Thankful for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream

I Have A Dream

It’s been fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr. shared with a divided nation his “dream” of racial equality. I am thankful for his dream, which is a reality for our family today. This is our son Solomon with his cousin Emma.

Why Do We Need Physical Rest?

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This was originally posted at The Gospel Project site. To see the entire series click here.

The Need for Physical Rest

As we get older, it is inevitable that we will wear down physically. In turn, our need for rest and recuperation becomes more noticeable. At least, that’s been my experience in the last few years. When I do not get as much rest as I need, I become impatient and irritable towards my family and friends. So, the older I get, the more I cherish rest. Many nights I collapse into the bed exhausted, and sink into the mattress from the weight of the day’s activity.

Physical rest repairs and rebuilds the body and mind. When we exert ourselves physically or mentally, we long for the restoration of our energy. Researchers have shown that both the physical stress of manual labor and even the emotional stress of a desk job require subsequent rest for the body and mind to recuperate.

Many of us need more rest; we live in a culture that forfeits rest to chronically overwork. Studies have shown that the average American doesn’t get nearly enough sleep for what their body requires to function at peak performance. This scientific information is good and all, but research can only offer observations about rest and our need for rest. The Bible, on the other hand, can actually offer the deeper reasons for unrest and lasting motivations for rest.

A Theology of Rest?

What actually drives us to unrest is rooted in our hearts, usually idolatry. For example, the workaholic sacrifices rest to the god of success, power, and productivity. This pattern can be seen in almost all areas of our life. The good news is, God is not silent about our need for rest nor has He left us without good reason or motivation for rest. The Bible is very clear that humans need rest, and interestingly enough, rest teaches us something about God.

Physical Rest is a Gift from God

God building in the need for rest in the lives of His creatures is a gift of grace. In Psalm 127, we read that God “gives to His beloved in his sleep.” The nights that I sleep well lead to mornings when I am most refreshed and days that I am most productive. Let’s face it; the anxieties of everyday life can wear us down to the point of physical and emotional fatigue. I am thankful that the infinite God granted this finite man the need for rest. In fact, it is impossible for a finite being like you and I to live well without rest.

Physical Rest Reminds us that We are not God

Again, the psalmist proclaims that God will “neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). How different from us? We need rest. If we do not rest it has massive implications for our physical, emotional, and mental health. However, God does not need rest. Not only is God all-powerful (not needing rest), He is ever-watchful (watching us while we rest). For some of us it is a scary thing to consider that we lay down all control and consciousness when we sleep. The most powerful people in all of humanity spend a third of their lives asleep, as helpless as an infant, and the world still progresses. Simply put, we are not God.

Physical Rest requires us to Relinquish Control

God handles the world quite well while on His own. God is sovereign over our world while we are awake, even more so when we are at rest.  John Piper once said, “…Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign.” We’ve all heard the hard worker wax all self-righteously about his/her early morning and late night working hours, as if they run the world. How silly. It’s better to work well and sleep well, rather than to sacrifice rest in an effort to stay in control.

Lying Down and Laying it Down

God intended sleep to be a gift, a time every day where we remind ourselves that we are not God, and that God is in control. If you are like me, you probably have trouble sleeping when you are worried about something. Well, Jesus is pretty clear on the fact that worrying accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:27-29).

So, I’ve learned that when I lie down to sleep it helps me to say to myself, “God, I am powering down, even though there is a ton to do, and lots to worry about, You are awake, working, and in perfect control, so I trust You to handle what I can’t.” It helps me rest well knowing that everything is in His hands.

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

A few weeks ago Trevin Wax walked into my office and handed me an advanced copy of his first fiction book Clear Winter Nights. I have read Trevin’s blog for years. I’ve also read his previous non-fiction works Holy Subversion and Counterfeit Gospels. Trevin is a gifted writer and thoughtful theologian. As he walked out of my office that day I was excited for him, not only because he’s my friend, but also because of what this book means to him. Trevin has been calling for artistic portrayals of truth for a while now. In several of his blog posts he has expressed concern about conservative Christians picking apart works of art without offering something better. This concern seems to be one of the driving forces behind Clear Winter Nights. For someone who has done well in the non-fiction market, writing fiction is a risky move.

Clear-Winter-Nights_1a-716x1024Offering a work of fiction to the public puts an author in new territory beyond a change of literary genre. In non-fiction a writer has the privilege of shoring up his or her arguments with evidence, his or her points with the thoughts of other thinkers. Fiction pushes an author into a much more vulnerable position. Trevin has not only personally crafted this entire story, but also intimately created each character, and shaped their thoughts and actions. A fiction novel is a work of art. And because it is a work of art the writer becomes susceptible to criticism on many levels. In my opinion this makes Clear Winter Nights Trevin’s most personal venture yet.

I am not a literary critic. Nor, do I read fiction on a level that allows me to be conversant with it as an art form in the strictest sense. I tend to read theological, sociological, and philosophical works. On my honeymoon I read C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man while enjoying the breathtaking beaches of the Riviera Maya. On our trip to finalize our adoption in Ethiopia I read Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics while relaxing in the cool of the night. My library is made up of ninety five percent non-fiction. However, I would like to offer my thoughts on Clear Winter Nights, for whatever it’s worth.

First, I was delighted by Trevin’s ability to render the context of each scene in such a way that it added to the beauty of the narrative without slipping into the melodramatic. In each chapter Trevin was able to paint the surroundings in such a way that I was transported into the ethos of the moment without losing a sense of the narrative trajectory. The reader can not only visualize the setting, but also see the physical posture of each character at almost every turn in the movement of the story. In my opinion, this only strengthens to the emotive force of the story line. For someone like me, who dwells in abstract literature, this is meaningful because it adorns the truth and adds to the beauty of the narrative.

Second, Trevin was able to communicate thoughtful biblical truth using a storyline that was captivating, and did so with memorable characters. Clear Winter Nights includes both fiction elements and non-fiction elements, namely, sustained theological discussion and logical reasoning. However, the story does not get weighed down by the theological elements. Trevin transported theology through story exceptionally well. At the right moments and in the right way, the discussion would lift so that I, as the reader, would remain grounded in the narrative. The beauty of narrative is that truth delivered from specific characters adds contextual force, which leaves a more lasting mark on the reader.

Finally, this book will resonate with many readers because of the content of the discussion between the characters. Many readers will sympathize with, and find themselves reflected in the thoughts and actions of each character. One of the main characters of Clear Winter Nights is a young and intellectually ambitious Christian dealing with disillusionment and doubt. The story centers on this young Christian spending a weekend with an elderly retired pastor, who is not only wise but broken and full of grace. During the course of the weekend these two men discuss some of the most pressing subjects of life and faith, and it is clear that no subject is off limits. As I followed every interaction, every response, and every question in the conversation I was not only entertained but educated. In Clear Winter Nights you are taken on a journey through philosophical and thoughtful discussions on the biggest dilemmas of faith. The characters discuss the equality and inequality of world religions, the nature of Christian discipleship, and the reality of sin, pain, and suffering. Through engaging dialogue Trevin aptly explores the relevance of solid biblical truth in an unstable world.

A few years ago I was encouraged by one of my closest friends Zach Hawkins to take an occasional break from academic reading to enjoy fiction. I am glad I did. I am also thankful for Trevin’s new book. I pray that many more volumes will be published in this line of literature. If you are looking to read a short and reflective fiction work, I commend Clear Winter Nights to you. I read it in a few sittings. And each time, it was hard for me to put it down.

In Honor of Will Toburen: The Transition to Summit Church in Durham, N.C.

Today marks the end of Will Toburen’s pastoral ministry at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. However, Will’s legacy will continue at Calvary for many years to come. Will served as an Associate Pastor and Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary for well over a decade. He will now join the pastoral team at the Summit Church in Durham as the Executive Pastor for Discipleship Ministry. I’ve talked with the Summit’s pastor J.D. Greear recently and he, along with the rest of their team, is excited to welcome Will to their staff. What a great addition to an already stellar team!

photoWhen I came to Calvary as a seminary student in the Calvary School of Pastoral Leadership in 2006, Will along with Al Gilbert immediately pulled me in and began investing in my life. These two men have a very special place in my heart (and heart of hearts). They have both shaped my own life and ministry in ways they may never fully know. As for Will specifically, I view him as an older brother in the Christian life. A much wiser brother.

Will’s belief in me, his loving support, and his timely challenges have been formative and affirming – something that every Christian needs and few have the opportunity to receive. Not only has Will become a dear friend, he was part of our wedding ceremony, supported our adoption process, and always encouraged me to grow in ministry through preaching, teaching, and dozens of other ministry opportunities in the local church. Since I cannot be at Calvary for his last Sunday, or attend his going away fellowship, I would like to offer a few thoughts on Will here.

Will is a gifted preacher. I would put him up there with almost anyone. While Will is one of the best, he will never seek his own fame – he gladly points to the Father. I watched Will bring passion and humility to the pulpit for almost 7 years. First and foremost, Will always preached with Jesus as the center of his sermons. Will understands the gospel and works hard to apply the gospel through every text he preached. Will was also humbly honest from the pulpit. One of the things I valued dearly in his ministry was his willingness in admitting where he had failed and where he could work harder in his own personal life. Unlike some preachers who believe that one must always “have it together” to maintain strong leadership, he lead through repentance and humility.

While he was strong in the pulpit, he was so gentle with the people. Calvary loves Will. He grew up at Calvary. He was taught in Sunday School by many of the people who eventually sat under his preaching. I could always sense the mutual endearment when Will would visit some of those dear saints in the hospital or when he would stand by them as they slipped into eternity. I have watched Will weep with those who weep, hold congregants hands when they needed a pastors love, and celebrate the joys of life with many of the people. These are lessons I will treasure for the rest of my life. When I think of servant leadership – many of my lessons were learned under Will.

As a West Campus team we would meet once a week to pray, plan, and hold each other accountable. Each week Will would not only ask us hard questions, but he would also ask for our feedback on his life and ministry. He was always quick to go above and beyond to serve others. He rightly sought chances to grow and learn from others, even guys like me who were well under his ministry age. As I look back I can only conclude that Will wanted to be the most God honoring pastor that he could be. He wanted to preach the word with clarity and with Jesus as the hero. He also wanted to be sensitive to the Spirit when it came to his own life. And being open to allow others to speak into his sanctification process speaks volumes of his character and love for the church.

Strong in the pulpit, gentle in the hospital room. Always growing, and desiring others to grow. Like all of us Will has his faults, but he acknowledges them seeking to grow in the gospel. More importantly, Will loves Jesus, loves his family, and loves the church. I am grateful for our years of ministry together. I am also thankful for our friendship. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for this gentle giant of the faith.

I love you as a dear brother Will, and pray that God would continue to bless you as you begin this new chapter. Rock that sweater vest in your new ministry setting.

The Beauty and Fragility of Human Life

Orthodox, protestant, evangelical, conservative Christians must value human life, from conception until death. Genesis 1:26-31 informs us that God intimately created humans in His likeness, male and female. We see that humanity is set apart and crowned with authority over the earth and its creatures, a position of honor and responsibility.

Theologian John Hammett rightly argues that creation in the image of God is the basis for human dignity and that killing a human or to even curse one is an affront to and an attack upon the living God. The utterly depraved and unimaginably horrible actions of the gunman in Newtown, Conn., are still relatively close as I write this.

embryoWe know that all human beings are, as Psalm 139 describes, knitted together in their mother’s womb. The God of the universe has His loving eyes on every single one of us and always has even when we were “unformed substance,” to use modern language “an embryo.” But we also understand that we live in an entirely broken world.

Almost every night on the news Americans are brought to the precipice of life and forced to look down at our seemingly hopeless plight because of sin. However, as Christians we run to the cross, where the truly innocent God-man gave his life in our place, for our sin, to make all things new.

And while death is a perpetual reminder of our fragile humanity, we have a greater and eternal hope. That one day Christ will return. And in that day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more (Revelation 21).

One Year Ago Today Solomon Became Our Son

One year ago today Laura and I pulled up to our adoption agency’s foster home on the side of a hill in Ethiopia. We had come to receive a baby boy named Selamu into our family. I will never forget it. We stood outside the gate of the home while a worker for our agency went inside to bring him out.

So, we just stood there and waited in the street.

I can still hear the sounds of the children playing and talking on the other side of the wall. I can still hear the sound and the women saying goodbye to Selamu. These were the women who had cared for him since he arrived.

When the gate opened our worker stepped out holding Selamu, walked over and handed us our son.

Solomon had nothing with him but the clothing he was wearing. But that was all he needed.

When we got back into the van to leave the orphanage Solomon started crying. He was scared. He did not know where we were going. He did not know who we were. But in his fear, he did one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed.

He reached his little arms around his forever mommy’s neck, placed his head on her chest, stopped crying and held on.

In that moment he experienced the love and assurance of adoption. He was our son, and we became his mommy and daddy. We are so thankful for what God has done. Solly is truly a gift of God. A blessing.

– Happy Gotcha Day –

Two Excellent Books – D.A. Carson’s “The God Who Is There” and Tim Keller’s “King’s Cross”

During the summer many people make a concerted effort to read a few books. If you are like me you might have a stack of books to be read beside the nightstand, desk, or various tables throughout the house. No matter how busy I find myself to be, good books are always waiting. Al Mohler once said that “summer is supposed to be a season of rest and relaxation — at least in theory. As one wit remarked, “A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” During these “perfect summer days” we can read some of those volumes that we have been waiting to read. But perhaps you would like some direction on a good book or two?

The other night I was asked by someone what books I would recommend for summer reading. Now, as a pastor I want our congregation to continue growing in their faith and understanding, so this very minimal list provides two books that I think are helpful in stimulating spiritual growth. There is one common characteristic about these books that make them uniquely valuable. Each one, in my opinion, represents the outcrop of decades of study and practice by these authors in their respected fields.

“The God Who Is There” by D.A. Carson

It is quite obvious that the level of biblical illiteracy in our Western Culture continues to grow. Even in our churches there seems to be a waning understanding of the biblical narrative. Quite frankly, very few Christians have a grasp of the storyline of the Bible and its unifying message. As Ed Clowney once said, many Christians know bible stories but they do not know the bible story. Therefore we must ask the question, how do Christian’s explain the message of the bible to someone when they don’t even understand how it all fits together?

In the theological academy there has been somewhat of resurgence in the discipline of Biblical Theology in recent years. Biblical Theology as a discipline seeks to provide a synthesis, or unity, of all biblical texts taken together. But what many people have come to realize is that most of the work in this field has been done on a scholarly level and is not readily accessible to everyone.

This is where The God Who Is There comes into play. In this book we experience the fruit of decades of biblical scholarship, Christian ministry, and campus evangelism converging to explain the storyline of the bible. One of the strengths of this work is that even when Dr. Carson labors to clearly and plainly explain difficult biblical concepts he never loses the larger storyline in the theological detail.

Dr. Carson covers fourteen biblical-theological themes in near canonical order. While The God Who Is There is written to serve as an introduction to the Bible’s narrative, it is not too remedial to benefit mature Christians or even pastors. I think one reviewer put it well when he said that The God Who Is There is well suited for pastors to pass along or study with:

  1. Believers who perhaps miss the forest for the trees in their Bible reading.
  2. Those who do not know the Bible’s content at all.
  3. Mature and young believers.
  4. Unbelievers and skeptics.

See, “Carson avoids all technical jargon and provides thorough definitions and descriptions for new ideas. Further, he shows how all biblical themes converge on the person and work of Christ.”[1] What Dr. Carson does is make the case for the reliability and truthfulness of scripture based on the fact that it has one coherent message. I highly recommend this book, you will benefit greatly from reading, reflecting, and studying it.

“King’s Cross” by Tim Keller

I read a review of King’s Cross the day before I received in the mail. In this review the author proclaimed that “this is the book where Tim Keller hits his stride as an author.”[2] Within just a few years Tim Keller has established himself as one of the most sucessful living Christian authors, a “C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century.”

One of the reasons King’s Cross is so good is that Keller has studied, written on, and preached from the gospel of Mark more than any of the other gospel accounts in the course of his ministry. As you read through this book you get a very well thought-out sermonic teaching of Mark’s gospel. It is very apparent that this book has been marinating in Keller’s heart for years. One reviewer noted that in King’s Cross we get the crystallized presentation of what so many of us love about Dr. Keller’s teaching:

  1. Religion is advice, but advice cannot save. That’s why we need to hear the good news that the King calls us to follow him.
  2. People who seek ultimate happiness in anything but God learn when they finally get what they want that nothing but God can truly satisfy.
  3. Those who condemn the self-righteous for the sake of self-discovery do so with ironic self-righteousness.
  4. God is powerful enough to prevent our suffering but sometimes chooses not to. Such situations call for faith in the God whose ways transcend our understanding. His timing does not usually match our expectations.
  5. Go to Jesus, because he can help you. But know that you’ll give more than you think you can, and you’ll get far more than you imagined.[4]

King’s Cross is “an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives….[Its purpose is] to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.”[3] It is neatly organized into two parts, corresponding to the Gospel of Mark’s two halves: Mark 1-8, which reveal Jesus’ identity as king, and Mark 9-16, which reveal his purpose to die on the cross. Keller writes; “if [Jesus] were only a king on a throne, you’d submit to him just because you have to. But he’s a king who went to the cross for you. Therefore you can submit to him out of love and trust.”[5]

I would argue that King’s Cross will leave all readers, from atheist to Christian, wrestling with the beauty and implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether you read it devotionally or intensely study it, I believe that King’s Cross will prove beneficial to you.

What’s Wrong with Your Marriage?

There are a plethora of Christian books that present strategies for a healthy marriage. Implicit in the arguments of “how to have a better marriage” is that particular authors’ diagnosis of what is potentially wrong with your marriage. Usually the marriage books diagnose the problem by looking at patterns in behavior and offer solutions to help overcome those difficulties. These are usually good strategies for behavior changes, which in some way help to shape our hearts. I don’t claim to be an expert on marriage. But if I may, let me propose that the problem with your marriage is simple and the solution is simple. Now, I know that I just made a huge categorical statement. So let me explain. Let’s begin with the root problem that gives expression in wrong behavior, we find this in Genesis 3.

In Genesis 3 we read that the first husband and wife reject God’s dominion over their lives in an attempt to establish themselves “as God.” Essentially they pronounce independence from God’s established order in an attempt to become “self-existent.” Couched in this rebellion is the desire of dominion over declaring what is good and what is evil. Essentially humans declare independence of God’s rule and establish ourselves as the implementers of rule over our own lives and others; this is the heart of sin. Genesis 3:16 is where we see God declaring the manifestation of sin as it will be expressed in the marriage relationship. God declares;

“Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Now, I acknowledge that the meaning of this passage is often debated by scholars. Just by reading Genesis 3:16 it’s easy to imagine different ways it has been interpreted. Let me offer a suggestion made by D.A. Carson which seems to make logical sense. Carson argues that it is significant that the two verbs used in Genesis 3:16, “desire” (teshuqah) and “rule” (mashal) are used again together not long after 3:16 in chapter 4. This repeated use should be a sign that the latter passage helps us interpret the former. In Genesis 4 we read the narrative of Cain killing Abel, this is the first murder in human history. When God confronts Cain after the homicide he explains to him why He is angry. The 4:7 passage reads:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its [sin] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

This usage of parallel wording reveals the true meaning of 3:16, namely that the overall problem in marriage is sin, which is generally expressed by the woman’s desire to dominate her husband and the husband’s desire to brutally lord over his wife. Again, the problem is the same – the desire for dominion which is expressed against your marriage partner. The result, as Gordon Wenham put it, is that “to love and cherish” becomes “to desire and dominate.” Therefore, marriage becomes a power struggle rather than an intimate, unified, and beautiful collaboration of life as God had designed it. See, the husband and wife were to enjoy the harmonious relationship of marriage (2:18, 21-25). This was how marriage worked before the fall. But this perfect harmony is now broken by the curse of sin and is further perpetuated by inordinate desires and is reinforced by a fallen world.

The Hypersocialized Generation

This is a fascinating talk by Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, on “The Hypersocialized Generation.” This issue calls for reflective thought about the patterns of our lives.

You can also stream the video here directly from Dr. Mohler’s web-site.

Our Adoption Fundraiser

Our family is sponsoring a fundraiser to support us in our adoption of a baby from Ethiopia. We are thankful for all support, especially prayer. We are excited and humbled by the opportunity to welcome a baby into our family. If you would like, follow our adoption journey at http://cappsters.blogspot.com/

If you have any questions about the fundraiser please feel free to contact Laura’s sister at Mollie_towery@hotmail.com