The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family

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In his classic work Knowing God, J.I. Packer poses and answers a very simple, yet profound question that gets to the heart of our faith. He writes:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father…[He continues] If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”[1]

Now, within this room we have various experiences concerning fatherhood; experiences that will influence how you approach the topic of fatherhood. Some of us have had wonderful fathers and see that God is like that, only more so. Some of us would say: my father disappointed me over and over. But, I pray, you will see that God is very different. Some of you in this room have never known what it is to have a father on earth. Hopefully, after considering the doctrine of adoption you can have a renewed thankfulness to God that you have a Father in heaven. In many ways the doctrine of adoption is one of the great theological categories that has been ignored in recent church history. For this reason, I would suspect that many Christians have at best a weak sense of their own sonship. Or, as puritan pastor Thomas Manton said, “years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it.”[2] Perhaps far too many people experience a relationship with Father God that seems somewhat remote and distant, failing to realize the intimacy and freedom we have in the gospel.

A Story of Adoption

I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Selamu into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house we were staying in and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house. It was a house full of orphaned children and infants. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, walked up to the second floor, and picked Selamu up out of his crib. He was in a room with about 6 other babies. Over the next few moments we could hear all of the women behind the gates kissing on and saying goodbye to little Selamu. Our worker opened the gate, walked out into the street, and handed us our son, Solomon. For what would happen next, I was woefully unprepared.

We turned and got back into the van. We got situated. Laura was holding Solomon. And as the van pulled off, Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip, holding on for dear life. Sure, Solomon was holding on to Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura who was holding on to Solomon. And Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son. It’s been a year now since Solomon was placed in our arms and the stranger the he wrapped his little baby arms around in that frightening moment in a van in Ethiopia, he now knows as “mommy.” That is the beginning of Solomon’s story with us. There is also a beginning to our story as a people.

A Biblical Theology of Adoption

If we start at the very beginning of creation, you know that God lovingly creates Adam and Eve. They were created in the image of God and thus were the living images of God on earth. Adam bore a relationship to God much like a child to a parent, begotten by the Father. Yet when Adam and Eve sin and break fellowship with God, they are cast out of God’s presence and away from his care. In essence, Adam and Eve orphaned the whole human race. Yet, we are not merely orphans, our plight is much worse, we were orphaned into slavery under sin.[3]

Ever since then, the human race has not intimately known the love of the Father in the purest sense. And yet, even though the relationship was broken at the fall, very quickly we see the adoptive love of God. Several generations later God chooses Abraham and proclaims, through your offspring I will make you a Father of a mighty nation, a nation that will be a blessing to the whole world. As the story continues, people are fruitful and multiply. Out of the many nations there is one nation that is small and weak, from the seed of Abraham, Israel. God adopts Israel as “son” through a covenant relationship, and redeems Israel from slavery. Several times in the Old Testament God calls Israel “my son.”[4] The imagery is that of a tender and loving father raising his child, disciplining his child, and showing mercy to his child.[5] Out of Israel God raises a King, David, to whom God promises “I will be a Father to him, and he shall be my son to me,” speaking of David’s offspring.[6]

Seen here, the promise made to Abraham is set by the adoption of Israel, narrowed by the lineage of David, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true son of God that will succeed where God’s first son, Adam, failed. Jesus is the one who is from the family of Abraham who will be the blessing to all nations. Jesus is the one from the royal lineage of David who will reign on the throne forever. Now “adoption is never used of Jesus because he had always been a son of God by nature, and unlike us, he does not need to be adopted…into a new relationship with God as Father.”[7] But we do. Our first parents orphaned us. In the New Testament it is very clear that when you repent of your sinfulness and place your faith in Christ, you are adopted.  You are brought into the family of God. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:26, “…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” As Children of God we find our identity from the Father, our intimacy from the Father, our imperative from the Father, and our inheritance from the Father.

Galatians 4:1-7

[1] I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, [2] but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. [3] In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. [4] But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

[6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Our Identity from the Father (4:6a)

You often hear people say things like “all people are children of God”. However, “the idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere.”[8] Now, there is a sense in which all human beings are God’s offspring by virtue of being made in his image,[9] but the language that Paul uses here in verse 6 reveals a much deeper kind of relationship. The Greek verb translated adopt literally means “to place as a son.” According to Paul, sonship to God is a gift of grace.[10] It is not a natural, but an adoptive sonship.[11] We are made sons through the work of the unique son of God, Jesus Christ, because he came, as we just read in verse 5, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. So the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but being born again. As John 1:12-13 tells us,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Do you see why this is important? What we see in verse 6 is a declarative statement: “You are sons!”[12]  In the ancient world, if we were to look at adoption from a legal context, most cases would be that a “wealthy childless man might take into his family a slave youth who thus, by a great stroke of fortune, ceased to be a slave and became a son or an heir.”[13] Slaves are bound to work for their master; sons are free to serve the Father. Either we are serving our flesh, and we are slaves to sin, or we are serving our Father, and we are slaves to righteousness. So, the “image of adoption [here] is a particularly well chosen one because it illustrates, in a way nothing else can, the nature of our relationship to God in Christ. As an adopted child is not the natural offspring of his adopted parents, but neither is his/her presence in the household an accident. His parents have deliberately chosen him and made him a member of their family. [That child is brought into the family by an] act of will that is sealed in love and self-sacrifice.”[14]

There is such assurance and security in the Father’s love for us because adoption is a declaration God makes about us. It is irreversible, dependent entirely upon his gracious choice, in which he says:  ‘You are my son, today I have brought you into my family.’”[15] So we have absolute security and stability in the family of God. We see that our identity is found in our position before God. We have been made sons. “Just as a child does not worry about getting fired for disobeying the rules…so we know that God’s affection for us is deep”[16] and abiding. If adoption is about anything, it is about belonging, a belonging where God as Father pulls you into his loving household and declares you are mine! This should give us a secure identity in who we are. We are the children of God. There is no need to define ourselves because we are not our own creators. The creator alone has the right to define his creation. Our identity is something given to us from the father. So, if our identity is set, how do we experience our identity?  “God the Father sent the Son in order that believers might have the position of sons and He sent the Son in order that believers might have the experience of the same reality.”[17]

Our Intimacy with the Father (4:6b)

Some pastors and theologians have argued that adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers, namely because of its relational context. Consider it this way, “…in a court of law a person may be acquitted by the judge of all charges against him; but this acquittal does not make the person a member of the judge’s family.”[18] So, yes – when God justifies us and forgives us of sin, he also gives us the identity as a child of God, but “he [also] sends his Spirit that we might have an experience of sonship.”[19] Interestingly enough, ancient “adoptions required a witness of the transaction.”[20] Paul is arguing that the Spirit gives witness to our adoption in Christ. The Spirit of God confirms and authenticates. He gives us a deep-seated persuasion of our identity as sons and daughters of the living God.[21] How does the Christian experience this security of relationship with God the father? Paul suggests that one of the ways a Christian experiences this reality is through prayer. In verse 6 the verb “cry out” denotes a loud or earnest cry.[22] Based on the construction of the Greek it seems that it “…is the Spirit who cries out to God the Father on behalf of the believer,” or better yet, through the believer.[23] It is the indwelling Spirit of God that teaches the believer to come to God as Abba.[24]

Not too long ago, Laura and I were sitting in our driveway as Solomon was outside playing. All of the sudden, Solomon let out a glass shattering scream, the kind of scream that every parent dreads. Within seconds, he was in my arms – whimpering and shaking. Oh, by the way, he had seen a worm. Dads know these moments all too well. Children can remember these moments also. When the thunder and lightning is too loud. When the child falls and gets hurt. When your child wakes up from a nightmare. Who do they cry out for?

The word ‘Abba’ is “an Aramaic expression that may have been derived originally from the first syllables uttered by an infant.”[25] It is the term of familial intimacy, endearment, used by children towards their Fathers. Moreover, Abba is the term that Jesus, the unique son of God, himself used[26] in addressing God.[27] I think “…something of shock is implied in using this word as an address for God Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth…The sense of awe and holy wonder that accompanied the praying”[28] in this manner. It’s almost as if when saying Abba, one is to experience the joy of sonship, a feeling that God was drawing him into an almost frightening intimacy.[29]

We do not serve a distant God. There is free access to our loving Father through Jesus Christ. Our adoption is the basis of Christian prayer. The Father is always accessible to his children and is never too preoccupied to listen to what they have to say. Because of the personal nature of the relationship, prayer should be free and bold. Most of the time, children do not prepare speeches to their parents. There is a spontaneity and freedom to express themselves transparently because of the security of the relationship. When Solomon talks to me it is not mechanical or even formal, it’s warm and free. And trust me, the boy likes to talk. Even though he can formulate well-articulated sentences, he feels secure enough to just ramble – because he knows I care. Just as a child calls out automatically to the nearby daddy when there is a problem or a question, so shall we, as children of God, call on our heavenly Father.  Just as a child does not doubt the security and openness of daddy’s strong arms, so we, as God’s children, have an overwhelming boldness and certainty in our Father’s loving care.

Far too much we stand back “at a distance [and are] very formal; but the little child comes running in, rushing right in, [and grabs ahold of his father]. The child has a right that no-one else has…it is instinctive.”[30] Perhaps we should “imitate the…child who is not afraid to ask his parents for [things openly], because he knows he can count completely on their love.”[31] We are free to take our problems and desires to him without fear of being ignored or rejected. We also know that the Father will answer us according to our best interest. See, this is a total experience, embracing every aspect of our lives and filling us with the joy of knowing that we are loved, and that we can rest in his presence knowing that we are safe in his everlasting arms. Moreover, we have a new authority over sin and the evil one, our adoption removes the fear that is at the root of much of our disobedience.

Our Imperative from the Father (4:7a)

God’s purpose was both to redeem and adopt; not just to rescue from slavery, but turn slaves into sons. No longer are believer’s “relationships determined by…race, rank, or role.”[32] They are secure in the family of God. Now, “in the ancient world family membership was the primary context of social, religious, economic and political security and fulfillment. To move from one family system to another was an event of life changing importance.”[33] By implication, when brought into a new family – new expectations were placed on you as a son or daughter. So what is Paul saying when he argues that we are no longer slaves but sons? In verse 3 he argues that all of orphaned humanity is enslaved to the “elementary principles of the world.” In other words, we are enslaved to the broken and evil worldly philosophies, legalistic ethical systems, and distorted freedoms of the flesh. When you were enslaved to these things you worked for them. They held you in bondage, you did their bidding.

Essentially, as sons and daughters of Eve you are born into a family of orphans who by their very nature are enslaved to the depraved systems of the world. Therefore, it is quite natural to act as one far from God. But something happens when one is adopted into the family of God. See, adoption brings with it benefits as well as responsibilities of family membership.[34] When an orphaned child is placed into a new family, “the adopted child inherits a new family narrative and is expected to live and act in accordance with that story and its ancestral heritage.”[35] As believers we have all been given the status as God’s sons[36], and thus have been granted the freedom and power to use sonship responsibly. Just because God adopts you freely by his grace, it does not mean that you can abuse his grace and behave anyway you want. Remember Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! Paul also writes in Ephesians 5:1; Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“If the church is the family of God’s adopted sons and daughters, then it is they more than all people in earth who ought to reflect and mirror”[37] a likeness of God before the watching world. “As witnesses to his grace and beneficiaries of his love”[38] we are to respond in worshipful obedience. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that children of the Father are called to reflect their family likeness in their conduct. How we behave, what we say, and the things we do all advertise who we are.

Consider Solomon. Solomon loves to please Laura and I. He is a picky eater, and by picky he always wants cookies and candy for dinner, much like his father. Not too long ago Laura made his dinner and he would not touch his peas. I didn’t get it. He has eaten peas before, and told us how much he liked them. But there in that moment he decided that he didn’t want them. Once he realized that Laura and I wanted him to eat his peas because they are good for him and because it would make us happy, he ate them with joy. He even said “Daddy, Mommy, watch me!” Solomon’s obedience does not make him more of a son, but he loves for us to delight in his loving obedience. His obedience is nothing more than trusting us; that we know what’s best for him.

What motivates us to live like a son of God? I think Jonathan Edwards was very wise when he argued that the root of all human action is the affections. “By affections he meant something deeper than feelings. He saw them as the fundamental loves and hates of the whole person.”[39] The affections are the source from which our behaviors flow. If the love of the Father will not make a child delight in him, and delight in pleasing him, what will?[40] We are not to behave as slaves, but as sons. If we are children of God, there should be a family resemblance. We should take great delight in living in a way that pleases the Father. And when we don’t, his love also allows us to accept the Father’s discipline and change accordingly.

In Paul’s world, royal children had to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with us as children of the King of Kings. The clue to understanding the Father’s discipline is to remember that in our lives you are being trained for what awaits you; you are being molded into the image of Christ.[41]

Our Inheritance from the Father (4:7b)

In the time Paul wrote this letter, it was the firstborn who inherited the Father’s “estate,” and it was his right to determine how much each of his brothers and sisters would get. In Colossians we read that Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.[42]In this way, Christ, as firstborn, holds all the rights to His Father’s kingdom. He owns everything! Everything was created for him. What does Christ do for us as fellow children of the living God? He lovingly and graciously makes us co-heirs with him.

Being in Christ makes one a son of God and thus an heir of God. How often do we reflect on this glorious truth? When one is adopted in Christ, they cease to be a slave and receive all the legal and financial privileges within the Father’s estate as a result of God’s grace.[43]This is why Peter writes in his first epistle, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”[44]How often do we set our hope on the grace that is to come when Jesus returns? When Jesus returns he will overwhelm us with his grace. As the Father’s beloved children we will enter into our inheritance and that of our co-heir, Jesus Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth God will be fully ours to enjoy and be satisfied forever. But for now, it is clear that our sonship is just beginning. It is evident in the Bible that although believers already experience an official status as sonship in Christ through the Spirit…such sonship has not been revealed publically to the cosmos.[45] As Paul writes in Romans 8:15ff,

 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Church, there will come a time when our sonship is declared climactically through the resurrection of our bodies.[46] Just as we read in 1 John 3:1-3:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

There will be a day when our status as children of God is evident to all creation; a day when we experience our sonship in purity and fullness, much like what our first parents experienced in the presence of God before the fall. Why do we allow our lives to be so dominated by our problems, temptations, and sins? Why do we often forget what lies ahead? Why can’t we, like Paul, proclaim For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. I pray that God would teach us to look upward and forward to our final adoption. This is not merely a possibility or likelihood, but a guaranteed certainty, a promised inheritance. Since Jesus rose from the grave this promise was made secure. As we look forward we long for the experience of heaven, a family gathering. On that day a great host of the redeemed meet will together in face-to-face fellowship with the Father-God and Jesus. If you are a believer, and so an adopted child, this should satisfy you completely beyond anything in this world.[47]

Continue reading “The Beauty of Our Adoption into God’s Family”

The Pastor as Person: D.Min. Residency at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

This past Friday I completed my first doctoral residency at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the pastoral skills track. I am thankful for the pastoral staff, the personnel committee, and our church family for allowing me to have time for continuing education. I am also thankful for those of you who have felt led to contribute to my tuition. My parents were also very gracious in allowing me to stay at their house during those two weeks.

Some may ask, what is a doctor of ministry degree? One of my professors said that Ph.D. programs produce doctors for the church while D.Min. programs produce doctors in the church. I think this is a fair statement. As for the Gordon-Conwell program, the goal is to produce “passionate reflective practitioners.” The Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Skills track addresses who the pastor is, and how a pastor works out their calling in the face of the challenges and opportunities in the local church. There are three themes that focus our time in each residency.

  1.  The Pastor as Preacher – Explores what it means to produce and preach a biblical sermon from different literary forms in the Bible.
  2. The Pastor as Caregiver – Explores how to respond to critical crisis and counseling issues with biblically-based care.
  3. The Pastor as Person – Explores personal theology of ministry with the aim of understanding personal spiritual formation, weaknesses and strengths, and how one best functions in ministry.

Over the next few years I will attend each residency in two week periods. This past week I attended the pastor as person residency. It was a refreshing time together as we studied and reflected on pastoral ministry. The mantra of the week was “pastors are just like everyone else, only more so.” We covered a variety of important topics in our pre-residency reading, paper presentations, lectures, and time together in reflection. Here are a few of them:

  • The call to ministry
  • Pastoral identity
  • Expectations in ministry
  • Spiritual formation for the pastor
  • Accountability and support in ministry
  • Boundaries for pastors
  • Rest and ministry
  • Stress in ministry
  • Sexual purity and ethics
  • Conflict in ministry
  • Narcissism and ministry
  • Perfectionism in ministry
  • Anger in ministry
  • Restoring pastoral ministry

The leaders of this doctoral track are Dr. David Currie (Ph.D., University of St. Andrews) and Dr. Ken Swetland (D.Min., Andover Newton Theological School). David and Ken were wonderful to be with, wise and caring men of God. We also had several excellent guest lecturers.

During the two week residency I also had several meetings with my doctoral thesis advisor Dr. Steven Klipowicz (Ed.D., University of Illinois). My interest in theological education and spiritual formation matches well with Dr. Klipowicz’ educational background. I am looking forward to working with and learning from him in this process.

My time in the residency was very formative and valuable. Beyond the wonderful education and theological reflection, I was also able to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world, and from various denominations and educational backgrounds. I would highly recommend this program to any pastor looking to continue their education.

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 –

In Honor of My Pastor: To Al Gilbert as he transitions to the North American Mission Board

This week at Calvary Baptist Church it was announced that our senior pastor, Al Gilbert, has accepted a position at the North American Mission Board under the leadership of Kevin Ezell. Al will begin his assignment with NAMB in mid-September as the Executive Director of Love Loud, the evangelism arm of the North American Mission Board. Essentially Al will help multiply ministries like our “Love Winston-Salem” initiative and our refugee ministry, and other mercy ministries to neglected neighbors throughout churches in North America. (Click here for the official announcement from NAMB)

North American Mission Board

It is bittersweet to see Al transition, but as I have told him already – for what its worth, I think it’s the right move. When I came to Calvary as a seminary student in the Calvary School of Pastoral Leadership, Pastor Al and Pastor Will Toburen immediately pulled me in and began investing in my life. These two men have a very special place in my own heart and in the heart of many in our church. They have both shaped my own life and ministry in ways they may never fully know. As for Pastor Al specifically, I view him as a “father figure” in the ministry. Al’s belief in me, his loving support, and his timely challenges have been formative and affirming – something that every young pastor needs and few have the opportunity to receive.

So I offer these thoughts in honor of my pastor and friend Al Gilbert, for what he has meant to me personally in the 5 years that I have been at Calvary. I also offer these thoughts to encourage him in this exciting, yet emotional time of transition.

First, as I reflect on our relationship over the past few years I am very appreciative of Al’s friendship. There have been times where I have come to him vulnerable about personal struggles, there have been many times where we have had good belly laughs, there have been times where we have had disagreements, times when we have shared fellowship over a meal, and there have been times when we have cried together. I can say that in all those situations I have always walked away knowing that Al loved me, cares for my soul, and wanted to see the best for me. Or as he has often joked, “God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life.” Our relationship is something that I will treasure, and make every effort to continue.

Second, as Paul was to Timothy – Al has been to me and many of us young pastors through the years. Al has placed us in leadership positions, “platformed” us, and given us chances to grow into our ministry roles. For his belief in preparing the next generation I am deeply grateful. Personally, both Al and Will have walked with me through some important times in my own life. They both performed my wedding ceremony, lead my ordination service, and have become not only great mentors but great friends. As Al transitions it will be different not seeing him on a regular basis, but I look forward to how God is going to use him in the life of our convention.

Third, as for Al’s hobby as an amateur linguist – I smile. Al has invented at least one word that I know of – “supronomy” (You can ask him what it means, it’s a play off of one of J.I. Packer’s lines in a book.) It’s not officially recognized as an actual word yet, but many of us use it as if it was. We joke with Al about his love of words. But there is an important side of it also. There are some “ministry shaping” words that are imprinted on my mind because of Al – “panta ta ethnos”, “ethos” (If I can think of one just one more “e”…). I have taken Al’s quips, comments, and antidotes to heart, even when they are alliterated or corny. Sorry Al, I had to say it.

Forth, in his ministry at Calvary, Al has truly emphasized missions and multiplication in a way that has “lengthened and strengthened” us as a church. Under Al’s leadership and support our international mission efforts, our local mission efforts, our efforts to start new campuses have become part of the Calvary “DNA”. Many of us have heard Pastor Al’s benchmark sermon on God’s plan for proclaiming Christ to all peoples, a sermon that I once overheard Al Mohler recite “point for point” years after he heard it preached. The three points are simple, memorable, and provide a concise picture of Al’s love for seeing the people of God reach others for Jesus. The “ABC’s of the Great Commission” are – A is for “All peoples”, B is for “Blessing”, C is for “Church”. God has a heart for all peoples. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. Lastly, God has the church for his mission. I have lovingly picked on Al for making the points follow the “ABC” pattern, but at the heart of this memorable message is a love for God, and a passion for the church to be on mission – something that Al does not take lightly! Check out his chapter “The Big Picture of the Great Commission” in the book The Great Commission Resurgence. The point is this; I haven’t ever doubted Al’s passion for seeing the church on mission. I have often heard him pray, and teach us as a church to pray, “Lord, I will go anywhere, any time for your glory…and, if it’s not me, it would be a great honor if you would send my children.”

Lastly, Al is a true Southern Baptist statesman. He loves and believes in the Southern Baptist Convention. He has served as a pastor (of small, medium, and large churches – size matters to some people…), he has served at the International Mission Board, he has served on various committee’s in the SBC, delivered the Convention Sermon, and joyfully served on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. These things are all good, but they don’t define Al. Behind all of those great opportunities is a man that truly believes in the efforts of Southern Baptist churches. As a young pastor in the SBC I have learned to see the value of our cooperative efforts – even though I think we have much to work on – because of Al’s willingness to teach me about the SBC, and by taking me along with him to meetings, conventions, events, conferences, meals, and other engagements. This is something other SBC pastors need to put into practice with their younger associates.

These are just some personal thoughts, it helps me process. It is with both tears and a smile that I write this post. Confident that he has prepared our church for this moment by investing in many of us and by sharing his leadership. I have no doubts about the future of Calvary, all things will be well. I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God to bring about his perfect will. We pray for wisdom as we move forward. (You can also pray for our staff) As for Al, he will bring unique experience and perspective to NAMB, and I think he will do a great job. Plus, he already owns plenty of sweater vests, which I hear is the favorite attire of President Ezell.

All joking aside – I rejoice over this opportunity for my pastor. So, one final thought to Al. Pastor, this bittersweet for me. The most important thing for you to hear is that I love you, and will be praying for you as you transition. I’ll be praying that God give you favor as you seek encourage churches to see God’s heart for the neglected neighbor, as you challenge our existing networks, and cast vision to see the gospel spread in North America.

Community Serve 2011

The Calvary church family just finished up our week-long mission trip to our community, here is a recap of the week. This video was shot and edited by Peter McKenzie, view his work here.

An Evening with C.S. Lewis

In this one-man show, British actor David Payne portrays famous author C.S. Lewis. I have always been fond of Lewis’ wit and thought, and have, like many of his readers, longed to have known him personally. Perhaps Payne gives us a glimpse for what an evening with Lewis would be like. The setting is 1963, the last year of his life, as he hosts a group of American writers at his home just outside of Oxford. As his website proclaims “Payne captures the essence of the man who created the Narnia Chronicles in an enthralling, laughter-filled and poignant performance….utterly captivating!”

Seen on Justin Taylor’s blog.

Also see this dramatization from the PBS Special The Question of God.


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.

A Christmas Devotional from Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

In those days it would appear that Augustus was the sovereign ruler of the entire known inhabited world. Imagine the power that one like that had – we are told that many under his rule would have viewed him as a divine king. Understandable, He established a Roman Empire that reigned throughout the world.

But here, for Joseph, Mary, and Israel as a whole, the alien intrusion and decree of a census was a reminder that they were a conquered people. Since Augustus had pronounced a census, all people travelled from here and there to fulfill his burdensome desire.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of [King] David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem before the delivery of Mary’s baby. While in Bethlehem they had trouble, in fact, they could not find lodging. Perhaps the village was over crowded with travelers for the census. But when the time finally came for Mary to give birth they had to find shelter. So they were directed to an animal stall where they could use a feeding trough to place their child in. Odd, unlikely – Never before has a King had such a lowly beginning, born in a animal stable, placed in a feeding trough, in an obscure village.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

In the narrative we move from an event, to a response. The narrative begins with the world ruler announcing a degree from his high and lofty throne. It is interesting how God works – on one level it was a man’s schemes (Augustus) who brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem – but it was God working though Augustus, Joseph, and Mary who orchestrated the whole event of Christ’s birth in order to fulfill what had been spoken of in the Prophets.

As we reach the point in the story where we see people responding to the event of Christ’s birth, who does God choose to reveal this great news to? God announces this glorious message to poor shepherds – to peasants, the outcasts of society. Reflecting on the narrative of the Shepherds provides a good opportunity for us to stop and consider what God has done in Christ.

1. In Christ we have been moved from ‘darkness’ into ‘light.’

Just as the Shepherds had moved from the dark coldness of night into the brilliant light of God’s glory (2:8-9), so to do we get to experience the warm and loving presence of God’s Spirit in our hearts by the grace of Jesus Christ our King when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Him.

Think about it, God’s glory was manifest around them. An angel spoke directly to them. They were surrounded by thousands of angels proclaiming that “peace on earth has come to those in whom God is pleased.” This is the meeting place of heaven with earth, of divine with man, here with the outcasts of society.

See, the good news comes to peasants, to outsiders, to the lowly. These are to ones who are lifted up to see the glory of God in his Son Jesus – our Savior, Messiah, and Lord. The wealth of this angelic pronouncement stands in stark contrast to the poverty of the shepherds.

2. In Christ we can move from ‘great fear’ to ‘great joy.’

In the narrative, the Shepherds trade their “great fear” in for “great joy” (2:9-10). The great joy is a response the good news that another ruler has been born, one who is loving and just, one whose dominion and power will be everlasting. And this Kingdom did not come in power through military force, through fearful conquering. Christ’s Kingdom came in power through loving sacrifice.

According to the angelic messengers, this is good news “for all the people”, peace has come on earth in Jesus the Messiah (2:10, 14). Yet, we all understand that this world is broken and confused; we understand that all of us are wrecked sinners. We are all spiritual peasants with nothing worthy to offer a Holy God. So how can this be good news for all people?

As we continue to read the Scriptures we find this King who was born in a stable growing up and offering His own life as a ransom for peasants like you and I. When we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus the King we will be saved. When this happens we have no reason to fear any longer, there is no more condemnation! See, He is a good King who gives us what we do not deserve out of His own good pleasure. His salvation moves us from the darkness of sin into the glorious light of his righteousness! His salvation moves us from being outcast peasants in fear to experiencing the riches of joy in fellowship with God!

This season is not only a reminder of Christ’s birth, but a call to look forward when He will come again. One day our King will return and all things will be made new. We will experience His glory and presence free from the poverty of our sinful natures, free from the brokenness of this world. I don’t know about you but I long for that day. And Christ’s birth announcement is a proclamation that our God reins, that His kingdom has been established. Those of us who have placed our trust in this King can proclaim with the Shepherds, with the Angels, that there is a rich wholeness in His salvation:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Merry Christmas!

David Alan Black’s “Why Four Gospels?”

When people ask me what professors I enjoyed most at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, David Black is always on the list. I had Dr. Black for Greek while working on my M.Div. Anyone who sits in his class quickly learns that he loves God’s word and loves to teach. (Which is evident in this video.)

Recently, Dr. Black has revised “Why Four Gospels?” , and it is being re-published by Energion. Dr. David Black earned his D.Theol. from the University of Basel, Switzerland. He serves as professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author or editor of 16 books, including Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Interpreting the New Testament, and Rethinking the Synoptic Problem.

In Why Four Gospels? noted Greek and New Testament scholar David Alan Black, concisely and clearly presents the case for the early development of the gospels, beginning with Matthew, rather than Mark. But this is much more than a discussion of the order in which the gospels were written. Using both internal data from the gospels themselves and an exhaustive and careful examination of the statements of the early church fathers, Dr. Black places each gospel in the context of the early development of Christianity.

I look forward to reading this book. Dr. Black blogs here. One last thing…Dr. Black is a very eccentric person (in a good way). I personally think his beard is Beard Team USA worthy.

Introducing Our Son Solomon

I would like to introduce you to our son Solomon Capps. This morning we met with the judge who handles all the adoption cases in Ethiopia, and she declared that “from this point on, Solomon will be your son”.

This picture was taken a few hours ago. Until today we were unable to post any pictures of him. He is a beautiful baby boy and we are so thankful that God has placed him in our home to love and raise. We want to thank each of you for your prayer and support.