From Creation to Consummation

The cautionary tale of Humpty Dumpty struck me as a young child. I’m sure my parents, along with countless others across the last couple centuries, were intentional about helping me commit the Greek tragedy of the Mother Goose corpus to memory with this end in mind. The operative lesson: don’t sit on walls.

Yesterday, in our 8th week in Genesis, I proposed an “Adam and Eve” version of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme which reflects the realities of the world broken in pieces that we all know so well.

Adam and Eve took from the tree,
Adam and Eve gave fruit to me.
All the therapy and all the home remedies,
Can’t fix the mess.

The first two chapters of the Bible tell the creation story. God’s original creation and the experience of His image-bearers therein, were marked by peace, harmony, unity, and perfection. The third chapter of the Bible tells the story of how all of these realities were shattered. Post-chapter 3, our world and our species have become subject to alienation and separation. Discord, disharmony, shame, brokenness, and isolation are now native to our experience on this planet.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Amazingly, starting in the third chapter of the Bible, the themes of sin and shame (which are prevalent through the rest of the Bible) are also confronted by the beautiful theme of redemption.

Beginning in Genesis 3:15, the gospel of Jesus Christ begins to shine through. It begins to become clear that God has a plan to put the pieces back together. His plan isn’t to delegate the job to all the king’s horses and all the king’s men either. Instead, His plan of redemption centers on His Son.

The King Himself takes responsibility to redeem the creation sin destroyed.

The Bible begins with creation. Shortly thereafter the themes of sin and redemption emerge. From that point on, the arc of God’s grace leads the narrative into the culminating glory of consummation. The point is clear: the King is coming to put the pieces back together again.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.[1]

[1] Revelation 22:1-5 ESV

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A Word on Great Leadership Teams

In my current schedule Tuesday is titled “meeting-day.” I got home around 10pm this last Tuesday night after a 13-hour day that was packed full of different types of meetings from start to finish. The day included planned staff meetings and an elder meeting. There were impromptu meetings and short meetings. There were a few longer meetings and some directional meetings. There were brief vision meetings and at least one or two “could you imagine if?” meetings. It was a good day. I love the teams I get to lead with, and the people I get to serve alongside at LifePoint Church.

I woke up Wednesday morning with a few thoughts about great leadership teams. No team is ever a finished product, as long as it has people on it. People-populated teams will always be in transition, because people are always in transition. When I say “transition” I’m not alluding to personnel turnover. I’m referring to the reality that every human person is continually growing, changing, learning, and developing.

Here are four qualities of great leadership teams:

1) Great leadership teams don’t “spontaneously combust” into existence.

  • God created ex nihilo…but you and I don’t have the ability to create phenomenal and healthy leadership teams out of nothing.
  • Teams don’t just “arrive” in place.
  • Behind every great team is a group of leaders who intentionally build culture, recruit, and provide on-going training.

2) Great teams grow to maturity in the soil of healthy organizational culture.

  • Solid leaders become “culture-makers,” and senior leadership in every organization must be intentional about how they are framing the river of culture.
  • Organizational culture has a strong current, and if it is not directed, affirmed, and re-affirmed, flooding can wreak havoc.
  • As a culture shifts within an organization, those empowered in leadership must have clarity about the target culture.

3) Great teams are populated with leaders from a solidly-built pipeline. 

  • As the water-level rises and the river of culture picks up speed in an organization, the best place to find leaders who fit company-DNA is within the organization itself.
  • Although there are cases where an external hire may be necessary; cultural continuity, loyalty, longevity, and team synergy are all aided by internal leaders who work their way through the pipeline to positions of influence.
  • A pipeline never just “appears,” it has to be skillfully and intentionally built.
  • Laying a solid pipeline requires leaders who are humble, relational, and committed to the organization’s mission over and above their own personal agenda or position of influence.
  • There really is no time-line to when a person should be able to enter the pipeline. In a church setting, the kids and youth ministries should be culture-building mechanisms that pass on healthy DNA to the up and coming generations.

4) Great teams breathe the air of intentionality and humility.

  • This means that from the top-down and the bottom-up, everyone serves, everyone gives, and no one takes the posture of entitlement.
  • This kind of attitude is specifically vital in top-level and visible leaders.
  • Unhealthy people, or people who have experience in unhealthy organizational culture, tend to project their baggage onto anyone in a position of leadership. There is no way around this. However, each leader must examine their heart and remain accountable so that the shoe never fits.
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The “Why” of Biblically Defined Marriage

Debates on marriage have become commonplace in our culture. In the last couple of election cycles, it has become apparent that a rising number of Americans are shifting their opinion on this debate. States have seen the term “marriage” re-defined to describe relationships not identified as “marriages” in the thousands of years various cultures have been using the term. Judge’s gavels and ballot boxes have passed judgment on an institution that has served as a foundational cornerstone in the majority of societies in human history.

Where should those who follow Jesus land?

Surprisingly, the narrative in the Christian world is beginning to shift. A number of self-identifying Christians and formerly traditional churches are migrating away from the biblical framework of marriage to a more culturally acceptable outlook.

In tracking and taking part in dialogue on this subject over the years, it seems that Christians who are beginning to accept atypical views on this topic are doing so because “it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.” Additionally, as the understanding of biblical gender identity has dissipated, and the acceptance of alternative sexual practices has become commonplace, the subject grows more complicated for those trying to figure out what is right.

Surrounded by this environment, perhaps it is necessary for the Christian dialogue on this subject to be informed more intentionally. For those who believe and submit their lives to the teaching of the Bible, I don’t think the real question is “What should we believe on the marriage issue?” That answer is pretty obvious in Scripture.

The Bible reveals marriage as a relationship created by God. God created this relationship as the first human relationship, a relationship which brought together the first two humans: one male, one female. Since God created it (along with everything else), He alone has the right to define it.

God first created mankind, and He differentiated them sexually: male and female (Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:18-23). Genesis 2:18-25 gives the details of the entire scene. After creating mankind and differentiating them sexually as male and female, God created marriage as the governing relationship between his sexually differentiated image-bearers.

The simple biblical fact is that in marriage God brought together in a “one-flesh” union that which He had created as two distinct sexes when He made mankind male and female. Marriage was God’s original creation within which he brought together that which He had differentiated.

This idea of a “one-flesh” union guides all of the Bible’s teaching on marriage. Jesus mentions it (Matthew 19, Mark 10), Paul refers to it several times (1 Corinthians 6, 2 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 5, among other places), and the heart of their teaching is that the one-flesh union is something sacred that God performs. What is it that God is doing in marriage? He’s bringing together in “one flesh” that which He originally differentiated sexually (male and female) in the creation of His image-bearers.

I think this reality does something specific for us as we think about the marriage issue being debated in culture. For the Bible-believer, this isn’t simply “what we believe” it’s “why we believe it.” What does the Bible say about marriage? It’s a covenant between one man and one woman for a lifetime. But why does the Bible define it this way? Because in God’s original creation, He made marriage to be the one-flesh re-unification of that which he differentiated–male and female. So why is it not plausible for Bible-believers to call a relationship between a male and a male or a female and a female “marriage?” Because God didn’t design marriage as a means to bring together that which is already the same.

This means there is no possibility of a same-gender relationship ever being a one-flesh union in the way God designed marriage to function. This doesn’t have anything to do with our feelings, or with someone’s commitment to another person, or with how we pay our taxes, or with who we sleep next to in bed at night. Marriage is something God does. Marriage is something God brings together. And according to God’s word, God doesn’t unite that which he hasn’t differentiated. In marriage, God brings together in a one-flesh union a male and a female. This was the intent of His original design. And since God alone designed it, He alone defines it.

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Stop Trying to Make Better Decisions

The moment of decision is the wrong time to develop a value system. Our decisions reveal our values, they reflect our values, they don’t determine our values.

Not many of us sit around and think about the development of a value system. I know there are some who do. I admire these people. They also have a personal mission statement, specific and measurable goals for each season of their life, and a decision-making matrix that pivots on the axis of their clearly defined three-pronged value structure. Again, not many of us live there.

I think value systems develop more gradually for most people. Perhaps more passively as well. I’m not claiming that this is a good thing, but for most of us the values we operate by are a combination of a number of different factors. They are inherited from our parents, informed by our experiences (successes and failures), tempered and affirmed by our relationships, and shaped by the environment around us. Our value systems are also strongly influenced by our beliefs about life, God, ourselves, the world, Truth, sin, goodness, beauty, and meaning.

Why is this important?

Because the decisions we make, moment by moment, reveal our value systems. Every one of us wants to make good decisions. No one wakes up in the morning thinking “I’d love to have my life look like a train wreck today” or “Today I’m going to unfold my plan to sabotage every meaningful relationship I have” or “What a great day to be super greedy!” We want to make good decisions, and we regret it and grieve when we make stupid ones. But we often miss the reality that a system of values, stemming from our beliefs, is what determines our decisions.

And…the moment of decision is the wrong time to develop a value system.

The ultimate question which leads to the development of your value system is this:

What do you believe?

…About God?
…About the Bible?
…About yourself?
…About human nature?
…About culture?
…About the world?
…About sin?
…About Jesus?
…About the future?

Trying to make better decisions is not the answer. Decisions are symptoms of value systems. Value systems grow out of beliefs. The real question is: What do you believe?

The next question is: Do the decisions you are making in your life reflect what you claim to believe? If so, then you have an integrated value system. If not, then you may want to re-examine if you really believe what you say you believe.

And remember: ultimately your ability or my ability to make right decisions hinges on our relationship to our Creator. I wasn’t created to be accountable to myself, and neither were you. The good news is that our Creator didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves, but instead came to us to rescue us from our sin. When we follow Jesus he determines our value system (that’s why he commanded us to teach one another to obey all that He taught). Christ-centered decisions flow from belief in the gospel.

So instead of trying to make better decisions on my own, the answer is: believe the gospel. Believing the gospel makes me want to surround myself with people who know it, believe it, practice it, live it, and lead others to it. When I engage in this type of environment, my gospel-centered value system develops, strengthens, and gets more integrated in my life. Sounds like a recipe for good decision-making.

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Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

I recently read a most inspiring book about an extraordinarily ordinary man. The book is Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. The subject of the book is the life and reflections of his late father, Tom Carson, a pastor who served for half a century in his native Canada. Tom worked through the heart of the 20th century to pioneer gospel-work in French-speaking Quebec.

tom carsonD.A. (Don) Carson begins the preface to the book this way:

Some pastors, mightily endowed by God, are remarkable gifts to the church. They love their people, they handle Scripture well, they see many conversions, their ministries span generations, they understand their culture yet refuse to be domesticated by it, they are theologically robust and personally disciplined…Most of us, however, serve in more modest patches. Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone to tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies and preaching. Some will work with so little support that they will prepare their own bulletins. They cannot possibly discern whether the constraints of their own sphere of service owe more to the specific challenges of the local situation or to their own shortcomings…Most of us–to be frank–are ordinary pastors.

What follows is a biographical sketch of his father, Tom, a man who faithfully served for decades as an ordinary pastor. Carson starts by acquainting the reader with the historical and cultural background of Quebec in the mid-20th century, assuming that most of his readers will need that point of reference. He then walks through his Dad’s life season by season, using personal stories from himself and his siblings, as well as a wealth of reflective insight found in excerpts from his Dad’s personal journals. The reader follows Tom from his early days in college and seminary through years laboring in a small work of a couple dozen people in Drummondville, to his later years as a bi-vocational pastor, through his final decade-plus as he cared for his ailing wife (Alzheimers) and faithfully prayed for, visited, and worked to disciple anyone he could until his death.

I was extremely refreshed by this book. The sketch of Tom Carson is skillful, honest, witty, and moving. It was great to be reminded that what matters most is simple faithfulness to Jesus. It can be so easy to fall into a trap where we are attempting to measure up to everyone else’s expectations of us, or to a perceived image, or to a desired status. What matters is faithfulness: faithfulness to God, faithfulness to His Word, faithfulness to the witness of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The kingdom of God is carried forward by people of simple faithfulness.

The final page of the book summarized the faithful legacy of this ordinary pastor:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter…He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

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Sunday Review: New Life @ LifePoint

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Genesis Unbound

Genesis unIn my study of the initial chapters of Genesis, one book has stood out from the rest as a most helpful tool in discovering the meaning and implications of the creation narrative. That book is Genesis Unbound by John Sailhamer. A good friend and fellow pastor recommended I read Sailhamer, one of the leading Old Testament scholars in the world, on the subject of creation in Genesis. Although he’s authored a number of books, articles, and commentaries on the book of Genesis, Genesis Unbound specifically focuses on the first two chapters of the Pentateuch.

Sailhamer’s major emphasis is letting the text speak for itself. In most of my research, the actual linguistic and historical contexts of Genesis 1-2 get obscured in a fog of scientific eisogesis, as well-meaning Christian scholars seek to parallel the biblical account with the latest flavor of the month from genetic, geological, biological, or cosmological studies. I’m not going to go so far as to say that this approach is a waste of time, but when it comes to discovering the meaning of the text of Scripture, we don’t approach any other area of the Bible this way. Why? Because it’s not a hermeneutically sound approach. Meaning: it’s not the best way to discover what the original author intended or what the original audience understood. These two factors are significant keys in discovering what a text meant and (thereby) means. Sailhamer doesn’t make this mistake. He offers an interpretation that is thoroughly sound linguistically, historically, and contextually. And in doing so, he gives answers on the “Bible vs. Science” debate that are refreshing and disarming.

All of this to say, Sailhamer’s approach and conclusions are a breath of fresh air. Genesis 1-2 is something I’ve studied from the Hebrew text since my second year in college nearly 15 years ago. I haven’t found a book, commentary, or scholar that I think hits the nail more squarely on the head than Sailhamer in Genesis Unbound. If you pick up this book, which I would highly recommend if you have even a passing interest in this subject, you’re going to find it to be readable, concise, and engaging. The book is certainly worthy of a greater review than I’m going to give here. Thankfully, Matt Perman has already written an extensive summary of Sailhamer’s text. Enjoy.

 

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