. The Trinity is a huge stumbling block for them. We come to a cross roads. Should we not really focus on this, perhaps even ignoring it (like the Insider Movements) or do we recognize this as an essential part of our theology, the very foundation of the gospel? He chooses wisely and picks the latter.

“It is rooted in the electing love of the Father, the finished work of the Son and the present witness of the Spirit.”

So, he argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only foundational, but also practical. That does not mean it is easy to understand. I would remind you of Augustine’s statement, picked up by Anselm, that “we  believe to gain understanding.” It is not the other way around.

“But God always speaks with one voice. Father, Son and Spirit speak with one voice because they are one.”

So he starts with Biblical Foundations. The first foundation is the unity of God in the Bible. He starts with the Shema, the confession that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He then brings us to 1 Corinthians 8:6, and sees this as an expression of the Shema in light of the progress of revelation. To claim that Jesus is Lord (kuyrios is used in the LXX to translate YHWH) is to claim that Jesus is the LORD our God. Jesus’ statement that the “Father and I are one” helps us to see both the differentiation and unity within God. The unity of God keeps us from tritheism.

He then shifts to the plurality of God in the Bible. He brings us to creation and back to the Shema before going to the gospels to see the Incarnation of Jesus. One cannot escape the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John (which I happening to be preparing for a sermon series).  In the opening verses of John we see both the differentiation (with God), and identification (was God). God lives forever in fellowship with Himself, realizing the priestly blessing so to speak, as the Father and Son are “face to face” until that moment on the Cross when Jesus experiences the curse as the Father looks away.

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One of the free books I got at General Assembly was R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. When I was a young Christian I discovered R.C. and his books and tapes (that’s how long ago it was) were an important part of my growth as a Christian. But I have not read much of his stuff in the last 15 years or so. So much to read, so little time.

“If anything has been lost from our culture, it is the idea that human beings are privately, personally, individually, ultimately, inexorably accountable to God for their lives.”

But I decided to read this one. I’d been wanting to read it, and now I owned it. This little book is typical R.C. Sproul, which is a good thing. A very good thing. My former professor has a knack for making theology easy to understand. Many of the recent books that have come out to defend the various attacks on the atonement have been excellent, but for the more theologically advanced audience. The reason R.C. was so instrumental to the resurgence of Reformed Theology is his ability to “put the cookies on the counter”. He’s accessible for all kinds of people.

“He is the One Who stands there, backing up our indebtedness, taking on Himself the requirement of what must be paid.”

As usual, R.C. brings the past into the present. We find Anselm, Augustine, Calvin, Luther and many more. That is another thing that makes his books great- introducing you to the great minds of the past.

He discusses the necessity of the atonement, the justice of God, the various aspects of the atonement (surety, ransom, redemption, freedom etc.), the place of the covenant and explaining particular, or limited, atonement. All this in his winsome, accessible style. But he is also clear about where the lines need to be drawn.

“If you take away the substitutionary atonement, you empty the cross of its meaning and drain all the significance out of the passion of our Lord Himself. If you do that, you take away Christianity itself.”

It is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand what Jesus was doing on the cross and why. And that should include every Christian.

Thank you to Ligonier Ministries for making this available to those of us at General Assembly. At least, I thought it was for free.

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