Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A word to leaders

Are you a leader? You qualify if you're a dad, a deacon, a supervisor at work, the captain of a basketball team, the leader of a campus Bible study, a mom or a recognized 'pillar citizen' in your neighborhood. Wherever we have influence over others, we are leaders. Leadership carries with it authority. Sometimes that authority is formal, like the authority of a US Senator. Sometimes it's non-formal, like the authority the presence of a seasoned Christian carries when he attends his small group, even if he's not the official leader. How we wield our authority makes or breaks our leadership of those looking to us for guidance, wisdom and security. In his book King Me, Steve Farrar distinguishes between authority which proves a blessing and authoritarianism which crushes those we lead:
  • Authority is kind. Authoritarianism is dismissive and rude.
  • Authority is firm, looking into the hearts of those one leads. Authoritarianism is overly concerned with the letter of the law, often completely overlooking the heart.
  • Authority disciplines for one's good. Authoritarianism abuses - through manipulation or power-plays or verbal undressing or worse.
  • Authority is open and approachable. Authoritarianism is easily threatened and, therefore, discourages being approached.
  • Authority is thoughtful and intentional. Authoritarianism is explosive.
  • Authority is consistent. Authoritarianism is unpredictable and can jump out and bite off a head at any given moment.
  • Authority encourages people and builds them up. Authoritarianism discourages people by focusing on their faults.
  • Authority holds out an open hand of generosity. Authoritarianism is stingy - stingy with praise, acts of kindness, time and money - always clutching its hand in a tight fist.
In grace, God's given us all leadership and influence over others. How are you exercising your's today?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The antidote to our pride and sloth

"The more sinful you discover yourself to be, the more you realize the radical nature of God's grace. The more radical you see His grace, the more you are freed to recognize your weaknesses and shortcomings without fear. And the more you see those, the sweeter grace becomes and the more you want to boldly live and share it. Thus the gospel creates in you an increasingly intense humility and confidence in God. Without the gospel, humility and confidence only increase at each other's expense. But in the gospel, humility and confidence increase together."

- Tim Keller, Church Planter Training Manual, p. 189

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Insight into Adam's sin

"Adam's failure in the task with which he was commissioned includes his permitting entrance into the garden to an antagonistic and unclean being. Although Genesis 2-3 does not explicitly say that Adam's 'ruling and subduing' task was to guard the garden from the satanic snake, this is likely conceptually in mind in light of the following two considerations: (1) the commission in Gen. 1:26-28 to subdue and rule over every creature that 'creeps on the earth'; (2) Eden was a temple in which Adam was placed as a living image of God and as God's priest who was to guard the sanctuary from unclean creatures. Thus, Adam did not rule well because he did not guard the garden, allowing entrance to a foul snake that brought sin, chaos and disorder in to the sanctuary and into Adam and Eve's lives. He allowed the serpent to 'rule over' him rather than 'ruling over' it and, as an obedient priest, casting it out of the garden."

- Gregory Beale, New Testament Theology, pp. 45-46

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A comment on commentaries

As a Christian grows in his or her knowledge of Scripture, a desire to mine the wealth of the biblical text often compels one to read beyond the text itself, searching out commentaries written by the most theologically accurate and scholarly keen minds. The array of Bible commentaries available for each of the Bible's sixty-six books is dizzying. How to know which to read? Which are most reliable? Which are a worthwhile investment?

Recently, a new website providing answers to these questions emerged which I've found personally very helpful. Hopefully, you will too. You can find it here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Preaching at Trinity

These days you never know what you're going to find in a sermon when you visit a church. Some are mostly inspiring stories designed to motivate mere behavior. Others may be dry, theological lectures which rarely connect with people's real lives. Some sermons reference the Bible frequently, and others may give it a nod but little more. Some thoughts by Ed Stetzer, I believe, capture how we seek to approach preaching here at Trinity and what our listeners can expect:

"For a sermon to be genuinely biblical, the text [of the Bible] must set the agenda as the foundation of the message. Scripture should be central. Expository preaching [i.e. preaching based on a biblical text] does not make statements and then look to the Bible for support; it begins by examining the Scriptures." (Planting Missional Churches, p. 272)

I agree. A sermon is not biblical unless the Bible itself sets the sermon's agenda. But that is not all. After the biblical text is explained, it needs to be illustrated, helping those listening understand what the God-driven truth its revealing 'looks like' in their world. Finally, it needs to be applied in a compelling way which both unmasks our sin and drives us in hope to Jesus for forgiveness and holy power to more fully embrace His glorious purpose in making us.

When these three components converge: explanation of a biblical text, illustration of the text in contemporary terms and application of the text's gospel truth to our lives, then you have a truly biblical sermon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Becoming spiritually legible in 2012

As the father of growing sons who are presently learning to read better than write, on a number of occasions they have written me a note or card which I simply can't decipher. They want to communicate in English, but based on the piece of paper before me, they might as well be from Borneo due to the illegibility of their hand-writing.

Though we all want to be able to communicate by way of our language, as Christians we should be even more concerned to 'communicate Christ' through our lives. Ralph Venning, in his book The Sinfulness of Sin, reminds us that one of sin's dementing effects is how it makes us spiritually illegible to those around us. He writes, "Righteousness and holiness were stamped on man's soul, but sin has blotted this image and superscription, which once told from whence it came, and to whom it belonged, so that man is fallen short of the glory of being God's." (45)

In other words, when God originally made Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, they were untarnished mirror images of God in which it was easy to 'read' God's glory stamped on them. The Fall 'smudged' God's glorious image stamped on us, making it harder to read. But, by God's grace, regeneration (new life through faith in Christ ) begins the work of cleaning up the smudge of sin so that our lives once again become spiritually legible to the glory of God.

The ultimate work of 'divine legibility' in us is God's, but there is an active role each of us is called to play as well. Every time we choose to sin, we are re-smudging the image of God, making us spiritually illegible to a watching world. But, every time we trust God and live by His righteous Word, we partner with the Spirit in His supernatural work of clearing away the smudge of the Fall so we become increasingly 'legible', allowing others to easily read us as Christ's ambassadors on earth, trophies of His grace.

I don't put much stock in New Year's resolutions, but as 2012 begins, let's pursue greater spiritual legibility by saying 'no' to sin and 'yes' to righteousness. Perhaps you can think of some specific patterns of sin which which made your life in 2011 less spiritually illegible. Today is a new beginning to partner with the Holy Spirit and make choices which will make the label 'Christian' be more legible than ever. Then, not only will God be glorified as we more clearly mirror His glory as we were designed, others will be able to read the gospel stamped on our lives, inviting them, too, to become living signposts pointing to heaven in clearly legible script for all to read.