Digital courses taught by a growing number of Biola’s professors are now available through Logos Mobile Education ...
I am a medical student from Norway, and first I want to say that I am very grateful for your work as it has meant a great deal to both my interest in philosophy and my faith.
Last week there was a small debate in Oslo about the Kalaam cosmological argument in which an atheist philosopher claimed that it may be possible that something began to exist out of nothing because that statement did not involve a contradiction and hence was logically possible. In watching your debates and reading some of your work I understand you to agree that it is logically possible, but that since it goes against both our intuition and experience it is in some other way impossible or at least an irrational view to hold ...
One of my worst moments in seminary happened when I missed two weeks of Church History class. Why? Because the day I got back to class, I had no idea what we were talking about! My timeline of a historical narrative was fragmented, and without taking that into account, understanding the latter part of history was made far more difficult. To properly understand a historical narrative, it is imperative that we take its entirety into account.
It is my fear that we, as a body of believers, have gravely misunderstood the historical narrative of not only Martin Luther King’s era, but also the current Black Lives Matter movement and our role in properly responding as Christians. Why do I have this fear? Because often, our response to modern riots, protests and civil disturbances has been to isolate the incident instead of taking into account its historical context. This has led to a misinterpretation of modern incidents within our country that entail highly charged racial tensions that further drive and validate division among us.
Let us, as a body of believers, objectively examine what has transpired over our country’s history and how we can better respond to the current climate.
In regard to the Negro-American, our country has a dark history, the consequences of which we are still facing today. To deny the modern-day effects attributed to this dark history is similar to denying modern-day effects Jews still endure from atrocities done by the Nazis. The reality is that we all suffer from consequences of choices made in the past.
In the early stages of our country, the U.S. Constitution regulated laws that devalued the humanity of much of the slave population. For example, at one point, the law denied the full humanity of slaves and restricted anyone from educating slaves. For almost a century, the first fight for slaves in this country was not for freedom; rather, it was a fight to be considered equally human. For generations, the damage these measures caused to slaves and their families far outweighed anything our country had done to right these wrongs.
This is not stated in an attempt to illicit any sort of apology or to demand any type of reparation for descendants of slaves. Rather, this is intended to accentuate that the perception of the Imago Dei in an entire people group—as far as others and even they themselves perceive it—has been damaged. Within the American church, one man sought to champion this fight for humanity and help the country rightfully perceive the devalued Imago Dei in a people group.
In April 1963, amidst his fight for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Ala. King, being a pastor at the time, did not separate theological aspects of his faith from social issues. In fact, King’s faith and his heart for people are what thrust him into his role as a civil rights leader. His heart from the pulpit and movement was to ultimately see the image of God within a people group—which had been largely disavowed in history—rightly perceived by those both inside and outside the group.
At the time of his arrest, a collective group of prominent, Alabama clergymen published an open letter reprimanding King’s philosophy of peaceful and immediate protesting. They condemned his view of change and his actions as both “unwise and untimely.” However, King was no stranger to staunch opposition, especially from other fellow believers. In King’s response to these clergymen, notice the language King uses,
Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … Just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
King called for immediate justice through peaceful demonstrations in this letter, and he received strong opposition even from those within the American church. Historically, we as a convention and body of believers at large have been behind the curve of justice. Oftentimes, we are so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. The reason we can look back on Dr. King and honor his path is that he did not separate earthly race relations from his heavenly theology.
Black Lives Matter
The controversy continues after the death of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, racial division continued in America. Since King’s death, there has not been a central figure within the American church (black or white) possessing a loud enough voice to stand up and continue speaking toward repairing perceptions of the Imago Dei in the descendants of slaves. There have been many who tried, but very few commanded a movement like Dr. King. That has been true until recently.
In 2012, #BlackLivesMatter began in response to the controversial death of Trayvon Martin. The following is taken directly from their website’s “About” page; notice the language this movement uses:
Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.… #BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
In many ways, this is the same language used by Dr. King during the Civil Rights movement. BLM is seeking an immediate change, to affirm the humanity of black people, and to restore the brokenness in many black lives.
So what is the major difference between BLM and Martin Luther King Jr.?
While King operated through the church and uplifted God to restore the Imago Dei during the Civil Rights movement, BLM has little to no church involvement, especially within its leadership roles—a major reason being that several founders and prominent leaders of this movement have deviated from church involvement due to BLM’s stance on homosexuality and women leadership. While their goal is similar to that of King’s during the Civil Rights movement—to restore the misperceived image of God within a people group—they are doing so apart from God Himself. One can almost categorize it as seeking to attain the blessings of God detached from God.
This is in no way a critique, defense or advocacy of BLM and past/future actions regarding race relations. It certainly has many short comings, but since its inception, the movement has addressed an important issue within our country. My intention in highlighting BLM is to expose what happens when we as a body of believers fail to properly take up our charge from the Lord.
This is a historical fact: When the church steps back from a role it was designed to fulfill, the world steps in and responds. This is the case with soul care in America, political involvement, and properly addressing racial inequities that began hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, we as a body of believers have not done our part to continue the work of Dr. King in rightfully repairing the perception of the Imago Dei within a people group. And just as we have seen throughout history, wherever Christians remain silent, others have spoken up. Where the church has dropped the torch, the world has picked it up.
As I write this, I wish I could appeal to a time in our country’s history where we, as an entire church body in America, “got it right.” Unfortunately, as far as the church in America is concerned, I cannot. So, instead of calling you to do what we “used to do,” I must plead with all of my brothers and sisters in the faith to be what the Bible has called us to be. We, as the body of Christ, are to rightfully love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), to speak up for those who have no voice (Proverbs 31:8), to become a voice amidst a dark world (Matthew 5:14-16), and to show no partiality in our treatment of others (James 2:9). Our failure to collectively do these things at the national level is why we have the problems today that we do.
So who is to blame for all the civil unrest in the current climate? The “worldly people” in the streets fighting to restore that which was broken, or the people in the pew who condemn voices in a cause that they themselves should have upheld?
In a sense, one may be able to conclude that because of the American church’s nearly non-existent voice in this matter, Christians have forced the world to create its own answer that is separate from the teaching of the one true God. If we were the voice God commanded us to be, the world would not need to look for other answers. So the next time we as Christians see people who, apart from God, champion Gospel-centric causes—such as the acknowledgement of the Imago Dei in every individual, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or nationality—may our hearts be broken, and may our hands and feet become like those of Christ Jesus. This was the heartbeat of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and my prayer is that it rings deeply within the hearts of us in the body today.
 By this statement, I am not claiming that all riots, protests and civil actions are part of the grand historical narrative referenced in the article. There are certainly random acts of violence and disorderly conduct that have occurred all across our country throughout its history by all people groups.
 Systematized inequities, racial biases, etc.
 This is not to deny progress that has been made within our country—Brown vs. Board of Education, constitutional amendments, etc.
 That is, the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
 It was not until 1995 that our Southern Baptist Convention as a whole acknowledged and publically condemned its historically racial past. www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention
 For more information, see “Reason No. 3: They’re not trying to mobilize the black church” in this article by CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/29/us/black-lives-matter-blowing-it/
 That is, the argument that black lives do hold value and significance, contrary to what our history has communicated. It is not a matter of whether we philosophically believe that all lives are of equal importance; rather, it pertains to the fact that, historically, black lives have been devalued and dehumanized which is a biblically inaccurate notion.
 At least in regard to the issue of race.
It’s official. The 2016 word of the year is “post-truth.” Last year it was an emoji. In 2014 the word was “vape.” And in 2013 it was “selfie.” With the truth twisting, emotional appeals, and personal attacks that characterized this past election season, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word for 2016. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
When I lived in Central Asia, it was very interesting to see how many of the young Muslims viewed their religion. They said that at their age, they could enjoy life and wait until an older age to get serious about religion. Their thinking was that God is more interested in the afterlife, and that only becomes an issue when you are close to the afterlife, which is where old people find themselves. Once you are of a grandparent-type age, they thought, you then need to prepare for the afterlife by doing religious activities. This is a very convenient way of seeing religion and allows for a position where God is able to fit into our way of thinking rather than us needing to fit into His way of thinking.
Is this religious worldview unique to the young people of Central Asia and to Islam, or is it also present in many of the young people of the U.S. who call themselves Christians? At the heart of this worldview is the idea that this earthly life belongs to me, and I get to decide how I live it. As long as I believe in Jesus and have my ticket to heaven, I can check the religion box and then live life as I see it. This line of thinking continues, “Sure, God is around and interested in me, but the way this looks is that He is there to bless me and make my life successful. In this life, I am not there for God, but God is there for me!”
It is interesting that in Matthew 6:9-13, as Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, He does tell them to ask the Father for their daily provisions (bread). The context of this, however, is that He has just told them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus is teaching that we pray and ask the Father to provide for us, even bless us, for the clear purpose of building His Kingdom according to His will. There is no way to interpret this prayer to mean that we ask Him for blessings so that we can build our kingdom our way in this life and then jump over to His Kingdom in the afterlife.
In American Christianity, we run the risk of lowering the bar for our young people, and whether intentionally or not, we end up offering a therapeutic Christianity that is careful not to offend or challenge them too much. We hope that as they get older they will mature into the right type of Christians, and so we reinforce the idea that “religion is for old people.”
But our young people can change the world now! I try to consistently extend this challenge to my four sons: “You can change the world or the world can change you—which will it be?”
If the answer is that young Christian people can change the world, then the Bible comes alive with meaning. Here are just two examples:
“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). This verse has no meaning for young Christians who have developed a worldview that God is there for them. But for young Christians who understand that they are there for God and His Kingdom, this verse is full of meaning and becomes a measuring rod for living out their faith.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). For young people who live for themselves, this verse makes no sense and needs to be rephrased as follows: “For to me, to live is me and to die is religion.” But for young Christians who embrace God’s priority in their lives, this verse becomes a life focus. Jesus becomes the measure of success. Each day without a focus on Jesus is a day wasted.
Let’s raise the bar for our young people and live out a daily commitment to Jesus and His Kingdom.
You may call it something different, but every pastor knows it well. It is the mental, emotional, and spiritual crash that takes place on Monday as a result of pouring your heart and soul out in the proclamation of God’s Word to God’s people the day before.
Personally, it has affectionately become known as, “The Preaching Hangover.”
There is no easy remedy, medication, or quick fix that can prevent it. There are, however, several practical efforts I make every Monday that are tremendously helpful to fight through the fog. Here are five suggestions for your consideration:
1. Pray and read Scripture
I know this seems like a no brainer for a pastor. The fact is sometimes on Monday morning . . . I don’t feel like it. Yet, this is still what gives life to our weary souls and we must make ourselves continue to engage, even if we are struggling to want to think about anything, even God and his word. I find pushing through the fog by reaching for the bread of life is what gives a helpful kick start as we begin the weekly grind again.
2. Know your limitations
Many pastors take Monday as their day off. For those of us who choose a different day off to spend with our family, we have to proceed with Mondays carefully. I am in no condition to deal with any heavy, thought-provoking, emotional counseling or conflict situations, at least until after lunch.
You may be different, but the “hangover” affects us all in some way that requires discernment as we plan the day. Be careful you don’t put yourself in a position in your day that requires you to make a big decision when you are not nearly as sharp as you need to be to make it.
I exercise 4-5 times a week, but if there is a day when it is especially important to do so, it is Monday. If you only exercise one day a week, I recommend it be Monday. It hurts . . . many times more than normal following a Lord’s Day, but a good 30-plus minute cardiovascular workout is exactly what I need to help shake the preaching hangover.
4. Assign achievable tasks
The preaching hangover is by no means an excuse to be a sluggard and unproductive. Give yourself attainable tasks and make sure you push through to achieve them. If it is your day off, make sure you are working hard to perk up and engage with your family so your wife and children do not get your “sluggard day.” If you are trying to be productive in the office, but have a hard time studying for very long as I do, schedule other tasks that are within your frame of mind to accomplish.
For me, Monday is full of checking emails, simple administration, running errands, and meeting with folks that I know will be more light, encouraging, and less likely to be a blind-side confrontation. You may be able to handle more than I typically can. Just make sure they are tasks that are reasonable for you to accomplish in the day.
Do whatever you must to provide some silence and solitude for yourself. Sometimes I combine this with my exercise in the morning. I like to go to a park, run, then sit in silence for a little while away from people, just you and God. Silence can be life-giving when we are often bombarded with words and people the day before. This has become essential for my personal soul care and my ability to work through the Monday fog.
I hope in some way these suggestions will trigger ideas that will be of help to you to clear the cob webs of the preaching hangover. Just remember, when you do have to face a long, weighty, conflict full Monday because the needs of the congregation demand it. God’s grace is sufficient to walk through it.
Brian Croft serves as senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville. He is also senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Seminary. A veteran pastor and author of numerous books on practical aspects of pastoral ministry, Brian oversees Practical Shepherding, a gospel-driven resource center for pastors and church leaders to equip them in the practical matters of pastoral ministry. His latest book is Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying & Divided Churches (Christian Focus, 2016).
Poverty. It is no respecter of persons. It is a global reality that exists in Calcutta and Compton; Tokyo and Timbuktu; San Francisco and São Paulo. Poverty is seen in nations and neighborhoods. It ravages urban, suburban, and rural areas. And despite the enormous wealth of some areas, make no mistake: poor people reside in Beverly Hills, Dubai, and Midtown Manhattan. Destitution is not limited to places like Dhaka and Detroit. Quite simply, there are examples of poverty everywhere. That isn’t to say poverty is equally distributed or equally affecting. In some areas poverty is more relative and sporadic. In other places, it seems absolute ...
The Dec. 17, 2016, issue of The Dallas Morning News carried a shocking headline: “Conservative Belief Spurs Church Growth.” The story recounts the astonishing discovery of David Millard Haskell, associate professor of religion, culture and digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Apparently, there is a connection between what conservative churches believe and growth patterns that are largely absent from more liberal churches. This happens even though conservative pastors often violate their own convictions and cast the sheep of their congregations into the spiritual equivalent of slaughter houses. Furthermore, not all conservative churches demonstrate growth, and one can still find some liberal churches that have experienced a modicum of increase.
But wait! This is not news. In 1972, Dean M. Kelley wrote a monograph entitled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published by Harper and Row. Some of his definitions were too broad, but who would have anticipated such a book from a United Methodist clergyman who, at that time, was working for the National Council of Churches? Kelley wrote:
If now the leaders of that organization expect to summon those members into the struggle for social improvement, they are simply calling the wrong collection of people. The churches and synagogues are not social-action barracks where the troops of militant reform are kept in readiness to charge forth at the alarums and excursions of social change. Rather, they are the conservatories where the hurts of life are healed, where new spiritual strength is nourished, and where the virtues and verities of human experience are celebrated. To rally those within to launch an attack on the status quo is like trying to lead into hand-to-hand combat a collection of nurses, teachers, physicians, and gardeners, people who are capable, responsible, and responsive—at something else.
Then in 1992, Rutgers University Press, hardly noted for being a vehicle for fundamentalism, published the work of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990. These two sociologists used different examples, but the conclusions are identical. Now Haskell has followed suit. So every 20 to 25 years, people who are not particularly sympathetic with the narrow conclusions of conservative churches keep arriving at the same conclusions. Perhaps the third time will be a charm, and a firm grasp of the obvious will finally be achieved.
How is it that something this obvious seems to be absent from the thinking of so many? Well, let’s see if I might be able to help. I am not adroit with technology. So, I have decided to establish a new social order based on the rejection of technology. I remember with delight when I had to have a quarter and find a phone booth to make a call. At home, we had a tail attached to our phone so you could not wander far, but since it was a party line, you could still listen to what all the neighbors were saying. In this society, I suggest that we reject cell phones and inveigh against them. How many followers, even among the elderly, do you think I will have?
Everyone knows that technology is here to stay, and we all enjoy the freedom afforded by use of our cell phones. There will be little success in my new social order, even though it is not without its redeeming features. To critique technology and urge people to live simpler lives is going to gather precious little following. In fact, one would enjoy greater success in a boxing match with an enraged grizzly than to have a social order that rejects technology. By the same token, criticism of the Bible and churches that faithfully proclaim its truth, while always popular in the academy, in the liberal press, and in a few self-congratulatory elitist circles, is anything but profound.
Here is the stern truth of the matter. Among folks who are interested in attending church, there is little appeal in hearing an erudite minister give a lecture on understanding the ways Plutarch’s approach to biography will somehow help us dance around the “mistakes” in the Gospel accounts of Jesus so as to uncover the real message, which some “scholar” then must translate into our limited context. Since Porphyry launched his attack on Daniel in the late third century, fashionable scholarship has attacked the Bible. Eighteen centuries later, conservative churches are growing worldwide! In spite of all the foibles of its clergy, specious arguments sometimes advanced in its defense, internal debates about such things as style of music and inconsistencies in the lives of Christians, people still want to know if God has anything to say about this life and existence that we share.
Greater Vision Quartet has a song from the point of view of a parishioner: “Preacher, if you want to be my friend, don’t tell me what I want to hear.” The parishioner goes on to ask that the preacher tell him what God says. No one anticipates perfection from even the leaders in the church, but they know well that, in terms of ultimate answers, the universities have failed, the psychiatrists have moved the patients over to recline on their own couches, and the politicians have created such a muddle that any hope there perished long ago. On the other hand, the majority of people who follow Christ and invoke the Bible as a guide for life are a happy people, forgiving offences rather readily, loving one another and even their enemies, accepting the providences of God, and, when necessary, suffering and even dying for their faith with confidence. They tend to be good citizens, they neither steal nor murder, and, in spite of many miscues, they usually maintain the best in family life.
Usually, Christians of a conservative stripe do not spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over the end of the age, the status of dictators in the world, or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The Bible has taught them how to live, how to think, and how to trust God by faith. These Christians are appropriately concerned, but they believe with all their hearts that the final chapter in human existence has been penned by God.
And by the way, there is a reason why conservative seminaries are holding their own in a day when most of the rest are on a downward turn. Of the 10 largest seminaries in America, almost all of them have a conservative persuasion. As Finke and Stark note, “Because most Baptist seminaries in the North were independently organized and thereby free of denominational control, they easily became a haven for the expression and development of liberal theology.”
With the millions of abortions taking place, coupled with the failure in the local churches to call out the called and the prevailing tendency among millennials to see little need of instruction, these conservative seminaries are attuned closest to the local churches and remain strong. The close pastoral relationship between these seminaries and the local churches that support them with prayer and funding results in a steady stream of students who hold them close to the Bible. How many more sociologists will have to recount this history before the social establishment notes the phenomenon and begins to ask why this is the case?
Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 151.
Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press), 172.
Hello Dr. Craig,
I would first like to say thank you so much for being such an amazing resource for answers and perspectives on difficult questions. I have listened to you for years and have learned so much from your work.
I would like to explain, that I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and that he died for my sins on the Cross. However, I must admit that I have not delved into scripture wholeheartedly.
I was so deeply affected by the Gospels that they struck a note with me. I believe in Jesus because I can completely relate to the message. It makes total sense for me. Man is depraved, we need a saviour, that saviour is God, God came to live as one of us to show us the only way to live and consequently died, all so that we may turn from our own self righteousness and follow him.
Jesus set the standard as has never been matched or could not be matched by man or gods.
My problem lies further back in the timeline ...
Often, when we come to spiritual disciplines we list them, plan for them, and then labor to perform them. In the best scenario, we realize—sooner rather than later—we can’t do them apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray and ask God to help us.
Yet, such an approach may go wrong from the start. Why? Because we put the law (and its list) in front of the gospel (and its power). In other words, when we devote ourselves to discipline, we “covenant” with a bank of rules we trust to make us better—better people, better Christians, better (fill in the blank). But of course, the law never brings life and can only be a delight when God has written his law on our heart.
The problem with any law-ful approach to discipline, however, it not that it contains laws. The gospel is not antinomian—lawless. The third use of the law is a gift to the growing disciple. The problem is when we call upon the Spirit to assist us after our plan is put in place. Now granted, if you setting out to read the Bible, pray, and fast, you have already taken your cues from the Spirit’s inspired Word—especially, on that last discipline. But still the root cause of burnout remains. What is that? The problem of desire.
Spiritual Desire is the Key to Spiritual Discipline
In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith reminds us that we are not “thinking-things” (Descartes), but “loving-things” (Augustine), creatures who follow our passions and desires more than any well-reasoned directive. Smith illustrates the point with his transformation in eating. Leaving behind his “meat and potatoes” diet with no room for vegetables, he now craves Greek Yogurt and salads—so he says.
He recounts the process of transformation and how his mental beliefs outran his bodily appetites. (Rosaria Butterfield speaks of the same reality in her interview with Mark Dever). Reading Wendell Berry in a Costco food court—the height of hypocrisy, one might say—Smith explains how our spiritual appetites also lag behind our acquired knowledge. The point he makes about bodily appetites is the point I want to make about spiritual ones.
If our minds are convinced that we need to read the Bible, pray, go church, and stop watching so much TV, but our hearts (and bodies) still long to sleep in, browse the Internet, and go shopping, then the problem is less our thinking and more our desiring. Come up with the best plan, tether it to a dozen apps and reminders, and it will still fail.
The heart will pull us after its own desire.
As we know too well, there’s a gap between what we know and what we do. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). Moreover, the habits of life given to us by the culture, “secular liturgies” as Smith calls them, train us to fill ourselves on other appetizers.
In such cases, the best laid plan for spiritual discipleship fails because it is not matched by spiritual hunger. But to make matters even worse, such a desire is cultivated by following a routine of spiritual disciplines. What will break the cycle of spiritual disinterest? What is the source of spiritual hunger that might impel our disciplines and result in true communion with God?
The Birth of a New Desire
The unsurprising but truthful answer is God. Only God can create, sustain, and increase our spiritual appetites. Only God can order our days such that we get the daily bread we need and the space and time and desire to commune with him. Indeed, just as God the Father sought us in salvation, when we lacked desire for him (Rom. 10:20); so we depend on God the Spirit to convict, agitate, implant, empower, and enlarge a new appetite in us.
This is our hope. It comes from God and is born in the new birth. In conversion, the seed of the Word produces life, but it also produces a new spiritual appetite. This is what Ezekiel 36 means when it says,
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (26–27)
What a glorious gift, the new birth is. Not only does God justify us when he gives us faith; he also empowers us to begin a life of sanctification. The spiritual disciplines are the “free weights,” if you will, that enable the child of God to grow in spiritual strength. And while at the start we may not feel any pleasure in a spiritual regimen, the new life presses us forward.
In You Are What You Love, Smith rightly addresses the power of habit, but he overlooks the new birth. He explains how bodily habits and spiritual disciplines transform us, but he forgets (I trust, he assumes) the power that comes from the spiritual life within. This desire for God as given in the new birth is the source of strength for every spiritual discipline. And then, and only then, in cooperation with the Spirit, do we have power to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and walk in new ways.
Perseverance, therefore, is not (ultimately) attributable to the choices of an individual. It, like everything else, is a gift of grace. Reading the Bible, understanding the Bible, and desiring the Bible are all fruit of the Spirit. And thus, the child of God who wants God but doesn’t want him enough, is led to cry out like the man in Mark 9:24: “I desire, help me desire.”
To be clear, this emphasis on the affections does not undermine truth. It is a humanity-affirming, appetite-embracing truth in itself. We are not saved by knowing truth but by loving truth and thereby abiding in it (see John 8:32; 2 Thess. 2:10). Such desire for God is what ultimately overcomes the difficulties associated with the spiritual disciplines.
Discipline begins with desire
As you make plans for the New Year, let me encourage you to take seriously Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Discipline yourself for godliness” (NASB). Only, in all your well-laid plans, do not forget self-discipline is both given by the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) and sustained by desire. Therefore, the first spiritual discipline is not just establishing a list of improved habits. It is the prayer-full cry for God to enflame your desires for him.
Indeed, the whole point of Bible reading, journaling, service, etc. is for our affections for the Lord—and the affections of others in the Lord—to increase. Yes, this comes through regular exercise of the spiritual disciplines, but the underlying endurance comes from a hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Therefore, as we enter into 2017, let us do so praying for God to give us more of himself—first by awakening a desire within us and then by cultivating habits of Scripture and prayer centered around him.
During 2016, I began tweeting an “Apologetics Tip of the Day.” Some have to do with apologetics content, while others are tips for doing apologetics more effectively. Many of these were taken from my book A New Kind of Apologist or simply my own experience. And of course, some generated much more interest than others. Here’s the top 10 “Apologetics Tips” from 2016 in descending order ...
The meaning of regeneration features in one of the ongoing disagreements between dispensational theology and covenant theology when we compare the experience of salvation before and after Pentecost. Covenant theology typically reasons that regeneration is necessary for saving faith (as in effectual calling and grace), so anyone experiencing saving faith was regenerate (e.g., Abraham, other OT saints). This reasoning is part of the assertions about the continuity of the people of God, the continuity of experience of salvation, and the combination of Israel with the church across history (resulting in the church’s replacement of Israel) ...
I started the New Year by worshiping, fellowshipping, and preaching at Taft Avenue Community Church in Orange, California. At one point in the service, Pastor Bob Burris read aloud a short explanation of why Christians sing during times of worship. I appreciated what he read and want to share it with you today. The reading was adapted from a blog post by Kevin DeYoung, cut down to a length that could be used in a worship service. Why do we sing when we worship together?
You are about to take your last few classes. You are ordering the gown and inviting your friends and family to graduation. You are freshening up your resume in hopes of landing in ministry somewhere.
Before you launch into this next phase of your life, stop and thank the Lord for the rare privilege of studying at one of the finest seminaries in the world, for the concentrated time of studying with world-renowned professors and wrestling with the Scripture and with important theological texts. Many of your brothers and sisters around the world would give anything to simply own a few books besides the Bible, yet you have been granted, by God, the opportunity to study and learn from the best and with the best. You’ve plunged head-first into the glorious riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But now you are entering your ministry life and while your learning is just beginning, your season of concentrated theological study is coming to a close (until you come back for your PhD!). Now the bulk of your time will be spent putting into practice what you have absorbed over the last few years. As you enter your mission field, chapel sermons, formative books, and favorite phrases from your professors will ring in your ears.
What does ministry after school look like? Truth is, now that you’ve been a student, you are now, most likely, on the path to something that requires an even deeper level of commitment and dependence on the Spirit of God. You are called to be a shepherd of souls.
Whether you become a full-time senior pastor, a youth pastor, an associate pastor, a counselor, a women’s ministry leader, small group leader, camp counselor, or some other role, you will be tasked, by God, with the care of souls.
Called to shepherd hearts
You’ve been a student. Now must become a shepherd. What does that look like? Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1.Shepherding is a theological task.
One of the ways you can most love the people you serve is to teach the Word of God faithfully, to feed those in your care the rich meat of his Word. First and foremost, shepherds must lead their sheep to good food. If you are a senior pastor this is particularly important. The main focus of your role is to stand in the pulpit and declare, with power and authority, what God has already said.
2. Shepherding is a patient task.
Every pastor must be, by calling, a preacher. But not every preacher is a pastor. You will understand quickly that leading involves patience and care, providing on-ramps for your people to get from where they are, spiritually, to where they need to be. This means you will have to set aside the notions and illusions of an “ideal church” and serve the people God has actually put in front of you. Shepherds know intuitively how to gently guide their people along, not browbeating with theological condescension. You must see your people, not as masses to be moved, but as individual disciples, people made in God’s image and objects of his saving love in Christ.
3. Shepherding is a long-term, habitual task.
Spiritual change rarely happens overnight, but over a process of many years. Your people will not be moved by one big sermon, but by a steady diet of God’s Word over a long period of time. Weekly rituals of worship and teaching will help form habits that shape the heart over a lifetime.
4. Shepherding is people work.
Shepherds are in and among their people. Regardless of your role, resist the urge to stay in a theological ivory tower. Instead, you must live in and among your people. Know their deepest struggles and greatest triumphs. Visit their workplaces. Attend their children’s ballgames. Sit down for coffee. This is not only part of your role as a pastor, it will endear you to your people and will show up in your preaching. When they listen to you on Sunday, they will know if you’ve been among the people or if you’ve been cloistered in your office.
5. Shepherding is hard and messy warfare.
Sanctification, the process by which the Spirit of God peels away the layers of sin and decay and reforms us into the image of Christ, isn’t formulaic. You will encounter people with deeply layered sin problems—just as you are deeply layered with sin problems. Even as we progress, we see how much more progress there is to be made. You will have some great and visible victories, but most often you will see slow progress and much of God’s work of restoration will happen on the other side of his second coming. But you are called to serve, not the people you wish you had but the people as they are. It will be messy and will look nothing like the easy formulas you discussed in your hair-splitting theological bull sessions in seminary. That’s ok.
6. Shepherding involves a lifetime of learning.
You may be finishing seminary, but your time as a student is just beginning. Enter ministry, not as the theologically trained know-it-all, but as a humble servant. Find a good pastor, who has long labored in the trenches, and ask him to mentor you. If you can, try to serve in an internship or associate role before you assume a primary teaching and leading role. Study and learn the craft of pastoring. This will not only help you move forward with confidence, but will help shape your future ministry.
Daniel Darling serves as vice president for communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is currently a student at Southern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanDarling.
The post Once a student, now a shepherd: Life after seminary appeared first on Southern Blog.
It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone. As I reflect on last year, I am amazed at the events that took place throughout the world. While I am saddened by many of the things I have seen and heard, I am aware that the Lord is still at work. The condition of marriages, families and communities; the increasing hostility and division between people of differing ethnicities; and the continual disregard for the value of human life, born and unborn, are all things that I will remember from last year. While sad, I remain encouraged that the Lord knows, cares and expects His followers to have an impact on this world for His glory.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus speaks of the role that His followers would play in the world. He tells the disciples and anyone else that would follow Him,
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
What does it mean for those who follow Jesus to be salt and light in a world of decay and darkness? Jesus understood that His followers would need both character to influence a world in decay and an outward witness that points to the Father. Pure lives will act to hold back corruption, while dedication to spreading the Gospel and meeting needs with love will bring the love of God to the forefront.
In light of the times in which we live, I have three thoughts that I hope will be helpful as we move through the new year and engage the decay and darkness around us:
1. The truth of any matter is a matter of truth.
It is vital that we understand the source of the decay that we see and experience daily. It comes from the fall of man, and the fall was set in motion by a lie. The account can be found in Genesis 3. It is amazing that the enemy begins his attack by calling into question the Word of God: “Indeed, has God said…?” By doing this, Satan also calls into question the character and nature of God. Once God’s Word is questioned, the next step is to reject it. As we engage the issues dealing with ethnicity, marriage and life, let us remember that the main issue is an issue of truth. We must engage with truth; a lie has speed, but the truth has endurance. Indeed, God has said that from one man came all men; that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; that marriage is God’s idea, a holy covenant that He established; and that human life is precious.
2. The Word is not only free from error but sufficient for life.
As we engage the decay and shine in the darkness, we must rely on the Word as the source of our message and director of our lives. There is a trend to view the Bible as holy and good, but not sufficient. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Word is sufficient and will provide the wisdom, training and help that is needed to make an impact for the Kingdom of God. We must be committed to conforming our lives to the Word of God.
3. It is not the truth you know, but the truth you obey that makes a difference.
To be effective for the Kingdom, it is vital that hearing the Word results in godly action. James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Whenever an area of our life is in contradiction with the Word, we must quickly conform our life to the Word. As we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, we reflect the light of Christ in the dark world in which we live and point others to the only source of hope for humanity. Let us exercise our faith with our feet so that the watching world can see and glorify our God.
The Lord does some of His best work in dark and dirty times, seeds grow best in fertile soil, and lights are most visible in the darkest night. Our disappointments many times will be opportunities for His divine appointments. As you move through the new year and engage tough life issues, my encouragement is that you look at and engage the issues through a biblical lens and framework.
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