NBA Jam: 2019/20 Preview Edition

I was never a big video gamer. This meant that fantasy-style games were not really fun to me (obvious exception: Mario Kart), and technical, realistic games (like NBA 2K series) were too difficult for me. But NBAJam met all the needs. Hoops, but not technical.

I also loved the decision making that was required by the game designers (and then by the player, upon selecting his team) to narrow the roster down to 3 players, 2 of which would start. Perhaps I’m simply feeling nostalgic, or perhaps it that NBA has supposedly (d)evolved from Big 3’s to Big 2’s, but I’m in the mood to think through this coming season NBAJam-style. Here’s my breakdown of the NBAJam roster for each team, with brief commentary.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter
Trae is obvious and Collins provides height and Kevin Huerter allows the Ringer to be happy. Young team and exciting. (Obviously, if you can go “all-time,” Vince Carter becomes possibly the greatest Jam player of all time!

Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum
Obviously, choosing between Tatum and Jaylen Brown is the most difficult. But when in doubt, go Duke. Would Tacko Fall be the most amazing Jammer ever?

Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Caris Levert
Yes, I’m putting injured players on the rosters. With KD on the roster, it makes it an easy decision. In a surprise move, have you noticed they could almost spring a second team: Joe Harris bombing deeeep. Jarrett Allen’s fro (and game). DeAndre Jordan at…er, just kidding.

Charlotte Hornets:
There was a day when I took great pride that Joe Dumars bested Michael Jordan as GM. I still love me some Joey D (despite Darko), but I take less pride in our fleecing Rip Hamilton. Maybe, maybe, you could argue Scary Terry…but even that is a stretch.

Chicago Bulls: Zach LeVine, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen
Zach’s hops would be killer on Jam, and no one plays D anyway. Carter and Markkanen would be a crazy tall lineup and be fun. Honorable mention: Otto Porter (makes tons of $$$ to not decisively make this list) and Coby White’s coiffure.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova, Larry Nance Jr.
Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are like the Tatum/Brown duplicity struggle and because I like the idea of Cleveland being mired in perpetual hopelessness, so I left both off. Why Delly? Because if you’ve played Jam before, you know the grunt sound that is made when a player gets fouled. Delly would have the ability to foul the point of hearing the life leave his opponents.

Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Boban Marjanovic
So far, the biggest drop off from the top 2 to player number 3. Honestly, we know Bobi isn’t the true number 3…but oh my goodness, would anything be more fun?

Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris
How does this team have a Plumlee and a Zeller? Also, the Paul Milsap underestimation continues. Could this be Michael Porter Jr’s year to edge into the top 3? Bol Bol and Jerami Grant are also potential players. Not a newsflash, but this is a roster!

Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard
(Full disclosure: Detroit is my team. I’m also an irrational Kennard fanboy. This will be his breakout year!) (More disclosure: I’ve never been able to get excited about Reggie Jackson…ever.) Point Blake with Dre’s D. Kennard from way downtown. I think this is legit. Sekou, Joe Johnson (remember, going all-time with 1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazing?) and Thon. You could do worse. (You could also do better.) But you could do worse.

Golden State Warriors: Wardell Stephen Curry II, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green
No injury consideration. Even with, Steph, Dray and D’Angelo Russell is a solid trio. Fortunately, you only have to play 3 guys in the NBA too. Wait. What’s that? Oh. This could be a championship Jam team (maybe the favorite), but lack of bench will kill them this season.

Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Clint Capela
Probably the most obvious trio and easily one of the most obvious starting two. And not because the rest of the roster is trash, but because Russ and Beard are so obvious. There’s some serious depth here, but just like I don’t think it would be fun to play on a team with Russ OR James (let alone both!) I don’t think I’d enjoy playing with this Jam team either.

Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Everyone complains that Sabonis and Turner can’t be on the court together, but I think I would maybe put Dipo “on the bench” and start a Jam team of Sabonis and Turner. The height and power could be kind of fun. Again, if you want to take Oladipo out for injury, then Malcolm Brogdon isn’t a terrible consolation prize.

LA Clippers: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams
Do you need size when you have the Klaw and PG13? This is obviously a pretty scary duo, and you don’t have to wrestle much with Lou Williams or Montrezl Harrell if you want to assume that with injuries (if we want to be inconsistent) there’s no way Leonard and Paul are both healthy at the same time.

LA Lakers: Lebron James, Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard
Yeah, I know I left Davis off their roster, but it was for three reasons: 1) I hate the Lakers. 2) You should be stuck with “I’m tanking and want traded AD” performance for Jam, thus he’s not worthy of a starting three. 3) Dwight and LAL are perfect for each other. He must be on the roster. (PS, this team is still bad. They’ve taken “Big 2” to the extreme. LBJ and AD is all they’ve got, unless you believe in Caruso!

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Andre Igoudala
Top 2 are a piece of cake. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as torn up trying to come up with the third piece. I am a giant Grayson Allen believer, but I absolutely love Iggy’s arms and look for any excuse to see them on a screen, even if animated. (Seriously, my wife gets a little jealous of the way I look at Iggy’s arms.)

Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler, Justice Winslow, Goran Dragic
Udonis Haslem is still on this roster. Udonis Haslem is still on this roster. Seriously, he may still be playing by the time Bobby Bonilla quits getting paid by the Mets. I could be talked into Meyers Leonard or Bam Adebayo for that third place, mostly because I’m bored with Goran on the Heat. This is the oddest roster of quality supporting cast players, but still, feels like a random chemistry experiment.

Milwaukee Bucks: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez
I’ll admit it. I didn’t enjoy putting Middleton on my list either. He deserves to be there, but it does feel like a compromise. Brook Lopez just for his craziness and three-point range. You could put Eric Bledsoe on the roster, but I’m assuming Jam is more like the Playoffs than a random game in mid-January. What’s that? That’s not the Antetokounmpo that I want? Speaking of; couldn’t the Bucks sign some Plumlees and Zellers and change their name to the Milwaukee Sibs?

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins
Yes, I can never remember where to put KAT’s hyphen. Yes, I put Teague in front of Wiggins. Yes, I’m still salty that Wiggins never became 70% of what we thought. This is the only team I think should really be going after Chris Paul.

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick
Duke! This team has serious depth (read: Jahlil Okafor, Frank Jackson). Seriously though, Lonzo and Favors are exciting, but Jrue Holiday is the real deal. This has the makings of a good Jam team, but I don’t think people are giving enough credit to the full roster either. (JJ does not miss the playoffs. It doesn’t happen.)

New York Kazoos: RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr
They are not as bad as the Hornets but I will……zzzzzz (Sorry. Fell asleep.)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari
Perhaps computer animators could add a “yell at your own team” feature for Paul to make it more life-like. Let’s be honest, Adams was spawned specifically for the purpose of being on Jam. I like Gallinari, if only his back hadn’t been ripped out Mortal Kombat style. Honestly, if this team can limit Paul’s “intensity” (read: hemorrhoidal personality), they could be fun to watch.

Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, DJ Au–I just can’t do it
Let Gordon fulfill his dream of Point A-aron. It’s scary how so much of this team’s destiny depends on Markelle Fultz. Yikes.

Philidelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris
Folks, this is your NBA Jam champion. (Yes, I know the NBA nerd herd would want to swap out Simmons and Al Horford.) While I think they have a good team, I don’t this is an NBA champion roster. Guys, they have a player named Haywood Highsmith. If that’s not an ABA sounding name, what is?

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Ricky Rubio
This team is the NBDL roster I was expecting. You could even argue that Dario Saric could slide into a spot or even Frank Kaminsky could provide some comedic effect. But I don’t see how this is going to work. I hope Rubio is not wasted here. So much of career was just thrown away in bad places.

Portland Trailblazers: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Pau Gasol
Since defense doesn’t matter, and because we can throw Pau into some kind of cryogenic freezer for Jam, this team becomes much better in NBA Jam universe than they can in the real league. You may argue that Zach Collins counters the issue that we can’t reverse Pau by 35 years in real life. I counter that they have Hassan Whiteside so chemistry is killed. You counter that Jusuf Nurkic belongs above Paul. I counter that they have Hassan Whiteside so chemistry is killed. I win the argument.

Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III
Can you imagine how fast Fox would be on Jam? He would just be a streak on the screen. Buddy bombing treys from “way downtown.” Personally, (but I know I’m in the minority), I’d love to throw Harry Giles III in the roster instead (and hey, I still stay “DUKE!”). Speaking of; Sac should trade for TimeLord (Robert Williams III) and Glenn Robinson III and I’m sure James Ennis III wouldn’t be too expensive. Team Trey!!!

San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White
This may be the hardest team. No one wants to admit LaMarcus fits on this list. DeMar deserves to be on there, but his game isn’t very fun for Jam. Belinelli would be fun to put on there, just to see if the animated version also looks like a bad guy from “The Saint.” Let’s be honest, Lonnie Walker IV should be on there, simply because if Sacramento goes Team Trey, you’re only going to be able to beat them with an IV. (Is that the highest NBA suffix in history? Is it too soon to start a Kickstarter for Lonnie Walker V’s personal trainer?)

Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol
Again, Father Time only plays road games in NBA Jam, so Gasol and Lowry are safe bets. On a different note, I played my son in NBA2K19 tonight and he played as all-time Raptors. It had Amir Johnson on the roster by not Chris Bosh. What is that?

Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley
I smile when I type that Mike Conley is on this team. I wish NBA Jam would let you put all three on the court at the same time. But short of Joe Ingles, who else does this team have? People are hot on the Jazz this offseason, but am I missing something? If we’re going to say GSW lacks the depth to go deep, how are people saying the Jazz can?

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal, John Wall, Isaiah Thomas
Uh, this can’t be good. Yeah, without the injuries, I guess Beal & Wall is fun..but we’ve seen it doesn’t really work. I guess really you should put Rui Hachimura on this squad just to get some height. But wow, without injuries this is bad. With injuries, this is really bad. With a season-ending injury (or 6), they would be almost as bad as Charlotte.

So what do you think?

  • Biggest snub?
  • Most overrated?
  • Best team?
  • Biggest real NBA, NBA Jam gap?

The season is right around the corner and it’s heating up…Boomshakalaka!


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Questions (and some answers) About Communion

As previously announced, we have decided to have our Good Friday Communion on Good Friday (4/3 @6:30pm). However, we are doing some things a little differently this time, and I’ve received a number of questions…so I thought I’d tackle them here on the blog.

If you had a question (or are just curious what people are asking), scroll down and see if yours is addressed. If not, feel free to leave a question in the comments section. (I may edit the post and add it.)

So what exactly is changing?
In a nutshell, not a ton. Instead of a sandwich alone for the “Love Feast,” we’re incorporating a carry-in (see our announcements for details). This also means the order of our evening will switch from Bread & Cup, Feetwashing, Love Feast (a justification-sanctification-glorification format) to Love Feast, Feetwashing, Bread & Cup. (Interesting that for Good Friday the order tends to follow the Last Supper.)

So, we’re adding a feast?
Yes and no. If you’re are thinking “buffet” when you see the word “feast,” that’s not what we have in mind. In fact, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 instructs us that our motive should not be to “pig out.” If you know you may be crazy hungry, it may be a good idea to eat before you arrive.

However, if by “feast,” you are thinking “celebration,” then yes, we are having a feast. By adding variety, choices and more food, we’re hoping to really encourage a heart of celebration to our communion services. (Think like a wedding reception…which the Love Feast envisions…the goal is not so much a full belly as a full heart.)

What was wrong with the old way?
Absolutely nothing. Our communion services have always been quite special and very meaningful. Those who have prepared, whether table settings, or Biblical instruction, or music have always done a great job! We’re simply trying something new to encourage our three key elements of Rest, Rejoice and Review from our Vision Night.

So what should I bring?
Again, follow the announcement link above to find your specific items. However, some have asked the question with a bit of “Martha Stewart trepidation” in their voice. If getting caught up in what dish to bring and what others may think about it is a major temptation, please resist. We don’t want you to be so distracted by your food item you brought that your focus cannot be on Christ. Jesus loves store bought desserts and side dishes…and so do we. Don’t sweat the preparation.

Do you have to be a member to attend?
Our communion services have never been “closed” (reserved for membership only), but are “close.” Yes, you may bring a friend or family member as well as attenders (but nonmembers) at Grace are welcome to join us. If you know someone who would like to come, I usually state to people, “If you are a believer who is in good standing with your local church, you are welcome to come.”

What about kids?
Two part answer. Kids will be joining us for the meal at the beginning. In the New Testament, there are multiple references to the church body enjoying meals together, but it is never actually spoken of like an ordinance (as Bread & Cup and Feetwashing are). Therefore, we don’t see any problem with your child, regardless of age or profession of faith, joining you. Non-believing children are always welcome to observe (but not participate) in all elements of our communion service. (It can be a great teaching tool.)

Who decides if my child can participate? Ultimately, you (the parents) do. If your child professes Christ and shows evidence of a life of repentance and trust, then you are the one to determine if you want them to participate in the whole service or not.

As a parent, this can be difficult. How do you know when your child has transitioned from conforming to what the family teaches, or even wanting to please mom and dad, to truly possessing individual faith? I’ll tell you, I find that virtually impossible to determine on my own. I think this is a way that the local church can help.

Our church recognizes the conversion of a child the same way as we do an adult. Yes, their words and experiences are going to be different, but ultimately we want to hear an articulation of the gospel (without coaching) that expresses genuine faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

As a family (this is just what the Wrights do, not requiring it of others), we have chosen to only have our children who have been baptized participate in all elements of communion. Our reasoning is the following:

  • The ordinances (baptism and communion) have long been tied together throughout church history.
  • From Scripture to today, baptism remains the symbol by which a person is recognized as a believer. Praying a prayer, coming forward, signing a card is not wrong or sinful, but the way the Scriptures describe accepting someone as a believer is through their proclamation of baptism. (Be clear, baptism doesn’t save. Repentance and faith save. But baptism is the way we acknowledge publicly this repentance and faith.)
  • This process gets it out of “my hands.” I do not conduct the interview for baptism for any of my children. They meet with an elder (of their choosing) just like any other person in our church. I love that I can trust the assessment to another elder and not be forced through my own bias (either being too “soft” or overcompensating and being to “hard”).

Now, as stated above, this is not “church policy.” There is room for freedom, conscious and “special circumstances” to apply. (Even in our situation, we’re making an exception this communion. One child of ours will be participating though she had not been baptized yet. She has conducted the interview and was approved. We just need to set up a date for her baptism.) I would simply encourage parents to think through two dynamics as you make your decision:

  • Not “assuming faith” upon your child. While we all desperately want to see our children believe, it can be quite confusing if we treat them fully as a believer before they actually are.
  • Not invoking condemnation. It is not good for a nonbeliever to take part in communion. While telling your child they are not ready may be awkward and cause some family tensions, it seems far less costly than participating in something that could bring about judgment from God.

Ok, that’s a looong post (but maybe not long enough). Feel free to post questions or further thoughts in the “comments” section.

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Book Review: Everyone’s a Theologian

Everyone’s a Theologian
An Introduction to Systematic Theology
RC Sproul
Reformation Trust; 335 pages

everyones-a-theologianI own a few different systematic theologies. Most of them are “bug killers.” Imagine the scariest bug possible is in your room. Reach for a book. If that book is a) big enough in size that you do not need pinpoint accuracy to throw the book toward the bug on the floor and be confident you hit it, and b) the book is heavy enough to give you confidence that it will fracture whatever exoskeleton the bug may possess, then you are dealing with a “bug killer.”

Most systematic theology volumes are bug killers. In effort to address issues, as well as controversies and misapplications, the authors go to great pains to be detailed and thorough. They can be quite a helpful resource. In fact, their girth typically makes them just that, a reference tool. I know of no one who typically reads through a systematic theology book cover to cover. (Unless reading through it over the course of a year.)

Unlike most theologies, I read through Sproul‘s book cover to cover. The layout is favorable, with small, accessible chapters. Scripture passages are cited parenthetically, but not so frequent that they interrupt the flow. He also incorporates footnotes (all God’s people say, “Amen!”), yet sparingly. If you’ve heard Sproul, you expect the book to be peppered with latin phrases. However, this does not intimidate since Sproul defines the term either within the same or following sentence. His logic is also generally easy to follow and he provides some good everyday examples and illustrations. Though he does not claim this volume as a historical theology, he does a good job of wedding his teaching with orthodox tradition and history.

LIke all his fellow Steelers fans, RC has 6 more reasons to smile than Browns and Bengals fans combined!

LIke all his fellow Steelers fans, RC has 6 more reasons to smile than Browns and Bengals fans combined!

When Sproul addresses issues of Orthodox Christianity, there are few better. He’s clear, winsome, logical and even practical. This book is much the same. He clearly points out truth and contrasts it with Rome, liberalism or secular humanism. Yet, he does it in a way that clarifies his position, not in a way that seems like he has an axe to grind. This book excels in the areas of basic Christian doctrine.

But I’ve noticed another trend with Sproul. (And quite possibly I’m reading this trend into Everyone’s a Theologian.) Where Sproul addresses the particulars of his convictions, he loses some of his potency. It appears to me, that he simply assumes people will see things the same way as him, and therefore doesn’t address objections.

For instance, Sproul is clearly covenantal. He lays out the three main covenants (Redemption, Works, Grace) with little explanation. There are noticeably few Scripture references here. Obvious questions do are not addressed. Does a Perfect, Holy, Loving God needs to covenant within a Triune relationship? And if the covenant is for our sake (ala Hebrews 6), why wouldn’t that covenant be formally articulated in Holy Writ? I have to think these questions are standard questions that are asked by many others. Furthermore, Sproul simply acknowledges that believer’s baptism is practiced by some, but argues that history is on his side with paedobaptism (an argument I would not necessarily agree with). If it’s no problem to apply a “sacrament” like baptism before conversion, is it also permissible to apply the Lord’s Supper to a nonbeliever? If so, is this not at least some violation of 1 Corinthians 11? When presenting different views of the millennium, Sproul presents Postmillennialism as the only optimistic view of the gospel. Isn’t anything less than universalism a pessimistic view of the gospel’s impact, yet we recognize universalism as heresy?

It’s not like these positions surprised me. I knew ahead of time that these were Sproul’s convictions. But it seems to me that even if you are a Partial-Preterist Covenantal Presbyterian, this probably isn’t the book you’d want to pass out to defend your position. (And if it is the book you’d use, perhaps your position is weaker than I estimated!)

While I enjoyed reading through the book, it does make its application a bit confusing. It’s not even that I wouldn’t recommend the book. It just would need a particular setting. And quite honestly, I may simply be expecting too much out of RC. For a volume this short, it simply may not be possible to really dig into the details.

In the end, “Everyone’s a Theologian” serves well as a refresher. If you simply want to think more theologically, it’s quick and can help you get back in a “systematic flow.” But if you’re looking for RC Sproul to explain or defend his position on some secondary issues, you’re probably going to have to pick up a bigger, longer, bug squashing book.


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Why I’m Growing Proud…and I’m OK With It

About a month ago, both of my youngest children received similar recognition from their school. My wife and I were informed by letters that came to us. Like any parent, when the letter arrives “To the parents of…” and the school letterhead is on it (and it’s not in a season you expecting correspondence) you feel a twinge of fear/anxiety. Once we read the letters and saw they were good news, I decided to transfer that trepidation onto the kids.

Gruffly, I called the littlest ones off the trampoline and to meet me and Charity “on the couch.” (A phrase reserved for our “more intense conversations.”) Once they were seated I proceeded to ask the kids why we had received letter from their school, sounded frustrated the whole time. Part of me thought, Hey one of them probably has done something you haven’t known about. Now’s your chance to manipulate a confession! The rest of me thought, I’m not really sure how to tell them how I feel.

I'm proud of my dad...well, most of the time.

I’m proud of my dad…well, most of the time.

Just a couple days later, I’m working in my dad’s shop. I finished one project and it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. Instead of giving me my next task, my dad told me we needed to chat. I gathered some chairs and sat down…wondering what I had done wrong. Playing me in the same way I had my kids, he let me fret a little. He asked me, “How do you think your ministry is going?” I slowly, cautiously slid into articulating that I was comfortable with ministry. It wasn’t perfect, but a lot of grace is visible. As he pushed back from his desk he stated, “Me too.” He then proceeded to tell me the ways he’s been blessed and how he has enjoyed life at Greenville Grace. And as he wrapped up his compliments (with a few “don’t let this go to your head kid” warnings), he stated, “I know I didn’t say this growing up…But I’m proud of you.”

You see, growing up, my dad never told me he was proud of me. I don’t say that to elicit pity. First, I don’t know of a man who has a better relationship with his father. I have always known I was loved by him (he says/said that all the time) and have always felt supported. I don’t say that because there is a void in my soul as I seek the approval of my earthly father. I know I have it. Second, he told me growing up why he never said he was proud. Pride is a sin. At least that’s one definition of pride.

Saying I'm proud of these kiddos does not mean I think I can take credit for anything about them. Just means that I'm pleased as I watch them growing up.

Saying I’m proud of these kiddos does not mean I think I can take credit for anything about them. Just means that I’m pleased as I watch them growing up.

But a more detailed definition says: feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated. To say you are proud of someone else in no way means you take some form of credit for their achievement. It simply says you are pleased with what they have achieved.

Lately, I’ve become convicted that I do not see the evidence of God’s grace as often as I should, and I express gratitude for that grace even less frequently. I want to enjoy and rest in His grace more. Personal pride blinds us to God’s grace. But being proud of those whom God has put around you, I think that can magnify God’s grace!

By God’s grace, I’m growing more comfortable telling people I’m proud of them…I may even quit making them think they’re in trouble when I do it!

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Book Review: PROOF

The Intoxicating Joy of God’s Grace
Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones
Zondervan; 170 pages

Disclaimer: As part of the Sojourn Network, I readily acknowledge that my observations will not be without bias. I love the Network, and appreciate both of these brothers. While there are tremendous benefits to our church and my soul by being a part of the Network, I have received no compensation or benefit for the following review.

proofI’ve never met a single person who says, “I hate grace.” People generally like the concept of grace. However, people also like to define grace according to their own means. Some “say grace,” as a prayer before a meal. Others speak of Lynn Swan’s “grace” when receiving a pass from Terry Bradshaw. (Are you really that surprised to find a Steeler’s reference?) Others employ “grace” as a euphemism for excusing sin (see: “error to the side of grace”).

It’s not like the debate clears up in theological circles. Churches, denominations and even cults all claim to teach the message of grace. Even within Christian circles (those who are believing a Biblical gospel), there can be a great degree of confusion when we speak of grace. Systems are developed, historical theology is consulted and pastors and teachers are quoted…all in attempt to explain what we mean by grace. Montgomery and Jones’ book helps advance the cause of defining what many of us mean by grace. Together, they use the acrostic PROOF:

Planned Grace. Before time began, God mapped out the plan of salvation from first to last. God planned to adopt particular people as his own children; Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for these people’s sins and as their substitute to satisfy God’s just requirements (John 10:11-18; Ephesians 1:4-12)
Resurrecting Grace. Everyone is born spiritually dead. Left to ourselves, we will never choose God’s way. God enables people to respond freely to his grace by giving them spiritual life through the power of Christ’s resurrection (John 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-7)
Outrageous Grace. God chose people to be saved on the basis of his own sovereign will. He didn’t base his choice to give us grace on anything that we did or might do (John 15:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Overcoming Grace. God works in the lives of his chosen people to transform their rebellion into surrender so that they freely repent and recognize Christ as the risen King. (John 6:44, 65; Ephesians 2:4-10).
Forever Grace. God seals his people with his Holy Spirit so that they are preserved and persevere in faith until the final restoration of God’s kingdom on the earth (John 10:27-29; Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30).

Generally, I really enjoyed the book. It’s theological, but quite accessible. It’s a personal and enjoyable read. (The account of Jones’ “disaster vacation experience” is worth the price of the book alone!) Yet, it doesn’t skirt around theological issues; being quite careful to clarify and quantify statements that are made. Specifically, I enjoyed the following elements:

Worship is the intention. Doctrine should lead to doxology! I appreciate that the authors are not simply trying to produce academic fruit, but are seeking to transform your relationship with your Savior. The language is faithful and emotive, yet is not manipulative or hyperbolic.

Grace is exalted. Rather than sticking with conventional theological discussions and labels, which tend to shift in focus from God and His sovereignty to man and his depravity, Jones and Montgomery choose to see all of the issues through the lens of grace. This allows for a more consistent approach, but also a more God-centered discussion.

History is recognized. While approaching the topic of grace in a fresh way, history is not ignored. It is clear from Scripture references and theologians quoted, that Montgomery and Jones have consulted history. In fact, Chapter 7 exposes that PROOF is not stating anything new, but is actually getting back to the original intention of those who sought to clarify grace at Dort.

Arguments are answered. The authors do a good job of anticipating objections and dealing with them. At times, significant sections are devoted to refuting a concern or objection. Other times, the reader is urged to check out a paragraph in the end notes. Either way, objections are addressed and objectors are vilified.

Anything I didn’t like?

The previous paragraph articulated one objection: end notes. I simply despise them. I know the authors’ intention. They desired that the book would not feel overwhelming or bogged down by references on page after page. However, I’m just too curious and can’t let a single end note pass…which meant a lot of page flipping for me.

Not quite as stealth as they assume. Calvinism isn’t named in the book until near the end. I understand the authors’ intention. One, their theological convictions are not tied to an allegiance to a specific man. Two, they are trying to keep conventional labels and names from clouding the discussion. This is probably just an issue of preference, however, it seems to me that if a person knows enough about the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion to be offended by the labels, they’ll see through the nature of the discussion. However, if a person isn’t familiar enough with the issue to spot it, it won’t turn them off from reading to hear the labels earlier in the book. I assumed I could give this book to a person who claims to hate Calvinism and win them over without resistance…probably an unfair expectation!

How would I use this book?

A month ago, a widow in her 60’s asked me for a good book to read on Calvinism. (Why? I’m not sure. I rarely, if ever, use that term.) This will be the book I recommend to her.

In our “Welcome to Grace Class” we exposit Ephesians 1. We press into issues of predestination and eternal security. We acknowledge that our teaching is considered “reformed” by some, but do not define a person’s theology as a “3-pointer, 4-pointer or 5-pointer.” (Some reading this know what I mean.) For the person who wants more information about grace, this is the book I will hand them.

I serve in a Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. When McClain chose the name “Grace,” he did so with the Doctrines of Grace in mind. Our Fellowship has largely drifted from these convictions, either redefining them, assuming them or rejecting them altogether. John Calvin’s name brings up great emotion and the word “reformed” seems to bring about confusion. This is the book I would hand a fellow pastor in our Fellowship if they asked how our understanding of the doctrine of salvation may be different than others.

Reading this book will do more than let you know better what others mean by the word “grace.” I believe reading this book will actually grow your understanding of grace.

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To My Beloved Multi-Ethnic Families

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching from Genesis 10-11. (Sermon audio: here) In the midst of the message, I expressed the difference between race and ethnicity.

Race sets strong boundary marks. You are born in a race and remain in a race. You can observe and appreciate another race, but you can’t enter into it.

Ethnicities (or as the Bible calls them, “nations”) are built around cultures and language, not skin type. Therefore, you are born in an ethnicity, but you do not have to be confined by it. Not only can you study other ethicities, you can enter into them.

If the Bible teaches (and it does) that we all came from Adam, then we are from one race. In fact, the gene pool filters down to Noah and his family, so we can even trace ourselves to that same origin. Everyone at the Tower of Babel (formation of nations) was of the same race…the human race. The only other “race” in the Scriptures is the “chosen race,” a reference not to a skin color or ancestry, but a reference to those who have trusted Christ.

58705050_640If I have muddied the issue, or if this is a new thought for you, I highly recommend listening to Thabiti Anyabwile’s “Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church.” Seriously, do yourself a favor. Follow the link. Listen to the sermon. Come back to this blog later, if you want to.

There was an application I wanted to bring in my sermon that time did not permit. I wanted to speak to those who have cross-ethnically adopted within our church. What are the ramifications of ethnicity on adoption, as informed by Scripture?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. It’s beautiful.
It’s a small piece of Revelation 7, a gathering of every people, language and tribe. A few years ago I quipped that I’d love it if when people saw a child of a diverse ethnicity in Greenville, they’d assume that maybe that child’s parents were from Grace. That’s not because a child of a different ethnicity is more glorifying to God than the ethnic majority in Greenville, but because the diversity helps represent the greater glory of God that already exists.

2. Enjoy entering their ethnicity.
There’s something beautiful about studying their language, traditions, foods and customs. And as you appreciate things, you can even “adopt” that element into your culture. You’re not being an imposter to enter their ethnicity, for you are not claiming to be something you are not. You’ve simply been exposed to a greater degree to the diversity of God’s humanity. Enjoy exposing them to some of their ethnic culture.

3. You won’t ruin them with your ethnicity.
Thinking in terms of race requires thinking in preservation. If too many people intermarry (for instance), and entire race could be lost. However, thinking in terms of ethnicity, nothing is lost. They can appreciate your culture as they also appreciate elements from other cultures (not even just the ethnicity they were born into). It’s ok if they start to act, think, speak like you. You are the greatest influence in their life. It’s only going to be natural.

4. Acknowledge that ethnicities are real and obvious, but not divisive.
If your child does not really look like you, don’t be offended when people notice! Ignoring our differences is a silly exercise that only leads to frustration. Instead, use it as an illustration of the gospel.

Consider Jesus. (Whether a multi-ethnic family or not.)

family-handsPresent to your kids a Jewish Jesus. He’s a son of Abraham and a Son of David (Matthew 1:1). This mean He knew Aramaic, was acquainted with the Old Testament, practiced the feasts, celebrations and culture of the Jews. We don’t try to conform Jesus to our ethnicity, or that wouldn’t be an accurate Jesus. There’s no pressure to try to make Jesus “one of us.”

But Jesus died for us. Acknowledging Christ’s ethnicity does not need to isolate Him from us. But acknowledging His work unites Him to us! Christ died to purchase to Himself a people from every nation, tribe and tongue! We do not feel removed from Jesus when we recognize He is a different ethnicity from us, we are drawn to the astounding nature of His work that it is sufficient for every man!

Share with them this glorious picture of Revelation 7. Let them know that even your family is just a glimpse of the glories to come. As you enjoy the beauty of diversity around your dinner table, rejoice in the glories that will fill the Throne Room when every language, every culture will be represented!

If you’ve adopted across ethnic lines, you are not more righteous than those who have not. However, you are giving all of us a greater opportunity to grasp the righteousness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

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A Greater Grace than Discovery

Thanks guys for playing nicely. Children need to see adults debate...not the childish political debates we are often subject to.

Thanks guys for playing nicely. Children need to see adults debate…not the childish political debates we are often subject to.

Though I debate more than I probably should, I really don’t know the rules to “formal debate.” This means I won’t be turning in a scorecard for the Nye v Ham debate. I would imagine that creationists generally think Ham won, while evolutionists probably think that Nye won.

I do have a couple of quick observations, though:

  • Both men handled themselves well. Neither man resorted to mockery or ridicule. Our political debates could take a page from this.
  • The audience handled itself well. It did not seem to create an “advantage” for either man. I appreciate that they let the debate take place on the stage, rather than filling the whole room.
  • Kudos to the moderator. I know nothing about him, but left the night not knowing whether he’s a creationist or evolutionist. That’s the way a moderator is supposed to do it.
  • While questions from the audience were somewhat beneficial, I would have preferred an opportunity where each man could have asked his opponent one question at a time to be addressed. I felt that Ham and Nye both avoided answering certain objections from the other man.
After reading this last summer, I wanted to teach my kids basic logic. After watching the debate, I'm committed to it!

After reading this last summer, I wanted to teach my kids basic logic. After watching the debate, I’m committed to it!

Since the world was being cancelled due to snow, we snuggled up with the kiddos and decided to watch the debate as a family. (It may have been a bit much for “the littles.”) Having recently taught through Genesis 1-11, my kids know what I believe. Though they would never know the label (a problem I plan to fix), they could spot when an argument went from deductive to inductive reasoning. They were frustrated at times by things that Nye would say, and equally frustrated at times with things Ham didn’t say. Call me a troglodyte, but our family lands squarely in the 6-literal-day-young-earth-creation camp.

Yet, we still love Bill Nye.

Bill Nye’s enthusiasm is what makes him so winsome. He has become popular because I believe that passion is legit. You could see it last night in the debate. Even when asked the simple question of favorite color, he couldn’t help but go off on how amazing it is that plants reflect green light. Even if you’re not really into science, I don’t think you could sit down with this man and not get fired up about something scientific. Near the end of the debate, he even affirmed that “discovery” is the great passion for him.

As Christians, we refer to this process of discovery as “common grace.” That’s why we believe a person with a different worldview can still contribute to inventions and scientific discovery. As creatures made in the image of God, we have the capacity to study our environment, discover tendencies, and subdue them to the benefit of mankind and the creation around us. Though our hearts may desire that others would share our worldview, common grace does not depend on whether they do.

Sir Isaac Newton's hair may have set the scientific community back a few years, but his creationist perspective didn't seem to hinder him.

Sir Isaac Newton’s hair may have set the scientific community back a few years, but his creationist perspective didn’t seem to hinder him.

(As a side, this seemed to be one of Nye’s greatest oversights. He claimed that America will fall behind in technology and innovation if people continue to hold onto a creationists perspective. This ignores the host of current creationists that are very involved in developing science…of few of which Ham mentioned. But also ignores the fact that many of the great scientists in history were creationists. Theology herself, used to be called the Queen of all Sciences. Most of our great Ivy League schools were started as Theological Seminaries. Thinking and theology hardly need to be enemies.)

I’m thankful for the common grace that Bill Nye loves. I would still gladly sit down and watch an episode of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” with my kids. If he said things we don’t agree with, I could talk to my kids about why we don’t. But I’d also hope that some of that awe of common grace would rub off on my kids. We should be amazed by the universe around us! But it shouldn’t stop there.

While I so greatly appreciate Bill Nye’s enthusiasm for discovery, I also found my heart aching. Discovery can be fascinating. Discovery can be exhilarating! But discovery can also be empty. Discovery simply “stops short.” Discovery leaves the possibility that at the end of all things, you find nothing. Discovery can lead to despair. Or, with a new revolutionary discovery, it can lead to pride. When you feel like you’ve found something no one else has (either your peers, or societies of the past), it inevitably leads to the belief that your knowledge creates superiority. Discovery is good, but it’s not ultimate.

No, we need to teach our kids the thrill of discovery, but then we need to point them further. Discovery is a giant neon sign that should point us to revelation. Revelation puts a person behind what we discover. Revelation puts intention behind what we discover.

Whether it’s observing the universe (general revelation) or digging into our Bible (special revelation) we don’t actually enter as discoverers. Discovery can possibly lead to nothing, but revelation always leads to Someone.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.–Psalm 19:1

Of course, as Christians, revelation then goes further. The creation declares God’s glory. But the Word of God (Bible) reveals God to us. And the Word of God–In Christ Jesus–reveals the Father perfectly to us (John 14:9).

I’m praying our kids don’t just grasp a little bit of Bill Nye’s joy of discovery. I’m praying that it goes beyond our children matching Bill Nye’s joy of discovery. I’m praying that our kids would exceed Nye’s joy of discovery by embracing the glory of revelation. And I’m praying that Mr. Nye would discover that greater grace too.

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Elder Leadership Class

Greenville Grace will be offering another “Elder Leadership Study.” This class if required for any man at Grace who would want to become an elder, but is highly recommended for all men. It’s a great study to help you understand how elder leadership functions, but also encourages men in their own walk with the Lord, as we examine the different qualifications of an elder.

PC_FRONT_ELDER-CLASSClasses will be:

  • January 20
  • February 3
  • February 17
  • March 3
  • March 17
  • March 31

With a lot of interaction, these classes also serve as a great opportunity to get to know other men. This year, multiple churches may be bringing some of their leadership as well, allowing a chance to examine a variety of approaches and applications.

If you are interested in the class, the cost is $50 (all materials included). (There is a scholarship for Greenville Grace members, dropping the cost to $35.)
Final day to sign up is January 13.

Contact the office of Greenville Grace if interested.

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Book Review: God Redeeming His Bride

God Redeeming His Bride
A Handbook for Church Discipline
Robert K Cheong
Christian Focus; 309 pages (including appendices)

God-Redeeming-His-BrideTo say that Cheong has written one of the greatest modern books regarding church discipline can be simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. The superlatives seem impressive, but with few churches practicing discipline, and even fewer people wanting to hear about it, it’s not exactly a competitive field. However, don’t allow what appears to be limited demand diminish this book’s great supply.

Dr. Cheong has written a thorough and careful book, including many notes (footnotes!) with Scripture references, book citations and explanations. He does not simply dive into the “how to’s” of church discipline, but doesn’t shy away from practical advise either. In his appendices (which I usually don’t include in my page count, but felt I needed to because of their length, but also quality of content), he provides examples, further points of discussion, and even thoughts on legality. I can’t imagine a pastor or church not being helped by this book.

But Pastor Cheong’s book is hardly a formulaic “how to” guide. It’s the work of a pastor. Cheong begins the book by examining the nature of a redeeming God. Redemption is God’s work. By seeking to incorporate his understanding of church discipline from the whole Bible, and not just a couple select passages in the New Testament, Cheong produces the following definition of church discipline:

God’s ongoing, redeeming work through His living Word and people as they fight the fight of faith together to exalt Christ and protect the purity of His bride.

This perspective on God’s redeeming work, and the church’s loving participation with one another helps protect church discipline from becoming a “procedure.” Cheong warns of thinking of “entering church discipline” or even the labels “informal” and “formal” church discipline. Rather, we should see that the Lord is constantly in the process of disciplining those whom He loves. Therefore, as we apply Matthew 18 (which Cheong in no way endorses evading) our focus is not upon a procedure (and “getting it right”) but upon God–the One who works for the redemption of His bride. Cheong instructs in each chapter but also brings along a couple–John and Kathy–for illustrative purposes…allowing us to observe potential application.

Pastor Cheong is part of the Sojourn Community Church…the “mother church” of the Sojourn Network. Our church is also a part of the Sojourn Network. While I was not given the book, nor was I asked to review it, I recognize that my “objectivity” is probably clouded some by my affiliation. Yet, I couldn’t help but rejoice as I saw how Cheong unites being “missional” with the concept of “church discipline.”

The word “missional” is a buzzword that has quite possibly lost all meaning. Many people focus the word on social engagement only or just on professions of conversion. Everything from feeding the homeless, to buying toys for single parent children, to giving away prizes at church so the place is packed to hear a gospel presentation gets dubbed as “missional.” But such a view of mission, in isolation, is short-sighted.

If God’s mission is the redemption of His people, and if that redemption includes not only their coming to salvation, but also their growth in holiness, then the church should have the same mission. To simply “get people saved” is not all that God intends in His mission. The purity is of the church is directly proportional to the power of her mission. The salt should be potent. The light must shine brightly.

This does not mean a church advocates a hardened, self-righteous view encourages harsh methods. Nothing could be further from the truth. The gospel must fuel our methods and be the focus of our hearts. Cheong establishes a careful, loving, thorough approach to church discipline that flows from the redemptive heart of our Lord. Cheong’s book does not create an overly introspective view–where the church only worries about her own–but calls the church to recognize her ability to call out into the world only comes from being distinct from the world.

If your church has redefined Matthew 18 in fear that it would hinder your ability to be missional, you will be challenged by this book. If you have been turned off to church discipline because you’ve seen overly harsh and distorted examples in the past, this book will provide a greater alternative than simply abandoning the practice. If you’ve been through the pain and sorrow of church discipline, this book will encourage you to keep on God’s path for redemption.

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Book Review: The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams

The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams
Heath Lambert
Crossway; 170 pages

9781433528132In 1970, Jay Adams wrote Competent to Counsel. This book began what has come to be called the Biblical Counseling Movement. The name of the movement seems innocent enough, but it does not mean it came without controversy. (Imagine the response of those using other methods. Are you suggesting we aren’t Biblical?) Adams was–in some ways–forging a new path. Both Adams pioneering work and his pioneering spirit certainly created mixed reviews!

I have not read everything by Adams (his bibliography extends to over 100 works) but I have read several of his “classics.” While I don’t agree with everything Adams teaches, I do find may of his works helpful and practical fruit of believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. From the time I was introduced to Nouthetic counseling, through the training classes I took, I found myself growing in my understanding that the Scriptures say a great deal about how God’s people can counsel one another.

However, every once in a while, Adams would say something that caused me to scratch my head. More often, it was what Adams didn’t state, or neglected to elaborate upon which was most curious. I often felt like Adams was right, but there must be more that could be said. But when I read “Finally Free,” I found myself quite encouraged, not just by the counsel toward fighting porn, but by the approach as well. It was fully Biblical, even Nouthetic, yet it also seemed to be more. I wanted to understand more about Lambert’s approach, so I picked up The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams.

Lambert begins the book by explaining that Adams’ approach was not completely new, but it was a return to convictions that had been abandoned. Lambert carefully walks the reader through events that caused Biblical counseling to fall out of the norm (even the Civil War!), and then traces through Adams’ steps toward returning to the ancient approach. His approach allows the reader to see that Adams is not creating a counseling method “ex nihilo,” yet he had very few contemporaries to bounce things off of, or be sharpened by. Lambert’s retelling of the movement causes one to sympathize with the disadvantages Adams faced without presenting Adams as faultless or perfectly innocent. In fact, his retelling of the past makes it obvious that the work was–and still is–in need of advancement. Lambert lays out the advancements in four categories:

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Think about Counseling
Lambert does a fair job of explaining why Adams so emphasized the sinful actions of the counselee. In many ways, Adams was swimming against a current that placed responsibility anywhere but on the one seeking counsel. However, Lambert shows that as the movement has advanced, it has recognized the need to discuss suffering and motivations. The Scriptures offer much (particularly the Psalms) for a believer seeking to faithfully address his suffering caused by living in a sin cursed world. The entire discussion of idols likewise provides a counselor a host of Scriptures to speak toward motivations within the life of a counselee. In fact, Lambert concludes the book with the exhortation that there is much more work to be done in understanding the nature of idolatry.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Do Counseling
Adams put a high premium on professionalism. This is understandable as he was seeking credibility for the Biblical counseling movement. However, as the movement has advanced, there is more of an emphasis on letting the gospel fuel our methodology. There is a great emphasis on being part of the family of God, of acknowledging the sinfulness of the counselor, of bringing compassion and focusing on the person and not just the sin.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Talk about Counseling
Possibly the most informing section for me, Lambert provides a lot of history into the discussion that Adams had with other counselors. Lambert is willing to show that many of Adams interactions with other Christian counselors were bombastic and rather caustic. Interestingly however, he also shows evidence that Adams was quite winsome and gentle when speaking to nonbelievers. Lambert suggests that most of the discussions about Biblical counseling are happening among biblical counselors. If the movement is to advance, and perhaps even recruit others, we must do a better job of speaking to brothers and sisters who use differing counseling methods.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Think about the Bible
In this chapter, Lambert actually points out that the differences aren’t as extreme as many interpret. Some have wrongly concluded that more recent Biblical counselors are less committed to the sufficiency of Scripture. Others have also suggested that Adams was not as gospel-centered as current writers. Lambert points out that language may change and the approach may sound slightly different, but the movement is still the same at its core. Adams was committed to the gospel, and quotations can be found throughout his writings, even if they seem brief and without elaboration. Likewise, the “new generation” is just as committed to the sufficiency of Scripture as Adams. The movement continues to advance and grow, but it remains true to its initial core.

I was seriously impressed with how Lambert handled the discussion. He takes a realistic look at Adams. He does not present him as perfect or superhuman. He presents the origin of Biblical counseling; warts and all. But he also presents the movement in such a gospel informed way that honors Adams. There is no element of looking down at Jay Adams, nor is there any attitude that we have moved beyond him. Lambert seems to have done an excellent job at assessing the movement as a whole, and points ahead to future development.

At the beginning of the first chapter, Lambert states, “This is not a book about counseling. Even though you might be tempted to think it is a book about counseling, it is really a book about ministry.” Therefore, if you’re tempted to turn away from such a book because “counseling isn’t my thing,” I’d encourage you to give it a second look. If you care about the souls of people, you will benefit from reading this book.

Perhaps you are already a part of the Biblical Counseling Movement (as am I). I think you will benefit and be encouraged by reading this book. I know my ministry has already been sharpened by reading from Lambert’s account.

And if you do not agree with the Biblical Counseling Movement, I really wish you’d read this book. As a Biblical Counselor, I find I’m regularly fighting against stereotypes and caricatures that aren’t accurate. Please read the book to see how the movement has advanced…and prayerfully consider joining us!

I look forward to reading more works by Heath Lambert in the future, and am excited about his leadership with ACBC.

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