Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Power of the Third Rail: Jim Shaw’s Story, A Review

The last time I saw Jim Shaw was at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Lackey Clinic. Back in 1995, Dr. Shaw had a God-inspired vision to meet the needs of people who lacked good medical care, in the greater Williamsburg, Virginia area. Looking back, the Clinic has been a resounding success.

But the path was never easy. Not too long after Lackey Free Clinic got started, Jim Shaw ended up on the other side of the doctor’s office, so to speak, as he began his extremely difficult, 18+ year fight against cancer. His short book, The Power of the Third Rail: A Testimony of Life and Hope in Suffering and Ministry, tells the story.

Dr. Jim Shaw likened those years of his life to a three-railed, model train set. One side rail was his medical ministry, growing the outreach of the Lackey Free Clinic, and the other side rail was his battle with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. But the center rail, which powered the train, represented the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the source of strength to guide him through the challenges of both ministry growth and suffering from cancer.

Jim Shaw had grown up in the Episcopal Church, even acting as an acolyte, but he had no depth of faith. Not knowing much about the Bible, he took an Old Testament class in college, designed by that school to help bolster faith in the modern world. Ironically, however, this class inadvertently destroyed whatever shaky faith he had growing up in a church. In this class, the supernatural acts of God, the parting of the Red Sea, the tumbling walls at Jericho, etc., were explained away, convincing this young man, destined for a career in pulmonary medicine, to turn off his mind “to the Bible as truth.” His scientific inclinations had led him to conclude that the Resurrection of Jesus simply could not be believed.

He married, and soon began his graduate studies in medicine, eventually doing research in pulmonary medicine. But his career put a huge stress on his growing family. His wife, Cooka, sought to bring Christ into the center of the family life, but Jim Shaw would have nothing of it.

Yet Cooka kept praying.

By the time the Shaws came to Williamsburg, the power of prayer began to soften Jim Shaw’s heart. Through the loving friendship of friends at our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, Jim Shaw slowly began to have some of his intellectual questions answered. He read helpful books by C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Frank Morrison. But these books were not enough. He eventually encountered a new picture of Jesus, as a real, flesh and blood person, from meeting Father Joseph Girzone, author of the book, Joshua: A Parable for Today, and this helped to prod Jim Shaw to eventually put his faith in Jesus.

The Power of the Third Rail, which I was able to read in one or two sittings, walks the reader through the ups and downs of trying to start, and eventually grow, the Lackey Clinic, as well as chronicling his long-term struggle with cancer. Aside from the Lord Himself, the one real standout hero in the book is his cheerful and supportive wife, Cooka. What an incredible love did they have for one another!

At times, Jim and I wrestled with each other on certain matters of faith. But after having read his story, I am encouraged to know that for the things that really count, Jim Shaw and I shared the essentials of knowing the reality of Jesus Christ.

I remember years ago, in the early days of his Lackey ministry, sitting with Jim at a dinner on a men’s retreat, with him telling me of his grand vision to get the Lackey Clinic going. I kept thinking to myself, while it sounded like a great, noble idea, I was not convinced that anything that impactful could really take off. I am glad that I was wrong, as evidenced by the hundreds of patients who have continued to receive expert medical care over the years. Dozens of medical professionals and other volunteers, supported by generous donors, who care for those who fall through the cracks of the U.S medical system, have made it happen, with all the praise and thankfulness going to God.

I also remember, during those years, Jim and Cooka sitting in the back of our church, with Jim harnessed up with a halo neck brace, designed to immobilize his body from being shot through with piercing pain. I really wondered how long Jim was going to make it. To think that he left this world, to be finally cancer-free, only just a couple of years ago, astounds me as to how God proved faithful to him, to have him serve His purposes on earth.

The most profound lesson I learned, in this book from Jim Shaw, is that it was his time reading and studying the Bible that energized his walk with Jesus. Jim’s life exemplified the teaching by the former, pastor emeritus of our church, Dick Woodward: to get people into God’s Word, so that God’s Word can get into them.

So, if you want an encouraging, short read as to how one can meet God, in the face of the twin challenges of ministry and physical suffering, go get a copy of The Power of the Third Rail. Thanks, Cooka, for getting Jim’s story into print!

Jim Shaw was a reader of Veracity. You can read his obituary here. Veracity blog founder, John Paine, wrote a brief tribute to Jim shortly after his death. For more information about Lackey Clinic, and how you can help, and carry on Jim’s legacy, here is their website.

Is Jerusalem the Capital of Israel?… (A Blog Post Compendium)

U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, at Jerusalem’s “Wailing Wall,” January 23, 2018. While many American Christians enthusiastically supported the visit of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, to Jerusalem, many Middle Eastern Christian leaders refused to meet with him. Why the rebuff of the American leader, by fellow Christians? (photo credit: REUTERS, Ronen Zvulun)

U.S. President Donald Trump made news in December, 2017, by announcing that the United States would move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to honor the Israeli claim that Jerusalem is truly the capital of that modern nation-state. For many Christians, when they read their Bibles, they think that this is a “no-brainer.” Jerusalem has been the center of Judaism since the days of the Old Testament. Why not now?

But a lot of other Christians, when they read their Bibles, beg to differ.

As British theologian Ian Paul writes, Theodore Herzl, the pioneer of modern Jewish Zionism, modestly envisioned Mount Carmel as the capital for a modern Jewish state, and not Jerusalem. Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of modern Israel, was willing to accept the loss of Jerusalem as the price to be paid for having a homeland at all, for the Jews, in the Middle East.

The 1967, Six-Days War, whereby Israeli forces took control of all of Jerusalem, changed all of that.

The latest move by the United States, as many see it, is simply accepting what everyone knows is the reality behind modern day Israel.  Why pretend? Jerusalem is, and should be, the capital of Israel.

Well, others are quite uncomfortable with the idea, The planned implementation of U.S. foreign policy creates concerns that this move could lead (and in a few cases, has already led) to unnecessary violence..

They call Jerusalem, the “city of peace.” Why then, is it so controversial? What does the Bible have to say about all of this? Continue reading

THEOCAST (Evangelical Discretion Is Advised)

In his Veracity video interview, Clarke Morledge described his theological leaning as, “Reformed with a small ‘r’.” What in the world does that mean? Is it about the mode of baptism, or is there more to it than that? Clarke?

Our church is currently working through Wayne Grudem’s foundational   Systematic Theology.  Grudem describes his theological perspective as ‘Reformed.’ The glossary in his indispensable text defines Reformed as, “Another term for the theological tradition known as Calvinism.” Who am I to disagree with one of Evangelical Christianity’s foremost 21st Century theologians, but I’m not sure that Reformed = Calvinism.

These and many other potentially thorny topics are the subjects of a new blog and YouTube channel. Theocast is, “Four broken men and their humble attempts to explain infinite grace with finite minds. Simply just adding to the ongoing (2,000-year) conversation about biblical and theological matters from a reformed perspective.”


These four pastors are sharp. If you watch their About Us video, they describe their goal to give everyone access to discussions you don’t hear in ‘normal’ conversation. They have gone to great pains to do so, and they do it very well.

If you’re a little worn out listening to shallow conversations, give these guys a try. You may not agree with their perspectives and opinions, but you will probably learn something interesting.


The Churching of Women?

Actress Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, with her first child (photo credit: ITV Picture Desk)

During the opening episode of the PBS’ Masterpiece series, “Victoria: Season 2,” we witness a curious scene. The 19th century English monarch, Queen Victoria, who had recently given birth to her first child, had to go through a special church ritual, in order to be properly received back into the Church of England. This “churching of women” is rarely practiced today, but the ritual gives us a glimpse into some interesting dynamics of church history.

Actress Jenna Coleman, in “Victoria: Season 2,” portrays the queen as someone who greatly dislikes this rite, traditionally having a long title in the Book of Common Prayer, “The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women.” For Queen Victoria, she got the sense that the church had viewed her as being “unclean,” in the early period after giving birth to her child. This required a ritual of purification, which Victoria thought to be wholly unnecessary and paternalistic. Is it any wonder that most people today know nothing of the practice of “churching?”
Continue reading

Why the Reformation Still Matters: A Brief Review

On long car trips, I like to listen to audiobooks. So, on a recent trip in late 2017, I listened to Michael Reeves and Tim Chester’s Why the Reformation Still Matters, in honor of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. If you think the Reformation is just something stuck in the recesses of the 16th century, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

I had heard of Michael Reeves, a theologian and president at Union School of Theology, in Oxford, England, and Tim Chester, a pastor in the U.K., through the teachings of Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late R. C. Sproul. Reeves and Chester take the core doctrinal concerns of the Reformation, like Justification, Scripture, Sin, Grace, Everyday Life, etc., establishing them in their original 16th century historical context, and then proceeding to apply this theology to living in the 21st century. The applications are framed in terms of questions like:

  • How can we be saved?
  • How does God speak to us?
  • What is wrong with us?
  • What does God give us?
  • What difference does God make on Monday mornings?, etc.

Reeves and Chester give us a feast of thought, showing how the principles of the Reformation are still applicable and necessary for 21st century people. The authors do assume you know the basic contours of 16th-century Reformation history, like who Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were, and what the Council of Trent was. Forget bumper-sticker slogans and sentimental positive thinking. This is a book of meaty theology, but it is focused on the practical, and thankfully does not go over people’s heads. Savor and chew on each chapter, and then see if your life is not changed.

Relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants have been thawing in recent years, causing some to wonder what the fuss was all about. Does it really matter as to how we become saved, through Jesus Christ? Does one’s view of the intermediate state, the period between death and the final restoration of all things, really make any difference?

Reeves and Chester address these contemporary debates. They have a very useful treatment of how the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, a doctrine championed by Martin Luther, stands at the very center of Gospel-oriented thinking about salvation, but that is often misunderstood or ignored today. Reeves and Chester also do a good job fairly explaining why folks like C.S. Lewis, have been able to advocate a Protestant version of purgatory, which may (or do not, for Reeves and Chester) improve upon a medieval Roman Catholic understanding of the intermediate state. These topics may seem obtuse, but Reeves and Chester lay out their arguments succinctly and practically.

While my top book in this category, of books that introduce the thought and theology of the Reformation, is still Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought, Reeves and Chester’s book is a much more concise, slimmer volume, just a little more than 200 pages, and easier to read.

Like any book, there are some downsides. In such a short book, it would be impossible to touch on every difficulty concerning the Reformation. Reeves and Chester open a few doors as to some of the weaknesses of the Reformation, without always shutting those doors with satisfactory answers. Luther and Zwingli battled themselves over the interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, in the Bible, and Anabaptists were persecuted by mainstream, magisterial Protestants over their commitment to believer’s baptism. But Reeves and Chester do not deal with the problem of pluralism in Protestant biblical interpretation, a chief reason why Rome opposed the Reformers. As Kenneth Stewart points out in his book review, Reeves and Chester fail to address the problem of religious violence that erupted in the wake of the Reformation. The Reformation is a huge topic, so given the scope of the book’s purpose, these limitations are to be expected.

These caveats aside, Why the Reformation Still Matters succeeds in getting the basic message across. Yes, the Reformation still matters.

The following 1-minute promotional video, by co-author Tim Chester, was filmed in Rome.

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