January 2018

Let us be women

January 31 2018 by Katie McCoy, SWBTS

The incomparable Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The fact that I am a woman doesn’t make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” Her words echo down through the decades as a new generation surveys the wreckage of cultural confusion and joins her cry: “Let Me Be a Woman.”
My identity as a woman is no accident. As I study scripture, I see the intentional differences God designed between male and female, the relational dynamic between them, and the distinct responsibilities both men and women have in His church – all for the display of His glory and grace.

Katie McCoy

Thus, as a complementarian, I am convinced that the poetically nuanced details of Genesis 2 and the culture-transcending implications of 1 Timothy 2 provide patterns that guide and inform my life and ministry.
Also as a complementarian, I am convinced that the contribution of women is vital to the flourishing of the church. Our voices and gifts matter, and we must to learn to leverage them according to God’s purpose and design. This means learning to love the Lord with all our hearts, our souls and our minds.
As equal image-bearers of the divine (Genesis 1:26-29), our minds are worth the investment in theological education, in all its rigor and depth. This belief does not contradict my complementarian convictions; rather, it expresses them.
We women are hard-wired for community with other women. It’s part of what makes the genius of Titus 2:3-5 so enduring; we learn in community. It isn’t enough simply to study theories of biblical gender roles or a theology of womanhood; we instinctively want to see those theories lived out in the context of woman-to-woman relationships. We look for other women who exemplify their convictions in every sphere of life, both personally and professionally. The refrain to “Let me be a woman,” becomes “Show me how to live like one,” as the simplicity of scripture’s counsel competes with rival cultural beliefs. Our identity in Christ makes us a “different kind of woman,” so we search for an ideology that is both theologically consistent and intellectually complete.
Looking back on my years as a seminary student, it wasn’t just the content of my courses that shaped and formed my perspective. It was the community. I discovered a community of women who challenged each other to think, to grapple with an argument, analyze a theory and articulate a theological position. We were a community of women who pushed each other to love the Lord with all our minds and to devote ourselves to standing under the authority of His Word without compromise (Mark 12:30-31).
We were a community of female students who were forming our beliefs and convictions alongside female professors who exemplified those beliefs and convictions, as we discerned together scripture’s implications for our lives and ministries. It was a safe place to grapple with our own experiences and to bring our perceptions face-to-face with the Word. (Many a woman who entered Dorothy Patterson’s Biblical Theology of Womanhood course as a strong-willed feminist emerged as a stout-minded complementarian!) Our professors invited us into their lives as they strove to express their beliefs with consistency and excellence – as wives, as mothers, as teachers, as scholars, as women.
Ten years later, I am teaching a new cohort of female students. The world they inherit seems far more hostile and broken than just a decade ago.
Now, perhaps more than ever, we desperately need theologically grounded women who will devote themselves to God’s precepts and become all that He designed them to be.
We desperately need theologically grounded women who can respond to cultural tidal waves like the #MeToo movement, who are armed with a theology of women’s dignity that doesn’t look to transient social solutions for pervasive spiritual ills.
We desperately need theologically grounded women who will cut through well-intended, yet misguided attempts to conflate male-female equality with the tenets of secular ideology, who can uphold the worth of every woman without painting Jesus as a first-century feminist.
We desperately need theologically grounded women who can articulate sound doctrine on human sexuality with compassion and clarity, who will not shrink from scripture’s teaching on sexual ethics in a world that is increasingly sexually enslaved.
And we desperately need theologically grounded women who will take up the culture-transforming ministries of our spiritual foremothers, who will advocate for the unborn, for the poor and the oppressed, and who will labor for the spiritual growth of those for whom they are responsible.
Drawing from scripture, we desperately need theologically grounded women who can confront ungodliness with prophetic truth like Huldah, spur leaders to faith-filled action like Deborah, diffuse volatility with spiritual wisdom like Abigail, and nurture with doctrinal precision like Priscilla.
The theological education of women within a community of women truly is a worthy investment.
That we are “equal yet different” is not a trivial placation; it is a principle that energizes our intellectual pursuits as a means of worshiping the God whose image we bear.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katie McCoy is assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at the College at Southwestern, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and editor of the biblicalwoman.com website of Southwestern’s women’s programs, where this column first appeared. For an additional column by Katie McCoy on women’s roles in the church, go to biblicalwoman.com/why-women-are-critical-to-the-mission-of-the-church.)

1/31/2018 10:59:11 AM by Katie McCoy, SWBTS | with 1 comments

The pastors, they were there

January 30 2018 by Paul Chitwood, Baptist Press

We waited and waited. For hours. Hundreds of families were packed into the middle school cafeteria hoping to hear the name of their teenager called, anxious to see them and know they were OK. Besides those families, the first responders and school staff were there.
And one other group was welcomed into North Marshall Middle School on Tuesday: the pastors.

Paul Chitwood

A sleepy farming community had been jolted awake Jan. 23 by sirens, frantic teenagers running out onto Highway 68 and, tragically, the sounds of gunfire in the hallways of the local high school from which they fled. I was in the area visiting with a local pastor when my phone buzzed. A state official quickly informed me of the unfolding tragedy and hung up to make his next call.
I shared the news with the pastor and heard the pain in his voice as he replied, “I have kids in that school.” “Family?” I asked. “No, my church kids.” As his voice began to shake, I knew that, to him, there was no distinction. Those kids are his family. “I’ll take you there,” I said.
We arrived at the school board office adjacent to Marshall County High School to see that another pastor had made it there first. “What do you know?” I asked. “I’m being told the kids still in the school will be bused to North Marshall Middle where they can be picked up by their parents.” We were off again.
The staff at North Marshall Middle School was working diligently to see that only those who had kids coming to the school were allowed in. But when one of the ladies saw a Bible in the hands of the pastor with me she said, “If you are ministers and can talk to these families, please go in right now.” So we did. Within a few minutes, other pastors arrived.
Like shepherds looking for missing sheep they walked through the gathering crowd hoping to spot the familiar faces of those who sat in their sanctuaries each Sunday. And when they did, there were hugs and tears. And there was gratitude.
Why were the pastors there at time like that? Because they are supposed to be there. They are always there in those sacred moments when lives are forever changed.
They are there when new life is welcomed into the world. They are there when vows are exchanged and two lives become one. They are there when the eternal vow is made, a life committed to Christ through the waters of baptism. They are welcomed alongside the sickbed and the deathbed. Their voice speaks words of hope and comfort even at the graveside. Why wouldn’t they be there when a frantic mother waits, hoping to receive word that her daughter wasn’t the girl who was killed at school that morning? They were there.
But not all of them. Some of them were already at the hospitals, having learned that one of the “their” kids was hurt and on an ambulance.
One of them was driving to Nashville. He had heard the terrifying news that one of “his” kids was being flown to Vanderbilt. Dropping everything, he raced to the hospital. Upon seeing him enter the hospital counseling room, the grieving father could only say, “Pastor, he’s in a better place.” And while they wept and wept, their pastor was there. Why?
Because he’s their pastor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, wrote this reflection on the ministry of pastors after the Jan. 23 school shooting at Marshall County High School when two students were killed and 18 others injured. This article first appeared in Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, an online news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

1/30/2018 12:00:25 PM by Paul Chitwood, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Should women be seminary professors?

January 29 2018 by Meredith Cook, Intersect Project

Recently, Desiring God published an interview with John Piper regarding the place of female professors at seminary. In his argument, Piper defines seminary as primarily for “those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men.” Therefore, since the pastorate is exclusive for men, it would be inconsistent with scriptural teaching for women to teach and prepare male students for a calling from which they, as a mentor, are excluded.
As a seminary-educated woman, I’ve had many conversations with friends and mentors regarding the place for female seminary professors as well as the broader experience of being a woman in seminary. All of my professors were male, but my seminary does employ some female professors and has created initiatives to increase female representation on campus. Currently, female professors teach women’s ministry, biblical counseling and some non-theological subjects such as English, or linguistics/foreign language (excluding biblical languages). I’m encouraged by their efforts.
As expected, the interview has caused quite a stir on social media. A few responses have already been published, including this one from Michael Bird. I appreciate Bird’s defense of women in seminary (and his affirming nod to my own seminary). He is right that many women in seminary feel devalued. That, fortunately, was not my experience.
However, Bird’s argument, while addressing an important point, seems to focus mainly on the value of a female professor as it pertains to advocacy and protection for female students. I am certainly grateful for this consideration. But I also think it is important to affirm the value of female seminary professors for reasons beyond what Piper and Bird present.

Seminaries’ teaching/equipping roles are broader than pastoral ministry.

First, Piper’s argument focuses solely on the role of the seminary in training pastors. Seminaries exist to train ministers of all varieties. Most offer a wide range of fields of study. At my seminary, we have a number of students pursuing Pastoral Ministry or Preaching, but we also have many who study Biblical Counseling, Christian Education, or, my own areas, International Church Planting and Missiology. In fact, my seminary is well known for its focus on training missionaries. And since 2/3 of the missionary force is female, it stands to reason that seminary can’t only exist to train pastors.
Further, Piper explains that aspiring pastors should be taught by professors who are “an embodiment of the pastoral office.” I agree. But if many seminary students will go on to be missionaries or counselors, does it not warrant mentors who have experience in those fields? And if the Bible does not specifically exclude females from counseling and missions work then would it not be beneficial for students to learn from female professors who have been missionaries and counselors? If a female student can learn from male professors in fields not excluded to one gender, then the reverse should be true as well.

Seminaries do not take the place of the local church.

There is validity to Piper’s position that aspiring pastors should be taught and mentored by those who “embody that role and model that role and inspire for that role through their active involvement as elder-qualified men in the church.” The professor and pastor are different roles, and have different responsibilities with different ecclesial authority. A seminary does not take the place of the local church. In fact, it exists to serve the local church.
Also, seminary is not the only place where students receive this mentorship (nor should it be). Mentors can be found in the local church where students can get hands-on experience and learn from those who are currently pastoring in their context.
If men are actively serving in their local church now, they will be able to learn from their own pastors many things they cannot learn in a classroom. Seminary training only goes so far, but it is a huge asset when coupled with real-life learning in the local church.

There is a small inconsistency in Piper’s argument.

Towards the beginning of the interview, Piper affirms that women should attend seminary to get the best biblical grounding possible. However, if he considers seminary to be a place primarily for pastoral training – which is exclusive for men – then this raises the question of whether women should go to seminary in the first place. Women aren’t training to be pastors, and if seminary solely trains pastors, then women shouldn’t be going to seminary.
Seminary training is more than just a means of getting paid to do ministry, and there are many things one can do with a seminary degree besides teach. Seminary equips students to use their training and gifts to edify the local church. It’s valuable for personal formation. But it is discouraging to know that smart, qualified females desiring to teach others in a formal classroom might not be able to do so in seminaries that equipped them to teach in the first place.
Let us consider what we are communicating by simultaneously encouraging women to pursue seminary education and yet not affording these same women opportunities to use this education in the academic sphere.

There is value in diversity.

God created men and women to be different, in role and function but also ontologically. When we reduce genders to just their roles, we miss out on the glories of our diversity in who we are as image bearers. So, hiring female professors allows for seminaries that glorify God through diversity. Not only can men learn from women, but they should. When they don’t, they miss out on the God-given diversity of our humanity.
When it comes to classes directly related to the pastorate (preaching, pastoral ministry, etc) then I agree that only males should teach those classes. But there is also value to having female seminary professors bring a unique perspective to church history, missions and other subjects.
I am grateful for the women I know who are working towards this end. These women are not entitled or demanding a seat at the table, but they are using their intellect and their gifts to illustrate why they deserve that seat, all the while serving the church in the best ways that they can. I have been encouraged by their humility as they pursue seminary education, not knowing what they might be able to do with it later.
I am also grateful for the influence and teaching I received from my male professors. They were encouraging and supportive as I pursued theological education. I am thankful to have gained their unique perspective on scripture, theology, and missiology. It is because of this experience that I believe men would gain from learning from female professors.
Let those of us who have been afforded the opportunity to receive formal seminary training use it to edify the church. But let us also consider the value female professors might bring to our seminaries.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Cook is a content editor for the International Mission Board. She has an M.Div. in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article was first published at intersectproject.org. Used with permission.)

1/29/2018 10:51:03 AM by Meredith Cook, Intersect Project | with 0 comments

He’s listening to a story about Jesus

January 26 2018 by Laura Hurd, Baptist Press

Just a year ago I would never have imagined snapping a picture of my little guy sitting and listening to a story about Jesus – or sitting and listening to anything at all.
That is normal expected behavior for 4-year-olds. At least for a little while for children with fidgety hands and squirmy bodies.

Submitted photo
Laura Hurd’s photo of her autistic 4-year-old Miles, far right, joining in a Bible story during Vacation Bible School marks a moment of celebrating God’s unfolding grace.

I’m quite proud of Miles sitting there and appearing to listen. But this isn’t the behavior I repeatedly expect and once idolized for my son. I would often base a “good day” on his ability to appear normal and do age-appropriate activities.
Have I let go of expectations for my autistic son? Absolutely not!
However, I have adjusted my grace and mercy toward my child who has special needs.
In the beginning I would find myself filled with anxiety over the lack of controlled behavior. Now, because God has so lovingly poured out His care for this special needs mama, I am able to extend that same grace and love to my special needs child.
When we focus on where our neurodiverse children are not – compared to their neurotypical peers – we miss the Jesus reason in our mothering days.
Jesus came to give us life and to have a more abundant life. Our children were not given to us to fulfill this purpose, rather that Jesus would be glorified through them.
Yes, children can fulfill a woman’s longing to be called “Mom.” But mamas sometimes allow a picturesque ideal of normal to become our idol (at least, I did).
When I finally turned my attention to my Father instead of my unruly, loud and messy child, only then did I capture the heart of Jesus. Because following Jesus isn’t about performance or following a list of rules. His mercy, grace and love have already been poured out.
We cannot take our empty heart-cups to Him to fill if our knuckles are white from clinging to this idea of kid perfection.
I have learned:

  • Do the best you can, mama.
  • Don’t compare.
  • Bring your special needs kiddo to Jesus and watch miracles happen.
  • The miracle may be something as simple as your child joining in circle story time.
  • Enjoy the child God gave you or you will miss out on many blessings.
  • Let go of expectations based off either 1) others’ opinions or 2) your own grappling with perfection.
  • Rest: In Jesus and in your bed!

Instead of giving into weighted assumptions of how life is to be lived, autism has given me permission to let go and let God.
Autism will forever be full of surprises, but so will my heavenly Father.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Hurd, online at reallifemomsblog.wordpress.com, is a member of Ridgeview Baptist Church in Church Hill, Tenn., and the mother of a special needs child.)

1/26/2018 9:38:18 AM by Laura Hurd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Choosing life: a sober and sustaining joy

January 25 2018 by Eric Brown

Our third child, Pearl Joy Brown, was born shortly after midnight on July 27, 2012, following a pregnancy wrought with heartache and hope. She was diagnosed with alobar holoprocensephaly during a 20-week ultrasound. My wife, Ruth, and I were advised to induce labor, say goodbye and try again.
It was a belittling conversation, trying to convince the doctor that if Pearl was already alive but having trouble, then we had no interest in taking her away from the provision of Ruth’s womb. We knew what would happen if we did.
She was being sustained in there, and God was still knitting her together. It seemed cruel to take away the very system that helped her broken body do what it was incapable of doing on its own.

Eric Brown

I’ve often wondered, if God had not written certain truths on our hearts long ago, would we have chosen life for Pearl? Honestly, I do not know. It’s daunting to be given a diagnosis that is not compatible with life, and everything seems hopeless. We fallen people have a long history of lacking hope and perspective, even when lives are at stake.
I suppose that makes it more important that we speak the gospel with compassion and understanding to one another and a world that desperately needs hope. Apart from Christ, our decisions default in directions that end in death. That should further invigorate us to shout from the rooftops what we know is true about every human life.

Dignity and purpose

As rattling as those initial appointments were, we remained confident God was executing a plan for Pearl written before the foundation of the world. I’d spent years reading on God’s goodness and sovereignty over suffering and disability. We were aware on the deepest possible level that He was working. I see it now as divinely orchestrated groundwork for the season God was preparing.
The primary reason to carry Pearl to term was not for her sake, but because we ought not interrupt the Master Creator while He is at work. It had nothing to do with some utilitarian prospect of a child who may be the next president or Mother Teresa, and everything to do with abiding and participating.
Potential for societal contribution, skill or productivity is hardly a reason to choose life. Those defenses can damage and dehumanize children who didn’t make it to term or live with severe disabilities.
We knew if we proclaimed God knit Pearl’s siblings together in Ruth’s womb – Brennan and Abigail – we had to say He was doing the same for her. He hadn’t stepped out for a break, or left her development to forces of nature and happenstance. This was God’s handiwork.
God gave Pearl an inverted nose on purpose. He gave her three kissable lips on purpose. He took away her vision, her hearing, her speaking and even her ability to intentionally move any part of her body, all on purpose. He lovingly gave her a tiny, hollow, single hemisphere of a brain at the tip of her brain stem.
He was calling us to trust Him. Although He didn’t necessarily call Pearl’s disability good, He was certainly working it all together for our good and His glory.

Sober and sustaining joy

We assumed the only two options would be miraculous healing or certain death. The doctors expected death in the womb, during delivery or within moments of birth. We prayed for a miracle, but with each new and more devastating ultrasound, we expected the doctors to be correct in their predictions.
I never truly considered that God had written a third way. I saw other families out and about, caring for their child with special needs, and I remember how badly I wanted what they had. I pleaded with God to give us the difficult life, rather than take Pearl’s.
I longed for the privilege of pushing around a wheelchair with an oxygen tank strapped to the side, but I had no idea what I was asking. If I had known how hard it would be, without grasping how rich life would be, perhaps I wouldn’t have pleaded Pearl’s case as vigorously. How grateful I am that God said yes.
The diagnosis “not compatible with life” changed everything about prenatal planning. We met with the palliative care team to discuss what it may be like when the coroner came to collect Pearl’s body from the delivery room. I met with funeral home staff, and we bought nothing that parents typically purchase when preparing for a newborn.
There were days Ruth dreaded going out, even to the grocery store, as typical questions and assumptions from well-meaning strangers can prove crushing in these situations. No one assumes the child you’re carrying has a terminal diagnosis.
But truly, it wasn’t all heartbreak. The way our community rallied was a sight to behold. I could talk for hours about the way they carried us: how our pastor’s wife joined us for extended ultrasounds; how friends paid our bills so I could quit a job that required travel; how for months our church cooked meals or cried in our living room, sharing how God was changing them through Pearl; how friends held a benefit concert before Pearl was even born to celebrate the life we were already living with her; and how they bought us a minivan, because our tiny sedan couldn’t hold all of her medical equipment.

Every time our family sat down for a meal, we were keenly aware Pearl was there. Certainly, that’s always true when you dine with a pregnant woman, but the awareness of such things became incredibly sharp. After being told she would likely not survive beyond her time in Ruth’s body, Pearl’s presence became tangible in a way we didn’t know to experience with Brennan and Abigail.
Ruth and I grabbed each other by the hand, scooped the older kids into our arms, and jumped headlong into the deep end of life. We were unaware of just how deep the water was, but felt that if we only waded where we could touch bottom, we would do everyone a grave disservice. God was inviting us in to change us. Abiding seemed like the only appropriate response.
What a sad mistake it would be to go through hard seasons with eyes closed and ears covered, chanting false platitudes and waiting for the storms to pass. We could avoid a world of pain, but in doing so, we’d miss out on everything else – especially the main thing, that God promised to be near the brokenhearted.
It is better to have His presence through tremendous heartache than frivolity in spiritual oblivion. We should run to where it hurts, to where our hearts break, and perhaps encourage our children to do the same. God promised to be in those places. I’m often more aware of His presence in the children’s intensive care unit than I am at the church carnival. Surely, He is in both places, but my heart is more acutely tuned to him during the seasons of suffering and confusion.
Tagging along, saddled on the back of the presence of Christ, is a disproportionate amount of joy, though not always a celebratory one. It is a sober and deeply sustaining joy.
If you have someone like Pearl in your community, scoot your chair as close as possible. For her sake, yes, as you likely have a gift that will help her on her way, but also for your own sake and the glory of the One whose image we all bear. If you know where suffering is happening around you, run to it. God is near, He is moving, and you have a place.

Blessings and burdens

Pearl has now been with us for five-and-a-half years. Honestly, the last few months have been extremely difficult. Recent complications aren’t the same seizure and respiratory problems she’s known. They are different, and we suspect, as do the doctors, that her body is growing weary. She doesn’t seem to be standing in line for a miraculous turnaround. Her best day will likely be our worst, but this looks to be the next chapter for our family.
Pearl cannot hustle or chase her dreams. She isn't having her best life now. She can’t step into any sort of destiny, follow her passions or live adventurously. She hasn't a clue what it means to try harder.
She was given these afflictions by the loving hand of a Creator, who knows her intimately and crafted Pearl for His glory and her good. The promises made to her will, in large part, not be fulfilled until after her final breath. He carries her as she bears His image. And she, like us, is completely helpless otherwise.
If the theology you teach or the banner you wave cannot honestly be preached to Pearl in her current state, then it is probably not true. At the very least, perhaps, you should hold it loosely.
Pearl takes a disproportionate amount of resources from most everyone in her life, but the good news, the great news, is that we all draw from the King’s coffers. It is impossible for us to exhaust what He has purposed, and we view such things as stewardship rather than ownership.
Pearl does not belong to us. Pearl is God’s. We are nonetheless charged with trying our best to do right by her, but it is freeing to realize her life doesn’t hang on our medical decisions. With everything, we are merely stewards, not owners, and I doubt God is upset or caught off guard when His people steward His resources to care for people like Pearl.
Folks remind us rather frequently that she is a blessing, not a burden. I get what they’re saying, but every one of us is a burden in some ways. We are all a blessing and burden, and that’s OK. Life, by design, is replete with give and take.

“Chicken Soup for the Soul” sentimentalities do not add dignity to Pearl, and overcompensations can hide Pearl’s innate and divinely portioned dignity. We are all gifts, given by God to one another. We are all needy.
I leave you with a quote from Allen Levi’s book, The Last Sweet Mile. Upon hearing of his brother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, Allen pressed pause on every endeavor in life, wiped his schedule and devoted himself to walking his brother through his last season of life.
He writes, “And yet, in the midst of it, I have sensed the quiet, humble, liberating invitation to an un-heroic life. Liberating because it might just free me to genuinely love people – individual souls up close, rather than big causes from a distance – and emancipate me from a slavish dependence on the praise and attention of others for some sense of validation.
“The vocabulary for my present season of life is hardly glamorous. Passionate, extreme, crazy, radical – these words don't fit very well. Tedious, confined, tired, unnoticed (but also, joyful, restful, real) – those are the words that more honestly describe the landscape of my life these days. And unless I am sadly mistaken, those same words might well apply to the most significant of our human endeavors and to the most valued of human relationships.”
I think he’s right. Such liberation is one of the greatest gifts people like Pearl are able to give their communities, if they are open to receiving it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eric Brown is a photographer based in Nashville, Tenn. This post is adapted from a presentation at the 2018 Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, D.C., co-hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family. Used by permission.)

Watch Eric's talk at the 2018 Evangelicals for Life Conference below.


1/25/2018 8:35:17 AM by Eric Brown | with 1 comments

You don’t reap what you sow; you reap more

January 24 2018 by J.D. Greear, Baptist Press

Plant a wheat seed, and it will turn into a wheat stalk that can produce hundreds of wheat seeds. Plant an acorn, and it will grow into an oak tree that will produce thousands of acorns.
In the harvest, what comes back to you is always greater than what you sowed.

J.D. Greear

This also works for the things we don’t want to see multiplied. Anybody who has ever tried to grow a nice lawn of fescue knows that if you get even the smallest amount of Bermuda grass there, it will take over.
People sometimes feel like this law of multiplication is unfair – not in agriculture or lawn care, but in their lives. They make a few bad decisions, and when life falls apart, they think, “Well, I know I haven’t always made the wisest decisions, but I don’t deserve all this.”
But what they are experiencing is probably not punishment; it is harvest. That’s true with sinful habits we sow into our lives. It’s true with corrupt thoughts we fill our minds with. And, startlingly, it’s true with how we raise our kids.
I can’t tell you how many Christian parents are surprised when their kids go off to college and walk away from the faith. “But we raised them in church,” they say. But were church and your walk with God really that important to you? You attended sporadically. You didn’t volunteer. You weren’t in a small group. You didn’t do missions or serve with your kids or read the Bible together or pray together. Your kids weren’t involved in the student ministry. You frequently missed church for sports events or dance or trips to the beach. You raised your kids around God, but He was only a second-tier priority.
Is it any surprise, then, that this nonchalant attitude multiplied in your kids’ lives when they went to college? Your half-commitment wasn’t just replicated in your kids. It multiplied in them.
Now, I want to be clear that this isn’t an ironclad rule. Kids leave the faith for a number of reasons. But I’m concerned that what many parents – Christian parents – are sowing in their kids is a little bit of Jesus and whole lot of materialism.
You can also apply the “law of greater” to money. When it comes to our finances, scripture indicates that the harvest is greater in both magnitude and kind. As to magnitude, Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (CSB). In other words, we cannot out-give God.
And when we sow our finances, it also produces a harvest that is greater in kind. To put it differently, sowing to God’s purposes doesn’t just produce more. It produces better.
The way the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 6:8 is that we reap “eternal life from the Spirit” by sowing to the Spirit. When we sow generosity, God uses that to produce spiritual fruit in our lives (called the “harvest of righteousness” in 2 Corinthians) – and that is a gift far more valuable than money.
In Matthew 6, one of the most important biblical passages about money, Jesus said to be generous with our finances because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). I normally think of that in reverse – that where my heart is, that’s where my treasure will be. (True enough.) But Jesus says that giving is a way to change the loves of our hearts. One of the ways we can train our hearts to love God and not the world is to give money in a way that transfers our treasure from the world to the Kingdom of heaven.
Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, shared that what drove him to succeed in life was the desire to have more and succeed more than everyone else. But after seeing how prideful his heart had become and how miserable that attitude had made him, he decided to take a new approach. He adopted a very simple lifestyle, set a modest limit on what he’d live on and committed to give away everything else to the Kingdom of God. He says the latter approach has filled him with more joy than all the stuff he used to spend his money on.
Sow to the world, and you’ll only get the dregs that the world can offer you. Sow to the Spirit and watch as God infuses blessing into all of your life. The harvest of your life will be greater than you could ever imagine. So sow to the right one today.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and author of several books including Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send.)

1/24/2018 8:04:39 AM by J.D. Greear, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

9 ways pastors can be above reproach and avoid scandal

January 22 2018 by Chris Hefner, Guest Column

The patterns of sexual misconduct exposed in elite political and media circles are staggering. We are reaping the harvest of the “free love” movement in the 1960s and other decadent cultural trends. Nothing that has been exposed should surprise us, but it should sadden and sober us.
In both personal and public life, pastors should implement practices and standards that will help protect our ministries and churches from becoming accessories to sexual impropriety. Here are nine suggestions:

1. Set boundaries.

It is both virtuous and wise to avoid intimate conversations and extended times of being alone with members of the opposite sex who are not our spouses. Hold open-door meetings or use conference rooms with windows for meetings with volunteers or staff members. As pastors and ministry leaders, we are in positions of authority and influence, and we should embody a character of virtue and godliness. We must also not be naïve. We minister in an age where false accusations occur. It is nearly impossible to be accused of impropriety if you are never in a compromising situation.

2. Use proper vetting.

Make sure all those who work with children and students have background checks and undergo a waiting period for service. As shepherds, we are responsible to protect the sheep. We should take seriously the processes and protections we put in place to make our churches safe.

3. Pursue accountability.

While we can guard against engaging in wrong behavior, we cannot fix the sinfulness within our hearts. We should preach the gospel to ourselves regularly (read Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp) and pursue holiness. We should also have accountability relationships. Personal accountability draws appropriate attention to our sinfulness, leads us to confession and functions as a discipline that will help us walk in holiness.

4. Know the legal requirements.

It is important to know what you are required to do legally should you or someone in your church face an accusation of abuse or harassment. You need to know your ethical and legal obligations to protect the victim and inform the authorities. The umbrella insurance company for your church is a good place to begin with appropriate policies and measures regarding these issues as it relates to staff and volunteers.

5. Avoid a cover-up.

While we must handle accusations with discretion, we must not cover anything up. We are children of the light, and we should not be afraid of addressing things in the light. We should properly address any accusation of misconduct with a thorough process of internal investigation, as well as informing the proper authorities.

6. Focus on your marriage.

It should go without saying, but the greatest protection against impurity and misconduct is a healthy marriage. Your spouse is to be your lover and defender. A marriage functioning as God intends discourages misconduct. Also, you should trust your spouse’s discernment regarding people in your circle. A healthy, trust-filled marriage is a safeguard against sexual impurity.

7. Watch your speech and jokes.

Inappropriate jokes and crude comments have no place among the body of Christ. As leaders, we must be careful that we don’t get so familiar with staff, friends and church leadership that we joke or comment inappropriately. We must remain above reproach in our speech.

8. Consider the consequences.

An accusation or an event of harassment in your setting could have catastrophic ramifications for your church. While I don’t believe that we should worry or dwell on “what ifs,” we must not stick our heads in the sand and hope things work out for the best. We owe it to our congregations to plan ahead and create protocols that could prevent such an issue.

9. Pray for God’s protection.

In all our planning and preparing we must not forget to pray. We should pray for wisdom for our church leaders. We should pray that holiness would permeate our speech and actions. We should pray that God would protect the children and families in our congregations. We should pray that perpetrators would be confronted. We should pray that victims would experience restoration.
What other practices have you implemented that help us avoid misconduct or harassment?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Hefner is the senior pastor of Wilkesboro Baptist Church.)

1/22/2018 3:11:39 PM by Chris Hefner, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Talking to your children about ...

January 19 2018 by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press

I passed through the living room of our house as some TV news people were talking about how to approach your kids about sexual harassment in the news. This came in the wake of talking to your kids about the Sutherland Springs church massacre last year, talking to your kids about devastating hurricanes, talking to your kids about Donald Trump, talking to your kids about police brutality and so on.

Gary Ledbetter

In some cases, counselors were standing by to help your kids (even college kids) deal with things ranging from an election that made college professors sad to murderous evil acts across the country. Although I believe it is the right and responsibility of parents to prepare your kids to live in a chaotic and fallen world, and those outside your family sometimes can offer good advice, perhaps we talk to our younger kids about too much.
I remember over the course of the past 35 years – those years when I’ve been most interested in parental behavior – hearing of second- and third-graders who “spontaneously” wrote letters to only conservative presidents expressing worry about nuclear proliferation or climate change. Third-graders have really changed since I was one.
In reality, I suspect that either teachers or parents “talked to their children about” the things that had stirred up the adults in their own echo chambers. Of course the kids will worry about things adults find important enough to stress. But I don’t think this is done to the children’s benefit.
In the mid-1960s, when the U.S. was becoming more involved in the Vietnam War, the pastor of my church was on a mission trip somewhere in Southeast Asia. My mom went to the globe and showed me where he was and where the increased fighting was. I understood that it was serious and that Mom was worried about him. I also understood that she wasn’t worried about her own safety or mine. So I went back to what I was doing. I was a kid.
Without really strategizing, it’s how Tammi and I handled 9/11 with our older kids. It was on the news, and we talked about it as details unfolded. They understood that it was serious, perhaps even that many things would change, but they were not afraid because we didn’t give them any reason to think we were personally and imminently threatened.
So there’s talking and there’s talking.
My grandchildren are 8 months old to 8 years old. Their parents are pretty watchful of the kids’ screen time. That means my 8-year old granddaughter is not subjected to a constant stream of lurid news TV or hysterical talk radio. Our grown kids are alert and aware citizens but they are committed to protecting their own children from pointless worry. Why should minor children care about Roy Moore or Charlie Rose or Al Franken or Matt Lauer or John Conyers? Why should some distant adult give them the idea that it matters to them here and now? The slow motion train wreck of celebrity reputations exhausts me but my grandkids can understand safety and danger without me grinding every detail into their minds.
Most parents have enough sense to know what’s appropriate to intentionally tell their children at various stages of life. I wonder sometimes if this common sense is applied when it comes to what kids hear from the 24-hour news cycle or radio diatribes. This is a good argument against young children – I mean under 16 but fill in your own number – having a smartphone. Sensible parents must extend that extraordinary care to protect their kids from those who get paid to war against views they espouse. Without getting personal, as you try to raise happy and secure children, I’d consider them to be adversaries. Keep your adversaries away from your kids’ eyes and ears by any means necessary.
You may need to turn down your own stress. Children look to adults, particularly parents, to help them decide how to respond to events. Maybe you’ve seen a child bump his head and then look at you to decide if he should cry. If you go into full comfort EMT mode, he’ll provide the siren. If you act unruffled by the minor bump, he may rub his head and continue the mission. That’s a good reason not to let events distant from your family control your general attitude.
In the face of every alarming thing, you know that our God is in heaven, not surprised or confounded by what’s happening. That’s a testimony you can wear on your face, in the tone of your voice and in the content of your dialogue.
We need the wisdom to know what our children need to know. Especially when they are still dependent, and usually regardless of the question, children need to know Mom and Dad are dependable and depending on God. Talk to your children about that.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/19/2018 1:22:12 PM by Gary Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The battle for your time

January 18 2018 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

In the early days of another year, it is important to consider how we use the time God gives us, since the hours, days and months will quickly pass away.
Satan will use any distraction possible to influence how we spend the precious moments God gives to us each day. So, as we seek victory in spiritual warfare, we must be vigilant against time bandits – those activities and influences that rob us of the moments and minutes that fly past us in swift succession.

David Jeremiah

Ephesians 5:15-16 (CSB) says: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
Time is the zone in which we accomplish God’s will for us. But if we’re not interested in accomplishing God’s will, time has less value and indeed can yield evil.
In that sense, Christians live in a different time zone than anyone else. Jesus chose to live a schedule predetermined by His Father. It was important for Him to stay on task. He was born on schedule, He was baptized by John on schedule, He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He died and He rose – right on schedule. Ten times in John’s Gospel, Jesus said things like, “My hour is not yet come” or “The hour is here.”

What time says about us

Our culture has a million ways of distracting itself from the implications of its own rejection of spiritual values. Society says there is no God, no Creator, no ultimate meaning, no essential values. Most people cannot cope with that level of emptiness, so they need lots of distractions and entertainment. I’m not saying all entertainment is bad. I’m saying our world is drowning in entertainment of all kinds because it needs to be distracted from the despair of a life without God.
If our lives are meaningless, our time is purposeless. If our lives have purpose, our time is meaningful. As Christians, there’s a preordained agenda for us, and each day is a new opportunity for “making the most of the time” to serve our Lord.

How to capitalize on time

First, give God the best part of your day. If one day passes the next without your prayer time or Bible study time, it’s a warning. On a notepad or the back of an envelope, take a moment to sketch out your schedule for today. How can you adjust your hours to include time for the Lord?
Second, rein in your screen time. For the next few days, look at yourself as though an efficiency expert were watching you. Perhaps, for example, you legitimately sit at your computer to check your email or research a project. But how likely are you to become distracted and end up surfing the Internet for a wasted hour?
Third, do the most important things. Perhaps you’re too busy at church or too involved in some ministry. Perhaps you need to say “no” to something so you can regain time for your family or for the well-being of your own soul. If we aren’t careful, we’ll end up living according to somebody else’s schedule instead of the one God ordains for us.
Finally, learn the value of remnants. Every day we have shards of time that shouldn’t be thrown away – five minutes here, 10 minutes there. Good stewards know the value of those moments – for reading, reviewing a memory verse or meditating on a Bible passage. Learn to use the leftover bits of your hours.
Are you winning or losing the battle for your time? If the enemy controls your time, God gets little of you. But if God controls your time, Satan will have a hard time infiltrating your days. Pay careful attention to make the most of your time because, otherwise, “the days are evil.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@tursningpointonline.org.)

1/18/2018 8:44:47 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

It makes all the difference

January 17 2018 by Doug Munton, Baptist Press

Having practiced daily devotions for many years, I spend some time each day (mornings usually work best for me) reading my Bible and praying. I read a certain number of chapters of the Bible, underlining as I go. And I spend time praying by praising and thanking God, confessing sin, asking for my needs and praying for the needs of others.

Doug Munton

I will tell you that sometimes I don’t feel much like doing that. But feelings are terribly fickle.
I rarely feel like exercising or eating healthy or all kinds of things that need to be done. I like the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” I am to discipline myself in my devotional life.
But I will also tell you that feelings often follow discipline. I am glad I exercise and eat right when I do. And I feel especially glad that I regularly spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.
The longer I’ve practiced daily devotionals the more I’ve recognized its value, including:

1. It reorders priorities.

It is easy for me to prioritize the wrong things. Getting my relationship with God at the top of my list helps the rest of my list fall into proper alignment. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer is a reminder of what matters most and helps all the rest of my life to realign.

2. It promotes truth.

God’s Word is true and it leads us in the way of truth. Listen to enough commercials and you can begin to think the truth is that the world is to revolve around what you want or think you need. The lies of the world are everywhere. We need the truth of what God says. Our time with God helps us to know and remember what is true and real and lasting.

3. It teaches lessons.

By reading the Bible for yourself you begin to take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. By all means, learn in a Bible-believing church and get in a small group Bible study. But read for yourself. Time alone with God in prayer allows you to learn lessons of faith and thankfulness and dependence upon God.

4. It changes perspectives.

A devotional life helps you to begin to think like Jesus thinks and see life from God’s perspective. It encourages you to see the big picture of faith and to deal with adversity in a proper manner. It discourages self-centered living and promotes greater dependence on the Lord’s strength for life.

5. It deepens our relationship with God.

The more I read God’s Word given to me, the more I see the kind of relationship God wants me to have with Him. I see the beauty of His grace and the riches of the Christian life. The more I pray, the more I connect with the heart of God. We talk to those we love. God talks with us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We talk with God through prayer.
I want to encourage you to begin or expand a devotional life. Spend some time reading God’s Word. If you haven’t yet read the entire New Testament, start there. Keep a pen and paper handy to underline or note things that especially stand out to you. And then spend some time in prayer. Praise and thank God. Confess sin. Pray for your needs and the needs of others. Consider keeping a prayer list of specific people you are praying for.
Spending time with God makes all the difference in the depth and joy of our spiritual lives.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Doug Munton, online at dougmunton.com, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/17/2018 9:43:10 AM by Doug Munton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 1-10 (of 20)
 |<  < 1 - 2  >  >|