What kind of leader are you? Perhaps the best way to understand your own leadership style and capacity is to look at those who are following you. What do you see in their eyes? Are their hearts coming alive, or is the life being sucked out of them? If you run a ministry at church, are your volunteers passionate and enthusiastic? When a ministry cycle or initiative ends, are they already looking forward to the next one? Or are they hesitant about getting involved again? The primary indicator of the success of a ministry event or initiative is not how much money was raised, or meals cooked, or even people saved(!). The primary indicator of success is the condition of the hearts of those involved in making the event happen.

I believe there is a spectrum of leadership that runs from life-giving leaders on one end to death-dealing leaders on the other. Life-giving leaders die to themselves that others might live. A life-giving leader guards his tongue carefully. He empowers others. He trusts. He praises loudly and criticizes gently. Most of all, he dies to himself. A life-giving leader restrains himself and his need for validation through the success of the ministries and events in his charge. He instead gives others real power to succeed or fail–he trusts his people. He lets go of control.

 When tempted to change course midstream, a life-giving leader takes into consideration the work that has been done thus far, and consults with his team as one of them. In short, he puts others before himself.

Are you a life-giving leader? Do you fall on this side of the spectrum? I believe that this is the type of leadership Jesus had in mind when he said, “The greatest among you must be the servant of all.” Our job as church leaders is not to put on great events. Rather, it’s to see the hearts of those with whom we serve come alive.

So. How do you do that? It starts with trust. As a leader, you have got to trust your people. Notice I didn’t say “you’ve got to be able to trust your people.” That implies that your people must prove themselves trustworthy before you trust them. Not so in the kingdom. We trust first. The foundation must be trust, not results. Any ministry built on a foundation of results will soon crumble; but one built on a foundation of trust will weather any storm.

You’ve got to trust your people. And when they come through, and do so in ways that far exceeded your expectations, you trust them more. And when they fail, you work through it, but you still must trust them. (Granted that trust ebbs and flows with our own faithful- and faithlessness.) When you trust your people, and they know that you trust them, a remarkable thing happens. They trust you, and do so strongly! So you see how mutual trust among a ministry leader and his team forms a strong bond that will survive even the most difficult seasons. (This is also, I believe, how a pastor can have deep and lasting friendships with people in his congregation.)

How can you build this foundation of trust on your ministry team? When somebody has an idea that’s almost as good as yours, go with theirs. When someone is thinking out of the box, try to go there with them. Notice what they do well and casually bring it up in front of the whole team. Protect them from harsh criticism and unrealistic expectations, while at the same time push them to maximize their gifts and skills. Believe in them. Be their biggest fan.

Trust is the first lesson of being a life-giving leader. I hope that this helps you to be the kind of leader who sees the hearts of others come alive.

This is the sermon I preached the weekend Ezekiel was born. It’s called “They Like Jesus but not the Church”. With apologies to Dan Kimball…

This is another post from my work blog, related to a class I taught called “Understanding Scripture”.

What the Bible Is

The Bible, of course, is a book. Better yet, it is a collection of books. Better still, it is two collections of books that tell the story of God’s redemptive action in history. This book is far and away the number one best-seller of all time. You will find one in nearly every home in the Western Hemisphere. And where it is hard to find, those precious few copies are treated with the utmost care and sanctity.
But we know that the Bible is so much more than a book. It is special—unlike any other book that has ever been written. I propose that the Bible is, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, these six things.
The Bible is God’s revelation through the written word. It is God’s Word, and it is divine in that it comes to us from God. It is, certainly, not itself God. We do not worship the Bible. (Though some might claim that evangelicals believe the Holy Trinity consists of Father, Son and Holy Bible.) The Bible is subject to God, and he could change it if he chose to do so.
Because it is God’s Word, the Bible stands in authority over believers. We are subject to the Scriptures, compelled to understand them and obey them. Some insist that the Bible is just another voice at the table, on par with our own thoughts and words and experiences. But we maintain that the Bible contains the very words of God, and, as such, holds a place of such honor and esteem that we submit our words and thoughts and deeds to it.
The Bible is holy and sacred. We revere it and honor it. We worship through it because in it we find the words and thoughts of God.
It is alive and active. It speaks light into darkness and life into death. It gives us courage in our cowardice and humility in our pride. It chastens and trains us, building us up into Christlikeness through the power of the Spirit who illuminates it.
The Bible is also human. Its many books were written by human beings in specific spaces and times over a period of about 1500 years. The language of Scripture carries the personalities, quirks, circumstances and vocabulary of its human authors. “Historically the church has understood the nature of Scripture much the same as it has understood the person of Christ—the Bible is at the same time both human and divine. ‘The Bible,’ it has been correctly said, ‘is the Word of God given in human words in history.’” (Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 21)
The sixty-six books of the Bible were written to human beings in specific locations and circumstances. Every book was written for a very specific reason and addressed to very specific people. All of the Scriptures have an original, intended meaning for its very first audience.
The human authors of Scripture employed many different literary styles and genres in their writings: stories, parables, histories, covenants, laws, poems, proverbs, letters and apocalypses. Each literary genre carries its own rules for reading and interpretation. Laws and poems, for example, ought not to be read in the same way.
Leland Ryken observes that the Bible is literature because it is about human experience rather than abstract ideas. The Bible is neither a theological treatise nor a constitution of acceptable moral behavior. It is mostly a collection of stories about God and people. Through these stories, the Bible brings us present to the way the world really is. It does not paint an idealistic portrait of some unattainable utopia. Rather, it tells us how God has interacted in the dirty and bloody world in which we live.
The Bible is history from a very specific point of view—God’s. The Bible is chiefly concerned with telling the story of God’s redemptive action in human history. This is the lens through which the Bible views the world.
The Bible is theology because it tells us who God is by telling the story of the Creator’s interaction with his creation. The Bible develops its theology through the stories it tells about God and his people.
Our Book
The Bible, finally, is our book, and we are the people of the book. God has revealed to us all that we need to know about him through this book. He has graciously left us with a testimony of his words to mankind, and his Spirit to illuminate them to us. We are, therefore, stewards of the book, responsible to know its contents, and through it, to know him.

In an attempt to make this blog more edifying, here is a post from my work blog. It’s a short article I wrote up for a class we offer called “Biblical Theology.”

The Trinity

Although the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity is, perhaps, the most important statement of the Christian faith. It lies at the very center of Christian theology, and is one of only a few doctrines that mark out historical, orthodox Christian faith. In other words, if you don’t believe in the trinity, you stand outside of orthodox Christianity.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of the trinity this way: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 226) Let’s break this definition down into three statements and examine each more closely.

God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

God is three persons. This means that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. There is a distinction of personhood within the Godhead. The Scripture that most clearly demonstrates these distinctions is the baptismal formula given by Jesus to the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” By arranging the names in this way, Jesus is equating the three in status. He would not have, after all, given the disciples a command to baptize anyone in the name of a mere creature. It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not Father, Son, and the archangel Michael.

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, of course, is Jesus. John plainly states that Jesus was both with God in the beginning and that he was God. Jesus and God (whom we also call “The Father”) are the same in essence, and yet there is distinction in their personhood.

John 16:7 says this about the Holy Spirit: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” The Counselor is the Holy Spirit, and we see here a distinction between him and Jesus. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus (and he reveals, later, by the Father as well) once he returns to the Father. And so we see that the Scriptures testify that God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Each person is fully God

Each person of the trinity bears the full essence and character of divinity. The Father is clearly God—we take that as a given. Jesus is called God in several locations throughout the NT: John 1:1, John 20:28, Hebrews 1, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Romans 9:5, Colossians 2:9.

Once we understand that God the Father and God the Son are both fully God, it becomes evident, from the Trinitarian expressions elsewhere in the NT that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. Jesus declared that the only unforgiveable sin was to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. How can one blaspheme that which is not God? We see, also, numerous instances in which the Spirit is placed alongside the Father and the Son: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21. So we see that the Scriptures testify that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God.

There is one God

Scripture is clear that there is one, and only one, God. The core prayer of the Hebrew people is the Shema: Hear, O Israel, YHWH your God, YHWH is one. Over and over again, God attests to his own uniqueness through the prophets. There is no other god like him. The gods of the pagan nations are all worthless idols. Isaiah writes, “And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

The New Testament is also clear in its assertion that there is one God. For example, Paul writes to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Nowhere in Scripture does it teach that there are three Gods. Rather, the testimony of the Scriptures is that there is only one God.

So What?

The doctrine of the trinity serves as a boundary marker for historical, orthodox Christian faith. To deny that either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit are God is to place yourself outside of the faith of the Church and to reject the teaching of Scripture. What, you ask, is at stake if we reject the doctrine of the trinity?

When we lose the trinity, we lose the atonement for our sins. If Jesus is not God, how can he bear the wrath of God for our sins? How can he bear all of our sins in his body on the cross? “Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us?” (Grudem, 247)

When we lose the trinity, we lose justification by faith. We cannot possibly hope to be justified before God by putting our faith into a mere man, a created being. We cannot trust him to save us if he is just another human, regardless of the magnitude of his accomplishments or the majesty of his message.

When we lose the trinity, we lose worship. It is idolatry to worship a created being rather than the Creator. What hope is there that Jesus or the Holy Spirit will hear our worship and our prayers unless they are each God?

When we lose the trinity, we lose salvation. All three members of the Godhead are on display in the work of our salvation—the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son. God judged and poured out his wrath on the Son, who bore all the sins of humanity in his body when he died, but then was vindicated three days later when he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. If God is not intimately involved at every step of this process, then we are entrusting our salvation to a creature rather than to the Creator.

This is only a brief introduction to the glorious truth that we have in the doctrine of the trinity. For more information, please listen to the e4 session on the trinity, or look into any of these resources:

Wayne Grudem | Systematic Theology

Colin E. Gunton | The Promise of Trinitarian Theology

Gerald Bray | The Doctrine of God

Richard Bauckham | God Crucified

Donald Bloesch | Essentials of Evangelical Theology

Robert Letham | The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship

Peter Toon | Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Gal. 5:15)

We have devoured the Fundamentalists. We are consuming the Conservatives. If these are the sheep of our pasture, what does that make us?

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