He Shall Reign Forever and Ever

I was happy to receive Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life for Christmas.  Ferguson is a strong writer whose prose often stands as a model combination of style and content.  Here’s a brief excerpt that is well-suited for Advent and Christmas devotions:
We do not see everything under man’s feet – not yet. But we see Jesus already crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:5-9a) because He tasted death for us (Heb. 2:9). We see Him by faith, and we realize that His enthroned presence in heaven is the guarantee that he will return to consummate the kingdom He has already inaugurated. Then the last word will be spoken; then the final reversal will take place. The new order begun in the resurrection of our King will spread to everything that He claims for Himself: the fissures in the created order will be sealed and transformed; the groans of creation will be heard no longer (Rom. 8:19-22). Everywhere and in everything there will be reflections of His perfect glory. Then loud voices in heaven will be heard saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).
But all of this lay in the future of the Little One wrapped in swaddling cloths in the Bethlehem manger (Luke 2:12). For the present, the One who “binds up the water in His thick clouds” (Job 26:8), the One who can “bind the cluster of the Pleiades” (Job 28:31), Himself lay bound in strips of cloth wrapped around Him under the illusion that otherwise His little limbs might become deformed in later life.
Here are wonders upon wonders: the Strong One is weak; the Infinite One lies in a manger; the Prince of Life dies; the Crucified One lives; the Humiliated One is glorified.
Meekness and majesty, indeed!
Behold, then, your newborn King! Come and Worship Him!
A refreshing meditation as the Christmas season winds down.  A refreshing reminder in the midst of holiday distractions that the Babe of Bethlehem has become the King of the Cosmos.

New Books Worth a Look

I wanted to point to a couple of books that I was pleased to see published as of late.  The first is Commentary on Selected Passages in the Four Gospels: Searching the Scriptures for Grace and Guidance; the second is Commentary on Selected Passages in Paul’s Letters: Searching the Scriptures for Grace and Guidance; both are authored by Walter Albritton and will certainly be worth a look.  I’m pleased to see these books come out because Walter is to me not only a mentor, pastor, teacher, and colleague but a very dear friend.  I was privileged to sit under his preaching for 13 years, and to this day he is at the top of my call list when I’m in need of wise counsel.  In fact, I actually started this blog after some advice he gave me on becoming a better writer.  I’m excited about these books because I know that so much of his wisdom will fill their pages.  Indeed, these two books are the product of nearly 60 years of pastoral ministry and reflection.  Walter has always been able to draw insights from the scriptures and apply them to the life of the people of God in accessible and encouraging yet challenging and edifying ways.  All who read will benefit from these books.  I’m looking forward to reading them myself.  Keep an eye out for a review or two sometime in future.  If you’d like to get to know Walter a little better, you can check out his blog: Walter Rambling.

Gospel Priority

Peter T. O’Brien on Philippians 1:12-26 from The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 1991):
For Paul the goal of the gospel’s advance overrides all else; thus his personal inconveniences, sufferings, and imprisonment serve this end.  He knows of this surprising progress of the gospel because of the effects of his imprisonment upon those outside the Christian community (v. 13) and because others within the Christian fellowship have been given fresh courage for the work of evangelism (v. 14)…Paul knows of the progress of the gospel through these empirical results (vv. 13-14).  Their presence shows the gospel is making headway at Rome.  At the same time one can describe these results as the advance of the gospel itself, or at least significant elements of its progress (87, emphasis mine).
My guess is that most of us don’t typically tend to think of our personal inconveniences and sufferings in light of how they serve the goal of the advance of the gospel.

Seven Pointers on Putting Pen to Paper

I enjoy writing.  If you read this blog, you probably already know that.  I also enjoy reading what other people write about writing.  I like to think I enjoy reading about writing because it is part of developing my own skill; however, it is more likely that I enjoy such reading because I can feel like I’m becoming a better writer without actually putting pen to paper (or digits to keys in this age of word processors).  One writer who has written on writing over the last year is Douglas Wilson.  He began by outlining “Seven Basic and Brief Pointers for Writers”.  He then, it seems, decided to elaborate on those brief pointers in a series of posts which came out periodically from April to Novemeber.  I enjoy Doug’s writing, and I’ve enjoyed this series on writing.  So, I thought I’d summarize and point the way to it here.  Each pointer is linked to the explanatory post.
  1. Know something about the world.
  2. Stretch before your routines.
  3. Learn other languages, preferably languages that are upstream from ours.
Each post brings the typical Dougish blend of humor and wisdom.  You’ll have to click through to get all of that, though.  Enjoy.

The Leadership Dynamic: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders

Books on Christian leadership abound these days, and many take the approach of applying insights from the secular business world to the church in order to aid church leaders in building successful organizations.  This is not an altogether unhelpful approach.  I’ve read several of these books and have benefited from them in various ways.  On several occasions I’ve come away with ideas and initiatives that I’ve found to be truly helpful in leading a local church.  But each time I’ve been a bit cautious at the basic assumption that business leadership models should be taken as the primary way of thinking about developing the leaders of the church.  That’s why I was hopeful when Harry Reeder’s The Leadership Dynamic (Crossway 2008) was recommended to me.  The subtitle says it all: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders. 
Reeder is also wary of starting with the business leadership models of secular culture when thinking about cultivating leaders for the church.  Thus, instead of going outside the Christian tradition for insight, Reeder goes straight to scripture to see if a biblical model  for leadership development can be found; his answer: an emphatic yes.  Without going into the details of the book, Reeder’s overall framework is what he calls “3-D Leadership“: Defining, Developing, and Deploying Christian leaders.  The chapters of the book fall basically into these three categories to articulate a comprehensive plan for developing Christian leaders that is thoroughly biblical and rooted in historic Christian belief. 
Let me mention three features of Reeder’s book that are particularly commendable.  First, when Reeder says he is giving a biblical model, he isn’t kidding.  This book is scripture saturated.  Every leadership principle is grounded in or drawn from the biblical text.  The strength here is that we know we are not twisting an idea from a non-Christian context to try and make it fit church culture.  Instead, the result of Reeder’s method is a model of leadership development that is shaped and refined through scriptural interaction.  Second, if Reeder’s first calling is that of a pastor, his second is that of historian.  The book is chock full of historical vignettes that make Reeder’s points vividly.  Many of the short but potent narratives are drawn from the lives of Christians who made leadership decisions based on their understanding of scripture, which clearly falls within Reeder’s goals.  Third, Reeder is ridiculously good at coming up with short and punchy memorable maxims that help the reader follow and remember his main points.  This makes the book highly readable and easy to follow.  For these reasons and others, I highly recommend Harry Reeder’s The Leadership Dynamic: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders.

Education Vouchers and So-called Private Schools: What’s at Stake and What’s the Solution?

New Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott is catching some heat for his suggestion that all Florida children receive vouchers which can be redeemed at public or private schools.  The plan is controversial because a mass exodus from public schools is feared were the government to give vouchers for students to attend schools of their parents choice, be they public or private.  The vouchers are expected to be worth $5,500 dollars, which is the amount it costs to educate a pupil in the state education system.   
At issue here is whether private schools ought to honor government vouchers.  I champion the view that they should not.  “Why?” you ask.  Good question.  Once private schools begin to accept government funding in any form, even vouchers, then they are basically ceasing to be private schools.  Seldom does the government pass out cash with no strings attached.  The recent government bailout of General Motors and the subsequent executive branch canning of that company’s CEO make that point with clarity.  It’s not hard to imagine the government putting educational and ideological stipulations on which so-called private schools can receive funding in the form of school vouchers.  Imagine this scenario:  Let’s say a private school begins honoring government vouchers.  A couple of years later and after some law suits over the use of public funds to pay for private education, the government implements stipulations about what curriculum can be used in private schools if they want to keep the cash flow coming in the form of vouchers.  By this time, the school has increased its enrollment and hired on a lot of new teachers.  What do they do?  Decrease enrollment and lay off a bunch of teachers when they can’t afford to pay them because they don’t have the government funds?  Or just keep on taking the cash and adjust the curriculum (and eventually everything else) in line with government regulations?  Obviously, most will keep taking the cash.  And now the government is calling the shots in the private schools.  And the private schools aren’t really private any more.  So, should private schools accept government vouchers?  Not if they want to stay private. 
What is the solution then?  I propose that instead of vouchers, states that truly desire to grant to parents the freedom to choose the way their children are educated should allow a tax credit to those families who elect to use private education.  This tax credit could be set to the tune of what it costs to educate a child in whatever state is in question, $5,500 in Florida.  This would free up money for children to attend private schools and avoid the problem of government checks being written to private schools.  Of course, the problem with this plan in Florida is that there are no state income taxes.  In this case, the government could just cut families who opt out of public education the $5,500 check.  I certainly don’t expect to see this plan in legislation any time soon.  It’s way too conservative; way too small government; way too hands-off my kids and their education.  It would, however, provide for a truly free parental choice in the education of their children, which is what Governor-elect Scott claims to advocating.  It would also guarantee that private schools stay private, which is very important. 

The Gift of Death

To say I am appalled at the news that Planned Parenthood of Indiana is selling gift certificates that can be redeemed for abortions would be an understatement.  This is depravity beyond words.  And I almost find it hard to believe that anyone, even a merchant-of-death company like Planned Parenthood, would stoop to such a level to peddle their evil services.  The leading provider of abortions in the United States says that the certificates are intended to encourage women not to forgo important heath care.  But Planned Parenthood is a for-profit company, and the reason for-profit companies sell things like gift certificates is, well, for profit.  Now profit is not bad in and of itself.  Profit is evil, though, when it is made by taking advantage of women who are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically vulnerable and on the slaughtering of countless little ones robbed of life before having the opportunity to breath outside their mother’s womb.
Beyond all that, what kind of person would give one of these things to another person anyway?  What a way to say you care.  You know; spread a little holiday cheer…with an abortion gift certificate.  I can see it now.  A teenage mom-to-be is getting up on a snowy white Christmas morning.  She has struggled with what to do and where to go for help.  She is looking for a little hope and maybe even some joy on this holy day, and what does she find stuffed in her Christmas stocking?  Not a lump of coal but a big fat book of gift certificates good for one abortion if used before the expiration date.  So, make your appointment and hurry on in.  Can’t you just feel the last semblance of hope and joy sucked right out of the holiday?  What a ridiculously bad idea.  So, if you’re looking for a last minute gift idea, there’s always the gift of death.