Sunday (6/4/17) Jamie and I were blessed by a sermon from Pastor Bruce McKanna on Sabbath rest. Bruce gave this beautiful challenge: “Don’t give yourself permission to rest so much as hear God’s permission.”

The first Sunday of my sabbatical, I preached in the GSOI. June 4th was my first opportunity to sit in the pew.  We attended Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris and In God’s conspicuous providence, we heard a sermon on Sabbath rest.

The entire sermon was excellent but the point I continue to reflect on is the reminder that God’s work and rest in creation serves as a pattern for his people.

In response to the sermon, I am memorizing Exodus 31:17:

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

The pattern of work and rest is rooted in creation. Work followed by rest is a rhythm that should be part of all our lives.

 

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One of my summer sabbatical goals is to read widely. Below is a book I would recommend for those looking for Christian beach reading. It is written at a level that is easily followed and offers a fresh look at apologetics.

Skeel, David. True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2014.

Skeel argues that the Christian worldview offers the best explanation of significant areas of human experience.

Specifically, Skeel compares Christianity to materialism where materialism or naturalism is the belief that the material is the ultimate reality and that there is no supernatural God, gods or spirit(s) (13).

Skeel focuses on five different phenomena or paradoxes as areas in which to compare Christianity and materialism.

  1. Idea Making / Human Consciousness – Human beings have a consciousness and the ability to think abstractly about ideas. How did we come to be creatures who think abstractly? What is the origin of the “ghost in the machine”?
  2. Beauty and the Arts – “This perception that beauty is real and that it reflects the universe as it is meant to be, but that it is impermanent and somehow corrupted, is the paradox of beauty (65).” Why are we so moved by beauty?
  3. The Problem of Evil – “If a good God oversees, the universe, why would he allow [suffering] (90)?” If there is nothing more than the material and the evolution of life, why are people concerned about evil?
  4. The Justice Paradox – Humanity devises systems of law they believe they can follow, but then societies fail to follow those laws. Marxism is one infamous example. Why do we view justice as so important?
  5. Life and Afterlife – “Christians believe in both a life and an afterlife (137).” Yet, other worldviews argue that once the physical lights go out, existence ceases. Which view best fits the data?

Skeel is a law professor and this shows in his ability to outline clear, well-reasoned positions. Indeed, his explanation of the lawyer’s vocation as “navigating complexity” offers a fascinating insight into the legal profession (148).

Skeel is not a trained theologian. He does not attempt sophisticated theological explanations nor does he interact a great deal with the biblical text. That is not his purpose. Rather, his goal is to encourage people to think deeply about human experience and the worldviews that make the most sense of life.

Skeel’s lack of theological depth is most notable in the chapter 5, “Life and Afterlife.” There he seems to give N.T. Wright more credit than he deserves asserting that “the contemporary theologian who has done more than any other to explain [the hope of the new earth] is N.T. Wright.”  At the same time, Skeel unfairly characterizes dispensationalists as believing that only physical bodies will be resurrected (155).

Skeel’s offers four excellent strategies for people interested in thinking deeply about life after reading his book:

  1. Keep reading. Investigate more.
  2. Attend church.
  3. Find a Christian whom you respect and who is willing to answer questions you have about Christianity and what Christians do and do not believe.
  4. Read the Bible itself.

For those wishing to consider apologetics (the case for Christianity) on an introductory level, Skeel’s True Paradox offers a worthwhile place to begin.

See also:

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Do You Ever Hum, What’s Forever For?

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One of the first videos every parent should watch — whether their children are three or thirty. The audio is available here.

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I’m thankful for the opportunity to recharge! 

A week into my sabbatical and here is some of how I’m working at recharging:

  • Memorizing and meditating on Romans 11:33-36. I can’t believe I haven’t previously memorized.
  • Lots of Scripture review and meditation
  • Listened to Paul Tripp’s address: Parenting is Gospel Ministry. It’s excellent!
  • Reading in Orwell’s 1984Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for FreedomChurchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat
  • Gave a sermon at a family reunion.
  • Lots of walking at the Byron Forest Preserve — developing a friendship with the deer!
  • Listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on the incarnation. Also excellent!
  • Travelled to the GSOI (Great state of Iowa) where the children were thrilled to see me. 
  • Preparing for a graveside service for someone connected to our church family. 
  • I’ve prayed that our flock will be blessed this summer — especially by Pastor Tim Michalek’s preaching in Philippians. 

 

 

 

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Watch the below video with Dr. Jeremy Pierre. If I ever issue a revised copy of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds I’m going to pay my own gas money to buy Dr. Pierre lunch so we can talk biblical forgiveness. He interacts with hard questions in a way that is both pastorally sensitive and biblically responsible. 

“How do I forgive someone who refuses to say sorry?” Much of the reason I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds was to interact with this question. There are at least two extremes to avoid.

  • On the one hand, Christians should always follow Christ’s example and proactively show love (Romans 5:8, Romans 12:21). Using the word picture of gift giving, we should always wrap the package of forgiveness and offer it to those who hurt us. 
  • Yet, Christians must also avoid diminishing evil that is done nor should they be help captive by unrepentant offenders (Romans 12:19, 2 Thess 1:6-10, 2 Tim 4:14). If the offending party is unwilling to repent and unwrap the package, then we can trust God for justice.

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.

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I am again privileged to be part of the Haddon Robinson Study Retreat. This we are studying the Old Testament books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah under the instruction of Wheaton’s Danny Carroll.

Each year a group of pastors gather for a week of intense study Covenant Harbor Camp near Lake Geneva, WI . Our format is simple. We invite a world-class scholar to teach us on one or more books of the Bible. As we are taught on a technical level, we collaborate to envision how to preach the Scripture we are studying to our congregations.

We were inspired by Dr. Haddon Robinson to begin this retreat. Haddon is one of the most influential teachers of homiletics (preaching) in the English speaking world in the last 100 years. Most of us who are part of this retreat studied under Haddon. All share a commitment to the clear proclamation of God’s Word.

Participants are thankful for a family who underwrite part of the cost of our retreat. We are also thankful for our churches that value the opportunity for their pastors to get away from our many responsibilities for a time of intense focus on the Word.

Our group comes from all over North America. If you click through to the interactive map, you will see that we have participants who come from everywhere from Edmonton to South Carolina. Combined, we have hundreds of years of pastoral experience.

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Jamie and I didn’t formally catechize our children. Though we did spend a great deal of time with them in theological instruction and dialogue. But I agree with Tim Keller’s points and if we had it to do over again, I think we would. 

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Witness how a grandfather sees color for the first time. Then consider how great will be the Christian’s joy when not just one malady is cured, but EVERY hurt is healed– in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52). 

Christ’s resurrection assures Christians that we will also share in his resurrection (1 Cor 15:20). Those who have died in Christ will rise in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Our new resurrection bodies will be cured of all aches. The lame will walk. The blind will see.

This man’s response is the tiniest preview of what it will be like to have a new resurrection body.

For more reflection on this point, see Steve Dewitt’s post, Resurrection Characteristics of Christ’s Body (And Ours As Well)

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Second Corinthians 5:10 encourages believers with the certainty of the approaching judgment seat of Christ. Paul wrote:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10

Given that those who put their faith in Christ are saved strictly on the basis of what Christ has done (Rom 8:1, Eph 2:2-9), how are we to understand Paul’s teaching that Christians will receive what is due us for deeds done in the body?

In his book, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 1-6), Volume 1: 100 Daily Meditations on 2 Corinthians, Sam Storms makes 10 helpful observations about the judgment seat of Christ. These points are abridged (pages 140-145). You will need to consult the book to hear his full argument for each point.

  1. Who is to be judged? The broader context of 2 Corinthians 4-5 suggests that only believers are in view.
  1. What is the nature or purpose of the judgment? Eternal destiny is not at issue; eternal reward is.
  1. When does the judgment occur? Paul doesn’t seem concern to specify when. The most that we can be sure of is that it happens after death.
  1. Take note of the inevitability of judgment for everyone. This is not a day that can be set aside as irrelevant or unnecessary. It is essential for God to bring to consummation his redemptive purpose and to fully honor the glory of his name among his people. No one is exempt. Paul himself anticipated standing at this judgment . . .
  1. Paul emphasizes the individuality of the judgment (“each one). As important as it is to stress the corporate and communal nature of our life as the body of Christ, each person will be judged individually (no doubt, at least in part, concerning how faithful each person was to his corporate responsibilities!)
  1. Observe the mode or maner of this judgment (“we must all appear”). We do not merely “show up” at the judgment seat of Christ but are laid bare before him. As Paul said in 1 Cor 4:5, the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart . . .”

Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin, or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? But don’t forget: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

  1. This judgment has an identity all its own (“judgment seat of Christ”).
  1. The judge himself is clearly identified (“judgment seat of Christ”). This is consistent with what we read in John 5:22 where Jesus said that “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”
  1. Of critical importance is the standard of judgment (“what he has done in the body, whether good or evil”). Reference to the “body” indicates that the judgment concerns what we do in this life not what may or may not be done during the time of the intermediate state itself.
  1. The result of the judgment is not explicitly stated but is certainly implied. All will “receive” whatever their deeds deserve. Paul is slightly more specific in 1 Corinthians 3:14-15: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” The “reward” is not defined, and the likelihood is that the “loss” suffered is the “reward” that he or she would otherwise have received had they obeyed.

Sam concludes the chapter:

Two closing comments are in order. First, our deeds do not determine our salvation, but demonstrate it. They are not the root of our standing with God but the fruit of it, a standing already attained by faith in Christ alone. The visible evidence of an invisible faith are the “good” deeds that will be made know at the judgment seat of Christ.

Second, don’t be afraid that, with the exposure and evaluation of your deeds, regret and remorse will spoil the bliss of heaven. If there be tears of grief for opportunities squandered, or tears of shame for sins committed, he will wipe them away (Rev. 21:4). The ineffable joy of forgiving grace will swallow up all sorrow, and the beauty of Christ will blind you to anything other than the splendor of who he is and what he has, by grace, accomplished on your behalf.

See also:

9 Blessings that Result from Studying the Return of Jesus

13 End Times Errors to Avoid

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St. Titus “The Tough”

Chris —  March 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Spiritual leadership requires guts and grit. You have to be tough to lead. Consider the biblical example of Titus.

When I left the corporate world and went to seminary, I pictured spiritual leaders as clean cut guys in starched white shirts and blue suits. I understood that spiritual leadership wasn’t always easy. I knew that piety was essential. But I didn’t think much about the need for a spiritual leader to be a gladiator.

You might wonder how I missed what was so obvious in Scripture. Had I read about Moses? Or David? Or Jesus! Didn’t I know that Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are in a spiritual war?

I would have said at the time I knew toughness was important. But I didn’t really know. The dusty world of the Biblical slingshots, Roman soldiers, and stonings seemed so far removed from our modern age.

Twenty six years later I’ve realized what I should have known all along: spiritual leaders are walking the way of the cross. The face of spiritual leadership looks a lot more like the image to the right of Wisconsin wrestler Isaac Jordan (from The Faces of College Wrestling) than that of a button-downed executive. To be a spiritual leader is to go to the front lines of a war. Figurative bruises and black eyes are sure to come. Bloody lips are part of the call.

And the more bruises I get as a leader, the more I can relate to the guts and grit of the biblical leader Titus. If I had deeply understood more about Titus when I began in spiritual leadership, I would not have been so surprised the first time I got flattened.

On the one hand, we know little about the first century church leader Titus. He is not mentioned in Acts. Some have speculated that Luke omitted Titus’s name because he and Luke were brothers: an intriguing theory, but only a guess.

Outside of Acts, Titus’s name appears 13 times in the New Testament (2 Cor 2:13, 7:6, 7:13, 7:14, 8:6, 8:16, 8:23, 12:18, Gal 2:1, 3, 2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:4). From those passages, we can sketch a preliminary picture. Titus was Greek and one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4). He became one of Paul’s most trusted partners and maybe the toughest.

The case for Titus’s toughness is built by reflecting on four assignments entrusted to Titus by the Apostle Paul.

First, Titus represented uncircumcised Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. . . But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Gal 2:1, 3

In 50 AD Paul received a special revelation from God that he should travel to Jerusalem for a meeting that was sure to be a showdown. The central question in view was the matter of circumcision. For more than 2,000 years the people of the living God were circumcised as a covenant sign of their relationship with God. Now, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant, it was rightly argued that circumcision was not required (Gal 2:1-10). The matter was a tremendously contentious issue for the early church. For Titus to go — as something of the token uncircumcised Gentile — meant the authenticity of his faith would be scrutinized and questioned by articulate and combative Judaizers. 

Second, Titus was Paul’s messenger and intermediary with Corinth.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 2 Cor 8:16

Given its location, the church at Corinth was of strategic importance. Yet, it was full of problems (see 1, 2 Corinthians). The relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth was strained to say the least. Indeed, Paul had so severely rebuked the Corinthians that he wasn’t sure if they were up to another round of correction directly administered by him (2 Cor 2:1). Instead, Paul gave Titus the job of delivering Paul’s severe or sorrowful letter.

Titus delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the Corinthians couldn’t have been a pretty scene. The Corinthians expected that Paul would be arriving in person. Doubtless, those who supported Paul were disappointed to hear he wouldn’t be coming. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents seized on his absence to accuse Paul of breaking his word.

To make matters even more difficult, Titus’ role as messenger included the task of taking up a collection for other young churches (2 Cor 8-9). It takes a tough leader to relay the message of a rebuke while also leading a giving campaign.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the difficulty of Titus’ assignment, notice, Paul was by no means sure that things would go well. He was so distressed about how things went for Titus that when Titus did not return as expected, Paul left a ministry opportunity and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). After hearing good news from Titus when he found him, Paul asked Titus to deliver 2 Corinthians.

Biblical scholars believe that Titus probably represented Paul to the Corinthians on three different occasions. And given that 1,2 Corinthians are in the New Testament today, our sense is that Titus was effective in his role. Even so, he took some body blows.

Third, Titus traveled with Paul for extended periods of time.

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 2 Cor 8:23

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Titus 1:4

As seen above, Titus was with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). He was a key intermediary with the church at Corinth (51-56 AD). We also know that Titus accompanied Paul to Crete (62-64 AD). Putting all of this together, it is also reasonable to assume that Titus was at Paul’s side (or representing Paul) for a large part of Paul’s ministry. Partnering with Paul was one of the toughest ministry assignments ever. Beatings, shipwrecks, or death were never far away. Yet, Titus persevered.

Fourth, Titus stayed behind in Crete to deal with troublemakers and appoint leaders.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—Titus 1:5

While the book of Acts does not document a missions visit by Paul to Crete, we know from Titus 1:5 that Paul and Titus visited Crete together. The traditional understanding is that Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and he and Titus made a missions trip to Crete. The gospel took root in Crete. But, as we learn from the book of Titus, Crete was a notoriously difficult culture. If the gospel cause was to go further, someone needed to stay behind, appoint qualified leaders, and take on divisive leaders. Paul chose “Titus the tough” to silence the circumcision group in Crete and to deal with other difficulties.

Almost 2,000 years later we don’t know what Titus looked like when he traveled to Jerusalem, Corinth, and Crete. But of this we can be sure. He was a warrior. He has a black eye or two. And so do all leaders who make a difference. To be a spiritual leader is to be called into a battle.

See also:

Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

The Bible Project on Titus

 

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