Archive for January, 2017

The divisional round of the NFL playoffs are over. In many ways the legacy of Bill Belichick was on display. The Patriots, led by Belichick took their division and won a bye week yet again, for a long streak of dominance among a division filled with the futility of other teams leading to frequent turnover. Once again the Patriots are in the AFC championship game. Either they are the Steelers will go to a record 9th Super Bowl.

The team the Patriots beat, the Texans, has a coaching staff stacked with former Patriots’ coaches and players (O’Brien, Crennel, Larry Izzo, and Mike Vrabel). The team the Steelers beat, the Chiefs, had former Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli as their GM for 4 years. While the Chiefs struggled during his tenure, many of the key players for this team were acquired by Pioli.

Pioli is currently the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons who also won their division, got a bye week and defeated the Seahawks to advance to the NFC conference championship against the Packers. The Falcons’ GM is Pioli’s old friend from the Browns and Patriots (both under Belichick), Tom Dimitroff.

Half of the teams in the divisional round came from the same organizational roots!

This organization is the subject of Michael Holley’s book War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team. Holley spent a year with the team researching his earlier book, Patriot Reign. He wanted that book to be about Belichick. It has paid off for a growing number of books. Contrary to common opinion, Belichick isn’t self-absorbed and keeps wanting Holley to write not about him but about the organization.

In this book, Holley focuses on Belichick, Pioli and Dimitroff. He provides some biographical information, particularly as he introduces Piolo and Dimitroff, and traces their relationships, how they achieved great success together, and how they’ve been building teams since (when this was written, Pioli was still with the Chiefs).

There is plenty of interesting information about football as Holley retells how some key seasons unfolded. It covers some key drafts as well, bringing you into the process to better understand it. It isn’t just about successes. You see that in drafting disappointments Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, Belichick tuned out the scouts who were raising red flags. You discover Belichick is not the man you see or typically hear about, but that is rather is “stage personae”. Behind the scenes and to his friends he is seen as having a great sense of humor and caring about the people he works with, often providing them with advice.

Reading this book you get a better sense of why so many organizations flounder, or lack consistency. Their organizational games of musical chairs, approach to scouting, focus on the short-term instead of the long -term too, are here to see.

I think this book extends beyond football. There are some principles to appropriate for other organizations. While it is about football, it is about more than football. Success begins with people, identifying people with both skills and character. This is not simply players but the whole organization. Belichick, for instance, hired Pioli to a low level position and watched. He saw a guy driven to know more, do more. Pioli quickly rose as Belichick tested him and he passed those tests. Belichick largely develops staff from within instead of importing people from elsewhere. This way you know if they can actually do the job, not just interview well (a problem not just in football but in most organizations). Evaluating players is not just about skill, but character (the flaw in the Maroney and Jackson picks for instance). Players are not evaluated in the abstract, but in comparison to current members of the team. The idea is whether or not they make the team better in both the short-term and long-term.  The focus is not on “stars” but depth, spending your money so you can survive the attrition of an NFL season instead of floundering because a few key guys are hurt.

I don’t want to give it all away. I want you to read the book. It is interesting as well as informative. There is more here than just the “inside story” on some draft picks (though that is interesting too). There is organizational wisdom for those with ears to hear.

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So far I’ve really enjoyed Crossway’s series “On the Christian Life” having read the volumes on Newton, Bavink and Edwards. I’ve been working my way through the series on vacation/study leave. That all changed when I read Luther.

Oh, I’m kidding. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman is a very good addition to the series. One of the things that Trueman appreciates about Luther was his humor, which is much better than my pathetic little joke there.

One of the strengths of this volume is that Trueman does not try to paint Luther as an “evangelical”. He notes our tendency to repaint our heroes in our own image. He resists this temptation and presents us with the Luther that we both love and don’t quite understand.

Luther’s understanding of the Christian life is very different from that found in “popular” evangelicalism and even in Reformed circles at times. Trueman isn’t here to criticize Luther, but is more to critique us in a round about way.

One of the struggles for a book like this is the sheer volume of material produced by Luther, as well as the development of his thought over time as a pioneer of sorts who came to a greater awareness of the implications, consequences and complications of this ideas over time. Yet, as Trueman notes, evangelicals tend to pull their quotes (sound bytes) from the early Luther.

Trueman begins with a brief biography of Luther so readers can get a lay of the land, so to speak. His life and theology were in near constant interaction. I noticed this tendency in studying some the major psychological theorists, and it is often true for theologians as well. Their theology is an attempt to work out their stuff with God. Unlike one author I read years ago, Luther’s goal was not sexual liberation but rather spiritual liberation.

Luther lived in a time when most people could not read. This greatly impacts his understanding of the Christian life. It is structured around daily worship services to hear the Word of God and to partake of the sacraments. While better literacy rates are a good thing, they have facilitated the individualistic view of the Christian life that actually robs us of maturity. We are meant to live in community, and not just for a few hours on Sunday.

We can’t turn back the clock (this includes rejecting the industrial revolution, modern travel etc. that shapes our lives/lifestyles). But perhaps we can made some different decisions in our own cultural context.

Luther has a strong emphasis on the Word, and Trueman spends time unpacking this. It is tied up on Luther’s understanding of the Word as both God’s revelation and God’s creative power. God’s Word is meant to shape how we think about life and reality. Luther was also concerned about how we approached the Word, and therefore God. We tend to be theologians of glory rather than theologians of the cross. The theologian of the cross sees God and comes to God thru Christ and Him crucified. The incarnation and sacrifice of the Son points to our weakness, sinfulness, neediness and how God is gracious, tender and merciful This shapes a very different life than one focused on God’s power and glory which tends to either drive us to despair (since we are sinners) or puffs us up (due to our pride and self-righteousness). This carries over to Luther’s law and gospel distinction. This is a much misunderstood concept, as if the OT is law and the NT is gospel. As Clapton sang, “It’s in the way that you use it.” The same texts can be used to expose sin, and reveal grace. First comes law to destroy our self-righteousness, and then comes grace.

So we encounter the Word in preaching, singing, meditating, prayer and if possible reading. Luther encourages us to be people of the Word so God will work in us to accomplish His good purposes.

The Christian life is not easy but we struggle with self-righteousness as well as sin. We also deal with anfechtungen, which is difficult to translate into English but could be considered similar to the dark night of the soul. We experience despair and frustration at the trials of life material and immaterial. We are not to look in, but to look out at Christ in the midst of all of this. Faith is looking to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures in dealing with our guilt, self-righteousness, and afflictions. Luther was not an introspective mystic, but one who calls us out of our introspection to look to Christ who is the only One who can help us.

One of the most important chapters is “Luther and Christian Righteousness.” It is written to address some misunderstandings of Luther regarding sanctification. These misunderstandings are found in the books and sermons by Tullian Tchavidjian and Trueman makes a few allusions to Tullian in the chapter. While the Reformation was going swimmingly in its early days, Luther discovered it was not necessarily bearing the fruit it should as he began to visit other areas. He saw that many people calling themselves Christians were ignorant of basic doctrines and lived like pigs.

He made a distinction between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. The former is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us in justification. It is our positional holiness. The latter is righteousness imparted to us by Christ in sanctification. It is our personal holiness. They are distinct but related. The same Christ who justifies us also sanctifies us. First He justifies and then He sanctifies. This order is key to Reformation or Protestant Theology. Luther discovered there was little to no personal holiness, and put forth the need to preach not just alien righteousness but also personal righteousness. This emphasis is seen in The Visitation Articles as well as his catechisms. While Melanchthon is credited with originating the idea of the “third use of the Law” (showing us how to live as Christians) it is actually present in Luther’s writings as well. The Law directs us as justified persons, but it is always grace that empowers us.

Additionally there was the Antinomian Crisis involving Agricola’s deviant theology. Luther notes we are a battlefield between the flesh and Spirit. Preaching only alien righteousness leads to immorality and false assurance of salvation.  So we find the need for pastors to also preach the law for instruction in righteousness.

The Christian life is played out in our vocations of citizen, work and home. Luther rightfully sees the Christian engaged in those spheres. He does not see a secular-sacred divide like the Roman Catholicism of his day (being a priest, nun or monk was seen as a more holy vocation than a cobbler), and some forms of fundamentalism today.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series, just over 200 pages. There is some theological background that has to go into explaining many of the concepts central to Luther and his theology. Trueman handles that well and in understandable form. In the discussion of sacraments, he doesn’t delve into Luther’s understanding of the Chalcedonian Definition/Formula with respect to how the human nature of Christ is present in a ubiquitous fashion. There also aren’t many Scripture references which is interesting since Scripture was so important to Luther.

It is a worthwhile addition to the series that seems to focus on Reformed pastors/theologians. The fact he isn’t an “evangelical” provides a good corrective to many of us. This book is well worth reading.

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I find it hard to believe we’ve been married for 15 years of mostly bliss. Every marriage has difficulty, and plenty of sin. Hopefully there are plenty of good times, and laughter as well. Yesterday I was pondering some of the “memorable” moments, not necessarily highlights, of our marriage. We took a walk before the snow started to fall, and talked about some of these moments.

The First 5 Years:

The other day CavWife mentioned to someone we did Sonship as newly weds. I took a week of Study Leave and we went to Orlando, staying in someone’s house. It was an intense time as she struggled with suddenly going from hyper-thyroid to hypo-thyroid and I was dealing with some conflict/opposition in the church. But the conference laid a good, gracious foundation for our lives together. We’d need it over the years.

Our 1st Valentine’s Day together was something of a disaster. I had these great romantic plans- steak for dinner, homemade cheesecake and later…. Around 4 pm I ended up getting sick. Thoughts of romance went down the frequently flushing toilet.

Our 1st Christmas: she flew to upstate NY ahead of me since she wasn’t working and I had to Christmas Eve service to perform. The weather report said snow in Albany, but they’ve never closed the airport. We seemed to endlessly circle the airport in a holding pattern. They finally announced an open window, and we were third in line to land. Finally we started our descent … and then pulled up. They announced our window closed and we had enough fuel to go to Baltimore. So I spent the night in a hotel room in Baltimore and flying standby the next day. Being Christmas Day, just about everything was closed and I’d barely eaten. Thankfully a friend recently moved to Baltimore, and close to the airport. They fed me Christmas dinner leftovers while we caught up.

In 2004, while she was pregnant we experienced the “triple hurricane” extravaganza. The paths of 3 hurricanes crossed not far from our home after no hurricanes entering the county for 40 years. We were not in town for Charley. Morgan, who rented a room from us, was watching our dog and house. He and Huck headed to Jacksonville since the power went out. We lost 2 freezers full of food. We returned to a sea of blue-tarped roofs, and another hurricane coming our way. It hit the day Morgan was supposed to be out. We didn’t lose power which is great because we needed to dry a large number of towels. During the 3rd, our power went in the wee hours, prayed and sang hymns while water came in through our vent. Our neighbors let us have some electricity from their generator so we could run the refrigerator during the day and a fan at night. We’d drive during the day to enjoy the A/C.

One of the most difficult days was when CavWife was pregnant. We had an appointment for an ultrasound. The baby was too small. We needed a higher level ultrasound, so an appointment was made with a specialist… the next day. We both had a sleepless night anticipating the worst. Thankfully, while growth was inhibited it was not something serious. Which leads me to …

The birth of CavDaughter #1. CavWife was induced and things were “fast and furious” until they gave her the epidural. But that evening we were holding our daughter. It was awesome.

The Middle 5 Years:

Adopting was quite the process. In the midst of it, God was faithful. We adopted CavSon #1 without any debt despite the church closing. CavWife went to China while I stayed behind to take care of our daughter. Thankfully CavWife’s parents were in town because I was floored by a bad case of bronchitis. We would talk, using a cheap phone card, and a disaster was amazingly averted when her finger prints showed up at the consulate in the nick of time.

There was the argument in the Philadelphia airport on a quasi-candidating trip. It was my second trip to meet with the search committee. She recognized it wasn’t a good fit, but I saw the severance package which was about to end and this was the only egg I had in the basket. So, naturally our flight was delayed. They ended up turning me down, which was really good since it probably wouldn’t have gone well.

One of the saddest days was the day I put Huck down. He was a great dog, particularly with the kids. It broke my heart.

One Thanksgiving Eve I was working on our painting project and CavWife was calling me from the kitchen. I was close to finishing and didn’t want to be interrupted. But she put a knife thru a finger trying to pit an avocado (for Jamie’s Mexican salad?). She didn’t want the kids to freak out from the blood. Shortly thereafter she was trying to fly cross country with it bandaged, with 2 kids and their car seats on the plane.

We are still amazed at how God preserved us through a 2 1/2 year transition period between pastoral calls. At times I worked 3 jobs (one was as an EKG tech which may deserve its own post), but it was never enough. We used up the car fund, borrowed money from my parents, a friend paid for our health insurance … We had great friends who kept us sane, loving us well through the transition. This included meals together, Catan night, and watching our kids while we flew out to Arizona for my examination. They filled in for my in-laws since Daddy D was in the ER with renal failure. Thankfully we’ve been in AZ now for nearly 7 years and he’s still alive and kicking.

The “Last” 5 Years:

Adopting again, without incurring debt (again). Oh, the IRS made things interesting at times. But CavWife flew to the DRC this time. We are thankful for CavKids #3 & 4.

One day CavWife called from the Y parking lot. She’d tripped over the youngest and landed on her elbow. Contrary to my advice she didn’t go to the Urgent Care to get it x-rayed. With it in a sling, she flew to NY with the 4 kids. While there she decided to get it x-rayed to discover it was broken. It was not casted at that point, but there was plenty of time in therapeutic braces to regain extension.

In February 2014, she left late in the afternoon to go to the chiropractor in my car. The kids were playing in the back yard so I was in the hammock, listening to music, reading and enjoying a cigar. As a result, I missed the first phone call. She was t-boned in front of the chiropractor’s office and so began our long, disappointing experience with the civil legal system. The opposing counsel is the only person who has ever called CavWife “reckless”. We were amazed.

I love those moments when the 4 kids are all together, laughing and playing. I love the moments they give of themselves to one another.

When CavDaughter #1 became a communing member of the church.

CavWife and I both say her hysterectomy was “the best surgery ever!”

That one time one of our kids said “You’re the best parents ever!”

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As I’ve noted in the past, I focus on books I read in a given year, not books published in that year.  So, here we go.

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson. This is the best, possibly most important book, that I have read in a long time. I also highly anticipated this. He looks at the Marrow Controversy to develop some pastoral theology regarding legalism, antinomianism and assurance. I think it is mandatory reading for pastors and teachers.

The Imperfect Pastor by Zach Eswine. This is one of the best books about pastoral ministry. He discusses our limitations and the temptation to ignore those limitations. It reminds me very much of Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zach Eswine.  This is a great little book on depression that uses Spurgeon’s depression following the tragic accident at the Surrey Gardens as a case study. He is compassionate in discussing its causes and cures.

Institutes of the Christian Religion: The Essentials Edition translated by Robert White. This is a translation of Calvin’s 1541 edition. This is a shorter edition of the Institutes. It is readable. It is interesting to see how his thought developed over time.

Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund. Edwards suffers from a serious PR problem outside of Reformed Christianity. People think, thanks to their English professor, that Edwards was a mean man who focused on hell. In reality he focused on God’s sweetness and excellency. Ortlund focuses on Edwards’ understanding of the Christian life as growing in love.

For a Continuing Church by Sean Michael Lucas. This book traces the roots of the PCA in the PC (US) in the conflict between liberals and conservatives over subjects like subscriptionism, the authority of Scripture, women’s ordination and more.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. They tell the story of the Tripoli Pirates on the coast of north Africa during our nation’s infancy. Our need for trade was threatened by them. Jefferson built a navy and began a process of pressuring the Muslim pirates to accept our terms instead of us accepting their unreasonable and ever-changing terms.

To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Gardner. This is the “untold” story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. It was very interesting. Approximately half the book takes place after Garrett killed Billy the Kid. He, too, was a complicated person.

Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. This is more of a booklet than a book. She argues for complementarianism. She explains her own journey from egalitarianism to complementarianism. She interacts with 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy to sort out her understanding of the phrase “I do not permit a woman to teach and hold authority over a man.” She sees this as one thing, not two: to teach with authority. This is because women seem to be permitted to prophesy in the public assembly but not the assessment of prophecy (1 Corinthians). She also distinguishes between gifting and roles. For instance, a woman may have a gift to shepherd or teach others. She may not have the role of pastor, yet still exercise these gifts in the church.


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