Seminary Blog

Some Observations about a Prisoned Bible

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 09:30

It was the first day of my Bible Study Methods class … in prison. After passing through all the security checkpoints, I entered a musty room filled with 40 convicted felons in white jump suits, ready to study the Bible.

During my first few years at Southwestern, I was fortunate enough to teach in our prison degree program. It’s a four-year intensive program in Bible and Christian ministry that resides at the Darrington Unit, a maximum security state penitentiary south of Houston.

I began the first lecture with an introduction to the inductive method of Bible study, but I didn’t realize they were way ahead of me. From the first days of incarceration, the Bible is everywhere. I recall speaking with one student who described how, after sentencing, he was locked in a cell with only a Bible for three days. For the first couple of days, he just sulked in the consequences of his sin and questioned the justice of the system. Finally, by the third day, beleaguered by loneliness and too many nagging theological questions, he decided, like Augustine, to “take up and read.” And read, he did. For hours. Just the Bible.

This experience is not unique and, in many ways, captures the place of the Bible in the prison culture. Their seclusion affords them the opportunity to read the Bible alone—over and over and over again.

As I began teaching them the Bible, I was surprised to find that there was little need to rehearse the events or characters of Scripture. They knew most of them by heart. I can recall many proudly showing off their Bibles to me, pages tattered and note-scarred. Countless verses marked up with circles and lines crisscrossing in every direction, like the frantic white-board drawings of a football coach at half-time.

The inmates can certainly acquire other books, just not very easily. And even if they pick up the latest commentary or Bible study, they have little extra storage space to hold them. So they simply read the Bible.

In the free world, as the world outside of prison is often called, we love to read books about the Bible like commentaries, study guides, or Bible backgrounds. We devour Christian living books and read everything about “biblical” love, marriage, sex, parenting, preaching, teaching, small groups, and church growth models. All good things, but not the sacred words of divine revelation. If we are honest, I wonder how much time we spend reading and studying everything about the Bible, rather than the Bible itself.

Not only is Scripture cherished and valued by these prison students, but before the end of my first few lectures, I realized that their context had already prepared them for the first step of the inductive method: observation.

At a break in the class, one of the students approached the podium to introduce himself. He started the conversation, saying, “So, how long you been married?” Taken aback, I said “How did you know I was married?” He pointed sheepishly to the ring on my finger, and I laughed, “Of course.”

We talked a bit about my family and his family on the outside. Then I cautiously asked him what else he could tell about me just from observing. He described how, in a prison culture, careful observation is your best friend. When I walked into that classroom, every one of them was sizing me up, analyzing my clothes, shoes, the ring on my finger, and even the leather briefcase I carried. They knew more about me than I ever imagined. I will never forget the end of our conversation, when the student remarked that good observation skills keep an inmate alive and healthy. I shared this story with the whole class a few minutes later and implored them to take all the observation skills honed through their years of incarceration and apply them to the Bible.

With this habit of observation, these students were well on their way to good Bible interpretation. As Howard Hendricks was fond of saying, “The more time you spend in observation, the less time you will need to spend in interpretation.”[1] They understood implicitly the importance of reading Scripture closely. Every word, every term, every syllable. This kind of close observation of Scripture has been described as intensive reading, where Christian readers explore “countless scripture details with an eye toward assembling a full and complete picture.”[2]

This is not to say that the prison students understood everything in the Bible rightly. Far from it. Just like everyone else, they came to Scripture with unique presuppositions shaped by their context and experience. It would take years of listening to them, reading their papers, and hearing them interpret the Bible to understand the ways their isolation from society shapes their interpretation in both positive and negative ways.

But in my experience, their struggle was not biblical literacy, but good Biblical theology. They knew all the lyrics of Scripture, but they, like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), needed someone to come along and teach the theological melody that tied all the words together in Christ. But we would get to all that later in the course.

I wrapped up class that morning and walked out of prison, astonished that I’d just entered a world where the Bible and the Bible alone was cherished and studied and where they implicitly practiced careful observation. I was amazed at the way that the prison culture reminded me of these important virtues of biblical interpretation and excited about the rest of the course.
But before I did anything else, I decided to head home and just spend a little time reading the Bible closely.

[1]Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 39.
[2]John J. Okeefe and R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 45.

Categories: Seminary Blog

We Cannot Walk Alone

Southwestern Seminary - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 09:30

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday we have observed since 1986 that commemorates the efforts of the Civil Rights movement in our country, and especially one of the most important voices: Martin Luther King Jr. Though Dr. King spoke and wrote much, it is his “I Have a Dream” speech that is most remembered by the public. I would encourage you to take time today and read through this iconic speech for the first or hundredth time, for its message still speaks today and needs to be heard.

No doubt phrases like “I have a dream” and “Free at last” are recalled by hearers, but as we ponder this speech and the work it represents today, let us remember something else in this speech that Dr. King left us: “We cannot walk alone.”

In context, this phrase refers to the white persons also involved in the cause to end segregation, injustice, and racism in America. King was highlighting that, in order for a community, a society, a nation to truly achieve his dream, all had to strive together to accomplish it.

As I ponder this thought, I am reminded of other writings that King left us relating the cause of civil rights with the nature of the Gospel and the calling of action upon the churches in America:

All men, created alike in the image of God, are inseparably bound together. This is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. This is clearly expressed in Paul’s declaration on Mar’s Hill: ‘…God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, … made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth….’ Again it is expressed in the affirmation. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ The climax of this universality is expressed in the fact that Christ died for all mankind.

This broad universality standing at the center of the Gospel makes brotherhood orally inescapable. Racial segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ. Segregation is a tragic evil that is utterly un-Christian. It substitutes the person-thing relationship for the person to person relationship. …

Therefore, every Christian is confronted with the basic responsibility of working courageously for a non-segregated society. The task of conquering segregation is an inescapable must confronting the Christian church. …

The churches are called upon to recognize the urgent necessity of taking a forthright stand on this crucial issue. If we are to remain true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ we must not rest until segregation is banished from every area of American life.[1]

At the root of King’s argument (and most of his arguments pertaining to racial injustice) is basic anthropology. If we claim to believe in the testimony of Scripture that all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), then we need to further recognize that there is an inherent equality from person to person. In other words, there is no such thing as sub-humans or super-humans. There are only humans.

Further, when we understand the nature of the Gospel—that salvation is offered to all indiscriminately—it should erase any thought of classes of people with greater or lesser inherent worth. If Jesus’ loving work is offered to all, then it should be unfathomable for any church, or members thereof, to treat others in a manner less than the all-encompassing love offered in and through Jesus Christ.

The truth of this theology is given lip-service by many who claim the name of Christ in our pews, churches, conventions, and fellowships. “Of course this is the right theology,” many proclaim. Yet, in their actions, these same bodies still participate in the systemic injustices that plague our communities now 62 years after King wrote these words.

It would be naïve for any Christian to look at the communities throughout our land and think that we have achieved the dream of equality for which King and others fought. Sure, there has been progress (good progress), but making progress is not the same thing as achieving the goal of racial reconciliation. Clearly our nation is in turmoil on this issue, and too often the church has been silent.

No longer should we relegate the issues of racial reconciliation to bodies that know nothing of true reconciliation. The reunifying of that which was lost is central to the work of the Gospel. Proclaiming good news to the captives is a work relegated to the church of Jesus Christ. It is a long and hard work that needs to be accomplished by all spirit-filled bodies who have understood the unconditional love of reconciliation in their own lives. We need to affirm with King and others that, for those who are in Christ, we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr. today, let us not merely commemorate the work of a man, but let us remember so that we may also become participants in the Christological and ecclesial task of proclaiming the Gospel that brings reconciliation between God and man, and man and man. It is a task incumbent on all who claim the name of Christian, no matter skin color or economic status. From our unity in Christ, may we exemplify unity in society. But in order to accomplish this reconciliation, we need to heed the words King gave us in 1963: We cannot walk alone.

[1]Martin Luther King Jr., “‘For All … A Non-Segregated Society,’ A Message for Race Relations Sunday,” February 10, 1956, published in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957-December 1958, edited by Clayborne Carson, Susan Carson, Adrienne Clay, Virginia Shadron, and Kieran Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

Categories: Seminary Blog

The church’s role in racial reconciliation: a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 08:45

Editor’s Note: Two years before his famous March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. visited Southern Seminary and spoke in chapel. His address, titled “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension,” was a prophetic challenge for the church to shut down the old age of colonialism and segregation and bring about a new age of racial unity. Below is an excerpt from the address. The full text and audio is available here.

I would like to have you think with me from the subject, “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension.” Those of us who live in the twentieth century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. Indeed, we have the privilege of standing between two ages: the dying old and the emerging new. An old order is passing away, and a new order is coming into being.

Now we are all familiar with this old order that is passing away because we have lived with it, and we have seen it in all its dimensions. We have seen the old order in Asia and Africa, in the form of colonialism and imperialism. There are approximately two billion eight hundred million people in this world, and as you know the vast majority of these people live in Asia and Africa. Through the years they have been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, but as Prime Minister MacMillan said a few months ago, “The wind of change began to blow,” and what a mighty wind it is.

So something is happening, a change is taking place—the old order of colonialism is passing away and the new order of freedom and human dignity is coming into being. But not only have we seen the old order on the international horizon; we have seen the old order in our own nation, in the form of segregation, in the form of discrimination.

We all know the long history of the old order in the United States. It had its beginning in 1619, when the first slaves landed on the shores of this nation. And unlike the Pilgrim fathers who landed at Plymouth a year later, they were brought here against their wills, and throughout slavery the Negro was treated as a thing to be used, rather than a person to be respected. With the growth of slavery it became necessary to give some justification for it. It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.

In 1954, on May 17, the Supreme Court of the nation rendered a decision. In 1357 the Supreme Court had rendered the Dred Scott decision. It said, in substance, that the Negro was not a citizen of the United States, he was merely property subject to the dictates of his owner. In 1896 the Supreme Court had rendered the Plessy versus Ferguson decision, which established the doctrine of separate but equal as the law of the land. In 1954 the Supreme Court came out with another decision. Its aid in substance that old Plessy doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal, and that to segregate a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. As a result of this decision, we stand on the threshold of one of the most creative and constructive periods in the history of our nation in the area of race relations. To put it figuratively in Biblical language, we’ve broken loose from the Egypt of slavery and we’ve moved through the wilderness of segregation, and now we stand on the border of the promised land of integration. The old order of segregation is passing away and the new order of freedom and equality is coming into being. But all people do not welcome this emerging new order.

Why should the church fight for racial reconciliation?

Certainly the church has a significant role to play in this period because the issue is not merely the political issue; it is a moral issue. Since the church has a moral responsibility of being the moral guardian of society, then it cannot evade its responsibility in this very tense period of transition. And so I would like to suggest some of the things that the church can do in the area of human relations, some of the things that the church can do in this tense period of transition, in order to make it possible for us to move from the old order into the new order.

How can every church fight for racial reconciliation? Develop a global worldview

First, the church must urge its worshippers to develop a world perspective. Whenever men develop a world outlook, they rise above the shackles of racial prejudice and racial hatred, and whenever we find individuals caught in the shackles of racial prejudices, they are the victims of narrow provincialism and sectionalisms So the church must urge its worshippers to rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. So you see, the world in which we live today is a world that is geographically one. And in order to solve the problems in the days ahead, we must make it spiritually one.

The world in which we live is geographically one. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood, It is urgently true that now we are challenged through our spiritual and moral commitments to make of this world a brotherhood. In a real sense we must all live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We must see this sense of dependence, this sense of interdependence. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone; we are made to live together. The church must get this over in every community, in every section of this nation, in every country of this world.

Teach that segregation is evil

And also the church must make it palatably clear that segregation is a moral evil which no Christian can accept. Segregation is still the Negroes’ burden and America’s shame. The church must make it clear that if we are to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ, we can no longer give our allegiance to a system of segregation. Segregation is wrong because it substitutes an I-It relationship for the I-Thou relationship. Segregation is wrong because it relegates persons to the status of things. Segregation is wrong because it does something to the personality – it damages the soul. It often gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and it gives the segregated a false sense of inferiority. And so the underlying philosophy of Christianity, and democracy, and all of the dialectics of the logician cannot make them lie down together. The church must make this very clear.

Silence false ideas about race

The church also has the responsibility of getting to the ideational roots of racial prejudice. Racial prejudice is always derived from or based on fears, and suspicions, and misunderstanding that are usually groundless. The church can do a great deal to direct the popular mind at this point and to clear up these misunderstandings and these false ideas.

Many of these ideas are disseminated by politicians who merely use the issue to arouse the fears and to perpetuate themselves in office. The church can make it clear that these things are not true. The church can rise up and through its channels of religious education tell the truth on this issue. The church can say to men everywhere that the idea of an inferior or a superior race is a false idea that has been refuted by the best evidence of the anthropological scientists. They tell us that there are no superior races or no inferior races. There may be superior individuals academically and inferior individuals academically in all races.

The church can make it clear that the Negro is not inherently criminal. The church can say that poverty and ignorance breed crime, whatever the racial group may be; that these things are environmental and not racial. The church can make it clear that if there are lagging standards within the Negro community they lag because of segregation and discrimination, and that it is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. Then the church can reveal to the nation the true intentions of the Negro.

RELATED: Must every church be multi-ethnic?

The church can make it clear that the Negro is not seeking to dominate the nation politically; he is not seeking to overthrow anything; he is not seeking to upset the social structure of the nation; but he is merely seeking to create a moral balance within society so that all men can live together as brothers.

The church can make it clear that all of the talk about intermarriage and all of the fears that come into being on the subject are groundless fears. Properly speaking, individuals marry, and not races. And people, in the final analysis, in a democracy must have the freedom to marry anybody they want to marry. And so no state should have laws prohibiting this. But even in spite of guaranteeing this freedom, the church can make it clear that the basic aim of the Negro is to be the white man’s brother and not his brother-in-law. This can be made clear. So there are many false ideas that are constantly disseminated that the church can do a great deal to refute.

Establish communication between races

The church can do a great deal to open channels of communication between the races. I’m absolutely convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they are separated from each other. No greater tragedy can befall society than the attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue. The church has the responsibility to open the channels of communication.

Integrate the church

Then also, the church must not only clarify the ideas, but it must move out into the realm of social reform. The church must develop an action program. Wherever there is injustice in society, the church must take a stand.

One of the best ways that the church can do this is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Oh, it has been said many times and I am forced to repeat it: it is tragic indeed that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. It is tragic indeed that on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock when we stand to sing, “In Christ There Is No East or West!” we stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. So often in the church we’ve had a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. But thank God we are beginning now to shake the lethargy from our souls, and we are coming to see that if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ we must stand up and solve this problem.

Repent and forgive one another

There is another thing, a final thing that the church must do. The church must urge all men to enter the new age with understanding, creative good will in the hearts. This is true for everybody. This is true for those who have been on the oppressor end of the old order and those who have been on the oppressed end. Those who have been on the oppressor end must go into this new age with a sense of penitence, with a real sense of understanding. They must search their souls to be sure that they have removed every vestige of prejudice and bigotry, and that they have moved away from any philosophy of white supremacy. If they fail to do this, many tragedies will occur and the new age which is emerging will have many problems to solve in future years. But not only that.

I would not limit myself to saying what the white man must do in order to make this new order possible, I have tried to make it clear in the last few years that the Negro himself must go into this new age with understanding, redemptive good will in his heart. I have said over and over again that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship, but we must never use second-class methods to gain it. Of course I know, and you know, the temptations which we face—those of us who have been trampled over so long, those of us who have been victims of lynching mobs, those of us who have seen with our own eyes police brutality, those of us who have seen so many tragic conditions that tended to destroy our personhood. There is the temptation that we will enter the new age with bitterness in our hearts. But I am convinced that if this happens, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplicate of the old order.

I am firmly convinced that black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men, but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.

Let us realize that the problem will not just work itself out, we have the responsibility of helping to work it out. It will not be solved until men and women all over this nation are willing to stand up with a sort of divine discontent. We know that in the process, God struggles with us.

There is something in this universe which justifies Carlisle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” And so with this faith we move out into the vast possibilities of the future, and if we will go on with this faith and this determination to struggle; we will be able to bring into being this society of brotherhood, transforming the gangling discords of our southland into a beautiful symphony of peaceful relationships, and this will be the day, figuratively speaking, “the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

The post The church’s role in racial reconciliation: a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Full Text: The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 08:36

Dr. Howington, members of the faculty, members of the student body of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be on the campus of this great institution of learning and to be part of this chapel period. I have looked forward to this experience with great anticipation.

This isn’t my first time in this chapel, so I am happy to return to the chapel again. I said to Dr. Graves coming over that when the National Baptist Convention met here some few years ago, the women met on this campus. They met in this chapel, and my mother happens to be the organist of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention, so I came over with her on two or three occasions to attend meetings right here in this chapel, so that I am very happy to be back on this campus again and to see each of you today. I always consider it a very satisfying experience to have the opportunity to discuss some of the vital issues of our day with seminary students, college, and university students all over the nation, and so it is a real pleasure to have this opportunity today.

I would like to have you think with me from the subject, “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension.” Those of us who live in the twentieth century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. Indeed, we have the privilege of standing between two ages: the dying old and the emerging new. An old order is passing away, and a new order is coming into being.

Now we are all familiar with this old order that is passing away because we have lived with it, and we have seen it in all its dimensions. We have seen the old order in Asia and Africa, in the form of colonialism and imperialism. There are approximately two billion eight hundred million people in this world, and as you know the vast majority of these people live in Asia and Africa. Through the years they have been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, but as Prime Minister MacMillan said a few months ago, “The wind of change began to blow,” and what a mighty wind it is.

We think of the fact that just fifteen years ago the British Empire had under its domination more than six hundred forty million people in Asia and Africa. Today that number has been reduced to less than sixty million. Just thirty years ago there were only three independent countries in the whole of Africa, the Union of South Africa, Ethiopia, and Liberia. When Mrs. King and I attended the independence celebration of Ghana back in 1957, there were only seven independent countries in Africa, But today that number has been increased to twenty-seven independent countries.

So something is happening, a change is taking place—the old order of colonialism is passing away and the new order of freedom and human dignity is coming into being. But not only have we seen the old order on the international horizon; we have seen the old order in our own nation, in the form of segregation, in the form of discrimination.

We all know the long history of the old order in the United States. It had its beginning in 1619, when the first slaves landed on the shores of this nation. And unlike the Pilgrim fathers who landed at Plymouth a year later, they were brought here against their wills, and throughout slavery the Negro was treated as a thing to be used, rather than a person to be respected. With the growth of slavery it became necessary to give some justification for it. It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.

Philosopher-psychologist, William James used to talk a great deal about the stream of consciousness. And he says that one of the interesting things about human nature, one of the unique points of human nature, is that man can temporarily block the stream of consciousness and place anything in it that he wants to. And so we can end up seeking to make the wrong right, and this is exactly what happened. Even the Bible and religion were used to give slavery moral justification, and so many argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. The Apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword, “Servants, be obedient to your master.” And then one of the brethren had probably read the logic of Aristotle and he could put

his argument in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He could say that all men were made in the image of God, this was a major premise. Then came the minor premise, God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro. Then came the conclusion, therefore the Negro is not man. He could put his argument in that logical framework.

And so, living with the conditions of slavery and later segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves, many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human, perhaps they were inferior. But then something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it possible and necessary for him to travel more: the coming of the automobile, the upheaval of two world wars, the great depression, and so his rural plantation background gave way to urban industrial life, his economic life was gradually rising through the growth of industry and the influence of organized labor and other agencies, and even his cultural life was rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy. All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. Negro masses all over began to reevaluate themselves.

The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image, and that the basic thing about a man is not his specificity but his fundamentum, not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but his eternal significance and his worth to God. And so the Negro could now unconsciously cry out with the eloquent poet:

Fleecy locks and black complexion,

Cannot forfeit nature’s claim.

Skin may differ,

But affection dwells in black and white the same.

Were I so tall as to reach the pole,

Or to grasp the ocean at a span,

I must be measured by my soul,

The mind is the standard of the man.

Along with this something else happened. In 1954, on May 17, the Supreme Court of the nation rendered a decision. In 1357 the Supreme Court had rendered the Dred Scott decision. It said, in substance, that the Negro was not a citizen of the United States, he was merely property subject to the dictates of his owner. In 1896 the Supreme Court had rendered the Plessy versus Ferguson decision, which established the doctrine of separate but equal as the law of the land. In 1954 the Supreme Court came out with another decision. Its aid in substance that old Plessy doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal, and that to segregate a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law.

As a result of this decision, we stand on the threshold of one of the most creative and constructive periods in the history of our nation in the area of race relations. To put it figuratively in Biblical language, we’ve broken loose from the Egypt of slavery and we’ve moved through the wilderness of segregation, and now we stand on the border of the promised land of integration. The old order of segregation is passing away and the new order of freedom and equality is coming into being. But all people do not welcome this emerging new order.

This emerging new order is not coming into being without opposition. There are some people who are very unhappy about the emerging new order, and they are determined to oppose it with all of the strength and power that they can muster. This is true in other countries; it is true in our own nation. And so we see resistance in, let us say, Johannesburg, South Africa, in northern and southern Rhodesia, in Nairobi, Kenya, and all over other sections of Africa in countries that have not received independence. We see this resistance in our own nation. At times this resistance has risen to ominous proportions. We see it in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. We see it in the birth of white citizens councils. We hear the legislative halls of some states ringing loud with such words as interposition and nullification. All of these forces have combined to make for massive resistance.

So this is something of the crisis that we face in race relations because of this resistance.

Professor Sorokin of Harvard University wrote a book some years ago entitled The Crisis of Our Age, and his basic thesis was that a crisis develops in a society when an old idea exhausts itself and society seeks to reorientate itself around a new idea. This is what we see today, the old idea of paternalism, the old idea that segregation has exhausted itself and American society is seeking to reorientate itself around the new idea of integration, of person-to-person relations. This is something of the crisis that we see.

Now whenever the crisis emerges in society, the church has a significant role to play. And certainly the church has a significant role to play in this period because the issue is not merely the political issue; it is a moral issue. Since the church has a moral responsibility of being the moral guardian of society, then it cannot evade its responsibility in this very tense period of transition. And so I would like to suggest some of the things that the church can do in the area of human relations, some of the things that the church can do in this tense period of transition, in order to make it possible for us to move from the old order into the new order.

First, the church must urge its worshippers to develop a world perspective. Whenever men develop a world outlook, they rise above the shackles of racial prejudice and racial hatred, and whenever we find individuals caught in the shackles of racial prejudices, they are the victims of narrow provincialism and sectionalisms So the church must urge its worshippers to rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. So you see, the world in which we live today is a world that is geographically one. And in order to solve the problems in the days ahead, we must make it spiritually one.

Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a great extent through man’s scientific ingenuity. Man, through his scientific genius, has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Yes, we have been able to carve highways through the stratosphere. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took days and months. I think Bob Hope has adequately described this new jet age in which we live— and certainly it isn’t the usual and common thing for a Christian preacher to be quoting Bob Hope, but he has so adequately described the jet age that I have to mention it. He said it is an age in which it is possible to take a non-stop flight from Los Angeles you develop hiccups, you will hic in Los Angeles and cup in New York City. That’s really moving pretty fast.

You know it is true, because of the time difference, to take a non-stop flight from Tokyo, Japan, to Seattle, Washington — taking the flight from Toyko on Sunday morning, you will arrive in Seattle, Washington, on the preceding Saturday night, and when your friends meet you at the airport and ask, “When did you leave Tokyo, you will have to say, “I left tomorrow,” That’s the kind of age in which we live.

Now this is a bit humorous, but I’m trying to laugh a basic fact into all of us. And it is simply this: that the world in which we live is geographically one. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood, It is urgently true that now we are challenged through our spiritual and moral commitments to make of this world a brotherhood. In a real sense we must all live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We must see this sense of dependence, this sense of interdependence. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone; we are made to live together.

A few months ago Mrs. King and I journeyed over to that great country known as India, I never will forget the experience. It was a rich and rewarding experience to have the opportunity of talking with the great leaders of the nation, to talk with the people and to visit with them in the cities and in the villages. This experience will remain meaningful to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen. This morning I say to you that there were those depressing moments. For how can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes: millions of people going to bed hungry tonight? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes millions of people sleeping on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night? More than six hundred thousand people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of four hundred million people, more than three hundred seventy million make an annual income of less than sixty dollars a year? Most of these people have never seen a doctor or dentist. As I observed these conditions, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” Then an answer came, “Oh no!” The destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and other nations, and I started thinking about the fact that in our country we spend more than a million dollars a day to store surplus foods. I found myself saying, I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the hundreds and millions of people who go to bed hungry tonight.

Maybe we have spent far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than establishing bases of genuine concern and understanding. All I am saying is simply this: that all life is inter-related. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. As long as there is extreme poverty in the world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant arid millions of people cannot expect to live more than 30 or 32 years, no man can be totally healthy even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in the country. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” then he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the

bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” The church must get this over in every community, in every section of this nation, in every country of this world.

And also the church must make it palatably clear that segregation is a moral evil which no Christian can accept. Segregation is still the Negroes’ burden and America’s shame. The church must make it clear that if we are to be true witnesses of Jesus Christ, we can no longer give our allegiance to a system of segregation. Segregation is wrong because it substitutes an I-It relationship for the I-Thou relationship. Segregation is wrong because it relegates persons to the status of things. Segregation is wrong because it does something to the personality – it damages the soul. It often gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and it gives the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

And so the underlying philosophy of Christianity, and democracy, and all of the dialectics of the logician cannot make them lie down together. The church must make this very clear.

The church also has the responsibility of getting to the ideational roots of racial prejudice. Racial prejudice is always derived from or based on fears, and suspicions, and misunderstanding that are usually groundless. The church can do a great deal to direct the popular mind at this point and to clear up these misunderstandings and these false ideas.

Many of these ideas are disseminated by politicians who merely use the issue to arouse the fears and to perpetuate themselves in office. The church can make it clear that these things are not true. The church can rise up and through its channels of religious education tell the truth on this issue. The church can say to men everywhere that the idea of an inferior or a superior race is a false idea that has been refuted by the best evidence of the anthropological scientists. They tell us that there are no superior races or no inferior races. There may be superior individuals academically and inferior individuals academically in all races. The church can make it clear that the Negro is not inherently criminal. The church can say that poverty and ignorance breed crime, whatever the racial group may be; that these things are environmental and not racial. The church can make it clear that if there are lagging standards within the Negro community they lag because of segregation and discrimination, and that it is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. Then the church can reveal to the nation the true intentions of the Negro.

The church can make it clear that the Negro is not seeking to dominate the nation politically; he is not seeking to overthrow anything; he is not seeking to upset the social structure of the nation; but he is merely seeking to create a moral balance within society so that all men can live together as brothers.

The church can make it clear that all of the talk about intermarriage and all of the fears that come into being on the subject are groundless fears. Properly speaking, individuals marry, and not races. And people, in the final analysis, in a democracy must have the freedom to marry anybody they want to marry. And so no state should have laws prohibiting this. But even in spite of guaranteeing this freedom, the church can make it clear that the basic aim of the Negro is to be the white man’s brother and not his brother-in-law. This can be made clear. So there are many false ideas that are constantly disseminated that the church can do a great deal to refute.

And then the church can do a great deal to open channels of communication between the races. I’m absolutely convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they are separated from each other. No greater tragedy can befall society than the attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue. The church has the responsibility to open the channels of communication.

Then also, the church must not only clarify the ideas, but it must move out into the realm of social reform. The church must develop an action program. Wherever there is injustice in society, the church must take a stand. Let us think of some of these injustices. There is a problem of economic justice. Forty-three percent of the Negro families of America still make less than $2,000 a year, while just seventeen percent of the white families of America make less than $2,000 a year. Twenty-one percent of the Negro families of America make less than $1,000 a year while just six percent of the white families of America make less than $1,000 a year. Eighty-eight percent of the Negro families of America make less than $5,000 a year, while just sixty percent of the white families of America make less than $5,000 a year. Now the church can take a stand on this issue. The Negro is still the last hired and first fired. And in these days of automation he is the first one to suffer because he has been given positions where he is limited to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. He is prevented from going into apprenticeship training where he can develop these skills. So the church must make it clear that if we are to solve the problem and to create better conditions in society, these economic conditions must be addressed.

And I could mention many other areas in which the church must go put and take a stand. Where there is segregation in any area the church must be willing to stand up with an action program. One of the best ways that the church can do this is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Oh, it has been said many times and I am forced to repeat it: it is tragic indeed that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. It is tragic indeed that on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock when we stand to sing, “In Christ There Is No East or West!” we stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. So often in the church we’ve had a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. But thank God we are beginning now to shake the lethargy from our souls, and we are coming to see that if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ we must stand up and solve this problem.

So here and there churches are courageously integrating their congregations. Here and there many ministerial groups are standing up in communities, standing up with conviction and courage. All of this is encouraging. But we must admit that these cases, these examples are far from few. We must admit that the noble pronouncements of the major denominations on the question of integration have filtered down all too slowly to the local congregation. And now there is the need to get every local church, every local congregation, to stand up on this issue. Because it will be one of the great tragedies of history, as historians in future years will be able to write at the height of the twentieth century that the Christian church proved to be the last bulwark of segregated power.

There is another thing, a final thing that the church must do. The church must urge all men to enter the new age with understanding, creative good will in the hearts. This is true for everybody. This is true for those who have been on the oppressor end of the old order and those who have been on the oppressed end. Those who have been on the oppressor end must go into this new age with a sense of penitence, with a real sense of understanding. They must search their souls to be sure that they have removed every vestige of prejudice and bigotry, and that they have moved away from any philosophy of white supremacy. If they fail to do this, many tragedies will occur and the new age which is emerging will have many problems to solve in future years. But not only that.

I would not limit myself to saying what the white man must do in order to make this new order possible, I have tried to make it clear in the last few years that the Negro himself must go into this new age with understanding, redemptive good will in his heart. I have said over and over again that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship, but we must never use second-class methods to gain it. Of course I know, and you know, the temptations which we face—those of us who have been trampled over so long, those of us who have been victims of lynching mobs, those of us who have seen with our own eyes police brutality, those of us who have seen so many tragic conditions that tended to destroy our personhood. There is the temptation that we will enter the new age with bitterness in our hearts. But I am convinced that if this happens, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplicate of the old order.

Somebody must have sense in this world, somebody must have religion in this world—sense enough to meet physical force with soul force, sense enough to meet hate with love. This is why I believe so firmly in non-violence as the out. And I am convinced that if the Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in his struggle for justice, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. There is still a voice crying through the vistas of time, saying to every potential Peter, “Put up your sword.” History is replete with the bleached bones of nations. History is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. So I will say over and over again that our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win friendship and understanding. We must come to see that it is possible to stand up with courage. Stand up with as much fear and courage and determination, organizing in mass action to break down the system of segregation, and yet not going to the point of hating and using violence in the process. There is this other way, so if we will but follow this way, I think we too will be able to aid in bringing this new order into being.

Now many people ask me over and over again, “What do you mean when you say, ‘love these people who are oppressing you, these people who will bomb your home and threaten your children and seek to block your desires and aspirations for freedom?’ What do you mean when you say ‘Love them!’” I always have to stop and try to define the meaning of love in this context. Fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid at this point. You know there are three words in the Greek language for love. There is the word eros, an eros is a sort of aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his Dialogue, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be sort of a romantic love. So in this sense we all know about eros. We have read about it in the beauties of literature, we have experienced it in our own

lives. Then the Greek language talks about philos which is another level of love, so to speak. This is friendship. This is the sort of reciprocal love. On this level we love because we are loved. It is intimate affection between personal friends. We love those people that we like. Then the Greek language comes out with another word, calls it agape. Agape is more than aesthetic or romantic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. It is an over-flowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And so when one rises to love at this point, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him; but he loves every man because God loves him. He rises to the point that he is able to love the person who does evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does.

I think that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies,” and I am so happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because it is difficult to like some people. It is difficult to like what some people are doing to us. It is difficult to like somebody who bombs your home or somebody who is threatening your children. It is difficult to like them, but Jesus says, “Love them,” and love greater than like. Like is sentimental and affectionate, but love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. And I believe that this is the type of love that must guide us through this period of transition. And with this we will be able to enter the new age with the proper attitude.

We will not seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thus subverting justice. We will seek to substitute one tyranny for another. I am firmly convinced that black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men, but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race. The creation of a society where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

So I believe that this is what we can learn from the church, and this is what the church has been teaching in an amazing way, and it must continue to get this over in this very important period of our history. And if we will but do these things, we will be able to move in the great days ahead. Let us realize that the problem will not just work itself out, we have the responsibility of helping to work it out. It will not be solved until men and women all over this nation are willing to stand up with a sort of divine discontent.

You know there are certain technical words in every academic discipline, and pretty soon they become a part of the technical nomenclature of that discipline. There is a word that is used in modern psychology, probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” It is the ringing cry of modern child psychology, “maladjusted.” And certainly I want to live the well-adjusted life, and I’m sure all of you want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But if you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, I would like to say to you that there are some things within our social system of which I am proud to be maladjusted, to which I call upon all men of good will to be maladjusted. I never intend to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

I think that all men of good will must be maladjusted to all of these things for it may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. So let us be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream;” as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who, in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportion, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could look into the of the men and women of his generation and say, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them which despitefully use you.” I am convinced that the world is in desperate need of such maladjustment.

And in conclusion, let me say that we must have faith in the future, the faith to believe that we can solve this problem, the faith to believe that as we struggle to solve this problem we do not struggle alone, but we have cosmic companionship. Oh, before the victory is won, some people have to get scarred up. Before the victory for brotherhood is won, some people like Paul and Peter will have to go to jail. Before the victory for brotherhood is won, there will be others who will have to be called bad names, who will have to be misunderstood and misrepresented and misquoted. Before the victory is won, some will have to lose jobs and suffer and sacrifice. Who will be a part of that creative minority that will stand firm on an issue will help us bring into being the Kingdom of God, knowing that in the process, God struggles with us.

The God that we worship is not some Aristotelian Unmoved Mover who merely contemplates upon himself. The God that we worship is not merely a self-knowing God, but he is an ever-loving God, working through history for the salvation of man. So with this faith we can move on.

There is something at the center of our faith which reminds us of this— we celebrated the event a few Sundays ago—something that reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumph and beat of the drums of Easter. Yes, there is something in our faith to remind us that even though evil, at times, will so shape events—Caesar will occupy the palace and Christ the cross—one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name.

There is something in this universe which justifies Carlisle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” There is something in this universe which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne—Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown Standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch above his own.” And so with this faith we move out into the vast possibilities of the future, and if we will go on with this faith and this determination to struggle; we will be able to bring into being this society of brotherhood, transforming the gangling discords of our southland into a beautiful symphony of peaceful relationships, and this will be the day, figuratively speaking, “the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

The post Full Text: The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Does my church have to confirm my call to ministry?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 07:00

When it comes to evaluating the call to pastoral ministry, a personal sense of calling isn’t enough. The subjective sense of calling must be objectively validated by others. External assessment is an essential cord that tethers you, and your church, to safety.

Why is this kind of assessment and validation from others needed? Because it’s a biblical principle. The biblical record presents some wonderful and diverse examples of how external confirmation plays out. Throughout the history of Israel, there’s a practice of anointing and acclamation. It represents a public recognition that God is summoning a man for his purposes.

Even Jesus submits himself to baptism, which proves to be a moment of confirmation for his public ministry. At the end of his ministry, Jesus, in various ways, commissions his disciples for the work of the gospel – most notably in the discourses of John 13-17 and in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). So when the disciples turn into first-generation church planters, they’re operating with a deep sense of having been sent by another. What we glean from this biblical pattern is that the inner call stirring the soul is validated by confirmation external to the man.

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AM I CALLED TO MINISTRY?
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This intertwining of internal call and external information is clarified in one of the few books on pastoral ministry which fall into the must-read category for any man sensing a summons. The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges is near the top of my list of such books. On the matter of calling, Bridges nails it as he carefully explains both the subjective aspect—“a desire for the work”—plus an objective one—“fitness for the office.”

“Our authority is derived conjointly from God and from the Church – that is, originally from God – confirmed through the medium of the church. The external call is a commission received from and recognized by the Church, according to the sacred and primitive order; not indeed qualifying the minister, but accrediting him, whom God had internally and suitably qualified. This call communicates therefore only official authority. The internal call is the voice and power of the Holy Ghost, directing the will and the judgment, and conveying personal qualifications. Both calls, however – though essentially distinct in their character and source – are indispensable for the exercise of our commission.”

Bridges is pointing to God’s sovereign activity in both internal and external calls. It’s not like the internal call comes from God and the external comes from man. No, God works through people in both cases. In the internal call God works through the human agency of our own will and judgment; in the external call he works through the human agency of his church.

The post Does my church have to confirm my call to ministry? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

6 reasons every Christian should study theology

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 07:00

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Abstract of Systematic Theology, the systematic theology textbook written by Southern Seminary founder James P. Boyce (1827-1888).

The advantages of studying theology systematically are several.

1. We thus ascertain all that nature and the Scriptures teach on each point.

2. We compare all these teachings one with another and are enabled to define their mutual limitations.

3. We are brought face to face with the fact that our knowledge is bounded by God’s Revelation, and are led to acknowledge it as its source.

4. We are consequently warned not to omit any of the truth ascertained from any source, nor to add to it anything not properly embraced therein. A departure from this rule will lead into inevitable error.

5. The harmony, and consistency, which will be found in all God’s teachings, from whatever source we may draw them, will become conclusive proof of the divine origin of revelation. This will result, not only from a comparison of what Reason and Nature teach, with the revelations of God’s Word, but of each of the several books of the Bible with the others, and especially of the body of the Old Testament as one book, with that of the New Testament as another.

6. We are thus led to value each of the doctrines of the word of God. Each is true. Each has been revealed that it might be believed. We cannot therefore omit any one, because of its forbidding aspect, or its seeming unimportance, or its mysterious nature, or its demand for great personal sacrifice, or its humiliating assertions, or requirements, or the free terms upon which it assures of life and salvation.

The post 6 reasons every Christian should study theology appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Listening to Your Own Preaching

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 15:52
One of our students, Aaron Berry, recently wrote an article on avoiding hypocrisy. You can view the article here. Here is a little snippet to whet your appetite: “If you were raised in Christian circles like me, perhaps you experienced the temptation of using outward spirituality to gain respect.”
Categories: Seminary Blog

Rest and Remember

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:54

The tendency to forget is as natural as sinning since the Fall. Yet, we are called in Scripture to remember the Lord our God. Aging seems to be an enemy of our ability to remember, but it is not the only hindrance. The busyness of our lives demands mental attention. Mental focus often ebbs and flows with our passions, and our passions often follow the tyranny of the urgent.

Our admission to this weakness of forgetting is demonstrated by our attempts to remember. Mnemonic devices have been used to recall information at least since the ancient Greeks. Students everywhere have tried to master different methods to conquer exams. Before smart phones, I would write notes on my hand with a pen to remember important information. One time, I called my own house phone to leave myself a message as a reminder. Today, we have digital calendaring devices and the convenience of Siri. Yet, even with all the technology, we still tend to forget things, especially the truths from God’s Word that are essential to life.

In Deuteronomy, Moses warns against the perils of forgetting God. After revisiting the Ten Commandments in chapter 5 and providing a methodology on how to maintain faithfulness in chapter 6, Moses follows with intense warnings for the Israelites. The anger of the Lord would burn against the people if He was forgotten. This anger would not be a result of the simple forgetfulness of the people, but the consequence of the truths forgotten.

It wasn’t long before Moses’ warnings were dismissed. The Israelites moved into the Promised Land to demonstrate God’s faithfulness, but Joshua and the other leaders died. Upon their death, there arose a generation who forgot the God of their fathers. In one generation, they valued the blessings of the land more than the blessing-giver. In one generation, the ways of the native pagans were more desirable than the ways of God, because the people had forgotten.

Do our desires look more native to this fallen earth? If so, we may have forgotten. Our minds have been overshadowed with fleeting cares. Our Godward affections have been eclipsed by earthly trifles. Our flirtatious affairs with temporal things are the primary cause of our struggle to recall. The instability of our minds to anchor upon the rock of Christ is not indicative of His stability or dependability, but of our fickle loyalties.

How do we remember the Lord our God, who brought us out of bondage and slavery? We must remember God’s promises. Our success is not based on circumstances, but on God’s name. With a new year come new trials. For the Israelites, the wilderness was not a pleasant experience. The point was not to harm or demoralize them, but to humble them to trust in the faithfulness of their God. He wanted them to hope in His delivering work, remembering His works on their behalf in Egypt.

The people of God tended to forget the work of God, choosing to focus on the circumstances of the wilderness rather than the faithful character of their redeeming God. We must remember the works of God in our tribulations. Trials seem to build a wide chasm that appears to divide the works and promises of God from our present situation so that forgetting is easier than remembering. Feelings that He is far away become more believable than the promise that He is near. In the battle of our minds, feelings become the dominant force gaining victory over the comforting work of God that was once a strong tower of hope. We must remember that the humility bred from our trials anchors our hearts to His promises alone.

We must remember the fear of the Lord. The best way to remember the Lord is to fear Him and obey His words. There are many things in this world that can harm or destroy us physically, but we are called to fear God, the only one who can destroy both body and soul. Yet, with all the terror of the Lord, He has graciously acted in lovingkindness toward us. It is this love, demonstrated in Christ, that compels us to obey His commands.

Here, I want to offer two ways that I have found helpful to remember the fear of the Lord. When my life gets busy and I seem to lose my bearings, I revisit certain passages to recalibrate my obedience. 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22 is one such passage that often acts to reattach my floundering and forgetful heart. “See that no one repays evil for evil … seek after that which is good … rejoice always … pray without ceasing … in everything, give thanks … do not quench the Spirit … hold fast to that which is good … abstain from every form of evil.” I find these basic commands to be nuggets of truthful nourishment upon which I can focus to rekindle my affections and contribute to my sanctification in order to remember the goodness of God.

Second, in my household filled with eight imperfect people, there is rarely a day when some sort of conflict does not arise. The truth of Ephesians 4:29 is a crucial part to any peace in our home. There are times when we forget the principles of speech given, and conflict is exacerbated. We may take a week to focus again upon obedience to this passage: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” When we, as a family, intentionally seek to obey the Word, we notice the peace that results, which grows our affections for God’s wisdom and ways.

As a final word, listen to the words of the apostle Paul: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). Remember the life that Christ lived. Meditate upon His righteousness and upon His affliction and suffering to secure your redemption in obedience to the Father. Remember the power of God to raise a dead and decaying body to newness of life. And remember today that God possesses authority over the one obstacle that man will forever be powerless to defeat—the grave.

Would you commit to spend more time this year meditating on the words of God, letting them dwell in your heart richly? Remember that we live not by the blessings of our good God, but by every word that comes from His mouth. Strive hard to remember the redemption of Christ from our past that frees us from the bondage of sin and death as we run hard to the hope of the future that supersedes circumstances. Will you commit to rest in Christ and remember all His benefits this year?

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Bible doesn’t ignore spiritual warfare, and you shouldn’t either

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 07:00

Our world is full of gods, powers, and the demonic. Recently I visited an ethnographic museum in Ethiopia and stumbled upon a small section describing the activity of evil spirits in that country. The exhibit explained that even though the 20th century brought skepticism about the reality of such spirits, a significant percentage of Ethiopians still believe themselves to be possessed by one.

That astonishing statistic, recorded with such bald recognition, reveals something about the world we inhabit. But also about our own presuppositions. In our Western culture, perhaps sheltered from overt demonic activity, we rarely see the supernatural at work. But in our post-Enlightenment milieu, it’s also true that we might not see it because we don’t expect to. However, what the experience of so many Ethiopians—and much of the world—demonstrates is that we must be ready for the things we do not see.

Our supernatural Scriptures

Of course we know the Bible is full of references to real and powerful spirits. Angels witnessed Jesus’s birth, resurrection, and ascension. The Gospels repeatedly demonstrate Christ’s authority over demons and his ability to perform miracles in the power of the Spirit. The Apostles ministered in that same power, occasionally encountering both angels and demons themselves.

Paul’s letters address the reality of spiritual warfare for everyday Christians. Peter speaks of the devil as a roaring lion. Jude writes of angelic battles. Most spectacular of all, John’s Apocalypse paints a vivid picture of myriad evil forces at work in this present age.

While those may be familiar passages, the Bible also includes references to angels in some unexpected places. In 1 Corinthians alone, consider the fact that Paul referenced the spirit realm on the miscellaneous topics of church discipline, idol meat, head coverings, and tongues speaking. In Hebrews, angels comprise the author’s first line of argument on the superiority of Jesus. Simply put, the doctrine of angels shapes our most basic understandings of the gospel and the ordinary Christian life.

We don’t see what we don’t see

However, our experience can feel worlds away from the Bible. What’s more, since many in the West don’t regularly see the supernatural, we come not to expect it. Put another way, we don’t see what we don’t see, often overlooking the supernatural in everyday experience. Our naturalistic bent in the West has also had incalculable influence over what we notice when we read the Bible. We may gloss over passages that include the spirit realm. Pastors may unconsciously de-emphasize them or intentionally avoid such topics altogether, deeming them irrelevant or implausible for our culture.

This, I believe, reveals another danger. We in the West may have to ask ourselves if we have tweaked scripture—even the gospel—to make it more palatable to our naturalistic presuppositions. Maybe we wouldn’t follow classic liberalism in denying its supernatural aspects. But perhaps we are guilty of downplaying them. At the very least, I think we have to consider whether we have sought to make it translatable into our materialistic society.

Some might think this demonstrates that we’ve actually done a good job contextualizing the message for our Western audience. They may agree that a missionary in animistic Africa or polytheistic South Asia needs to address spiritual forces, but this isn’t as significant an issue for Americans as it was, say, for the Ephesians or Colossians.

Not just for missionaries

But a supernatural gospel is not just for frontline missionaries. Last month I sat in my local coffee shop next to three millennials having an in-depth discussion on divination over tarot cards. And their interest is not isolated. Pagan influences and curiosity in Eastern religions is on the rise. Americans are also fascinated by Greek mythology and Norse gods. Just visit the youth fiction section at the library or check out the latest superhero flick in the theater. Not to mention the popular resurgence of things like Ouija boards and astrology.

What all of this means is that Western culture may not be as naturalistic as we might think. Chances are your neighbors are infatuated with spiritual forces of one kind or another. Which presents an incredible opportunity to us, because we have a supernatural witness to one who conquered death and possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.

I’m convinced that a Savior with superpowers is actually incredibly relevant in our context. Interest in the spirit world, as well as an increase in demonic activity, means the church in America needs to learn how to speak a biblical gospel of the cosmic Jesus right here at home. We cannot continue preaching a neutered gospel contextualized to post-Enlightenment sensibilities rather than informed by divine revelation.

Ready for the challenge

The day after my visit to the museum in Addis Ababa I was in another Ethiopian city. As I walked down the street from my hotel, I noticed a commotion across the intersection. Someone was crying out. I assumed there had been an accident or incident. Turning my head, I saw nothing. Then I caught a glimpse of a woman, screaming.

She rolled on the ground, flailing and writhing in the dust. A crowd gathered. I was sure she was demon possessed. But then I second-guessed myself. And I did nothing. Because I wasn’t prepared.

This isn’t an article on what you or I should do in that moment. But it is meant to awaken us to the reality of spiritual warfare. We must be prepared for such challenges. And such preparedness begins with an eye open to the supernatural in Scripture. Today, as much as ever, we need to reacquaint ourselves with the supernatural gospel for our supernatural world.

The post The Bible doesn’t ignore spiritual warfare, and you shouldn’t either appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Church membership isn’t just biblical. It’s beautiful.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 07:00

Once each quarter I teach a new members class for people interested in joining our church. It’s become one of my favorite responsibilities as a pastor. I’m a believer in church membership, no question. But I’ll be honest: every time I teach the class I cringe a bit along with my audience at some of the things we discuss.

Concepts like authority, exclusivity, and discipline just don’t sound right on a pre-reflective, aesthetic level. They evoke a yuck factor ingrained in us by the often unnoticed influence of our western culture—literature, film, music, pop psychology—and its celebration of the unfettered individual. (Chapter 1 of Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love is helpful for tracing out examples of this influence.)

Now, I know that some of these ideas have always been distasteful to fallen humans. Self-denial is nauseating to the self-centered. That said, I don’t think we’re guilty of ear-tickling if we look for counterbalancing images, images that make sensible the beauty that’s in a community defined by the goals of membership. And to that end I’ve really come to appreciate the world created in the novels of Wendell Berry.

Berry is not the sort of author to whom you turn for help crafting your church’s statement of faith. His works aren’t the right genre and he isn’t the right author. But novels are especially well-suited for retraining our aesthetic tastes, for putting flesh on ideas that otherwise may remain sterile and abstract.

Berry and Port William

Set in an isolated Kentucky farming community called Port William, Berry’s works portray the beauty of a bounded life, a death to the options of Elsewhere, the embrace of a concrete place and its people. It’s no accident that Jayber Crow, my favorite of Berry’s novels, is subtitled “The Membership of Port William.” Like all common graces, a community fostered by the willing limitation of one’s horizons can turn idolatrous, breeding an insularity Alan Jacobs has recently described as unchristian. And it’s also true that there is a darker side to small town life. Those familiar with the works of William Faulkner will find the world of Port William to be an ideal world by contrast. And yet Berry’s novels are especially useful for illustrating the liberating submission that’s always involved with membership.

In Jayber Crow, Berry’s characters show what it is to belong to a community, by which I mean more than the welcome and affirmation typically communicated by the word today. To belong to a community is to be at its disposal, to have given over all you have to be used for whatever your community needs. It is to be implicated substantively, not just sympathetically, in the ups and downs of a place and its people. It is a submission of yourself—your identity, your interests, your ambitions—to the needs of those to whom you’re bound.

The book’s heroes reject the notion that you make your own identity rather than receive it. They know and embrace who they are through their connection to things larger than themselves: their community, the land, the march of history, the mysterious purposes of God. They find joy, peace, and freedom in accepting their subsidiary status.

One of the barriers to this sort of belonging, of course, is the selfish ambition that dwells deep in all of us. Rather than submitting ourselves to community, ambition drives us to subordinate all things to our personal gratification or our relentless effort to build a name for ourselves. Berry’s villains in Jayber Crow depict this impulse vividly. They’re not the sort of villains who steal, kill, and destroy. They’re characters like Cecilia Overhold, a woman who marries into Port William from the upper crust of the town next door and can never forgive “the failure of the entire population of Port William to live up to [her] expectations” (209). She’s described as a woman who “thought that whatever she already had was no good, by virtue of the fact that she already had it” (209); she lives as if “there is always a better place for a person to live, better work to do, a better spouse to wed, better friends to have” (210). In the midst of a vibrant, gracious, and happy community she is discontented, angry, and lonely.

Troy Chatham is perhaps even more to the point. His character emerges in detail as a young farmer who rejects the old ways, never imagining that “the reference point or measure of what he did or said might not be himself,” never belonging to the place but convinced the farm exists “to serve and enlarge him” (182). Throughout the story, Chatham leverages the present for the future in his all-consuming desire to “be somebody,” using and abusing all the resources he could claim in service to his exalted self-image. He is a man who utterly fails to recognize his limits or his dependence on what is outside of and bigger than himself.

Nostalgic and sad

Jayber Crow is a nostalgic book, and—for all its beauty—a sad one. The world it describes is for the most part a lost world. It was held together by traditions no longer valued and an isolation no longer possible. Which is to say much of its staying power rested on personal preference for its traditions and to some extent an ignorance of alternatives.

Bound in time, Berry’s world offers but a pale reflection of the local church ideal, a community where members’ submission to each other is rooted in the message of the gospel and the power of God’s Spirit. Against his redeemed community, Jesus has promised us, even the gates of hell are no threat.

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But Berry’s stories bring to life truths at the heart of the community we’re aiming for when we emphasize church membership. A thriving, covenant-shaped local church requires precisely the sort of self-abnegation Berry celebrates and is opposed by the same self-exaltation he portrays in all its ugliness.

Too often we try on new churches like we try on new clothes and for much the same reason. We’re looking for style and fit, for what meets our needs and makes the appropriate statement about who we are. We put our churches in service of our desire to be somebody and our commitment doesn’t outlast the better options of Elsewhere. But this posture—beside its offense to the cross—leads to self-absorption, restlessness, and isolation.

Embrace your status

By contrast, there is freedom in coming off the market. There is sweet rest in belonging to one people, for better or worse, and there is the opportunity for displaying costly, Christlike love. We’re called to die to our narrow interests and to what we might hope to enjoy or become on our own. But we’re called to a truer life in our identification with Christ and his body on earth.

On the terms of 1 Corinthians 12, we must embrace our status as a mere hand, ear, or foot, helpless apart from the other members and happy so long as Christ is exalted and the body is thriving. This is boundedness, for sure, but it’s liberating and it’s beautiful.

The post Church membership isn’t just biblical. It’s beautiful. appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Discovering the art of following Jesus

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 01/02/2018 - 11:50

Growing up, I was the salutatorian of Vacation Bible School. I could have easily been valedictorian had it not been for Emily being “gifted” and “more spiritual” than me. One year, a simple question was posed: Who do you want to be in the Bible? As an accidental Pharisee,[1] I needed to show everyone how spiritual I was with my answer.

The teacher gave us time to consider our options. So we opted, in silence. The fear of answering incorrectly and facing public scorn during VBS was real.

Should we want to be one of the important men and women from the Old Testament? Even a childlike reading of the Old Testament ruled them out. What about people in the New Testament? Ah, yes!

John the Baptist, Peter, Paul? No. Jesus. I wanted to be Jesus. If there was anybody who could be Jesus, it was me. Remember, I said I was an accidental Pharisee. This would be perfect.

Alas, I failed.

Over time, I’ve re-thought this question: Who do you want to be in the Bible? I soon realized one of the biggest mistakes in my ministry is that I convinced myself, and others, to “go be Jesus to people.” None of us can be Jesus to people—only Jesus can be Jesus to people. When I try to be Jesus, I deceive myself, and others, into subversively thinking we don’t need Jesus—that we can be Jesus.

But that’s never been the goal for us as disciples of Jesus. The goal for disciples of Jesus, is to let Jesus be Jesus, and to obediently follow Jesus.

I am a disciple of Jesus.

I want to be like the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament. This led me to a curious encounter in Acts 9. This chapter describes Saul’s conversion and how he became a disciple of Jesus. But I want to look at someone else. I want to observe Ananias.

Saul is headed to Damascus to arrest and persecute a group of Christians there. He meets Jesus on the road and is blinded. Then we’re introduced to a disciple of Jesus, Ananias.

I want to be like this disciple—Ananias. Why?

1. His LIFE demonstrated that he was a disciple (Acts 9:10).

Ananias was known as a disciple. Biblically, a disciple is someone who is in a relationship with Jesus and obeys what Jesus commanded. This means that Ananias believed the Gospel for his salvation.

Being known as a disciple means that his life matched his lips. It’s convenient for a season to put on a good face, to say the right things; but over the long haul, it’s merely a matter of time before who you really are comes out. What are you known as?

2. He LISTENS to the Lord (Acts 9:10).

His response to the Lord is “Here I am, Lord.” We know Ananias was a man who was listening for the voice of God. Are you listening? Do you hear Him?

A great way in 2018 to listen to the Lord is to read God’s Word; to have your Bible open and to actually read it. Do you have a plan to read God’s Word? Here’s a link to some Bible reading plans: http://www.lifeway.com/Read-The-Bible/Readers/c/N-1z0zf8aZ1z1244x?carid=lw-social-ReadtheBible

This is what disciples do. They don’t go rogue; they listen to the Lord. Too often, we’re unable to hear His voice when He speaks because we’re preoccupied with our own thing when He calls us. The only right place for any servant of God to be is “here.” That is, to be present and accounted for when He calls for you.

I love Ananias’ response to what God invites him to do (Acts 9:13). He basically says, “Lord, I’m not sure you’ve heard this yet, but this guy Saul … well, he’s not really interested being friends with your disciples.” You see what Ananias is doing—he’s trying to tell God details that God already knows.

Ananias shows me, me. He doesn’t have unwavering trust in God.

God knew everything about Saul. And God told Ananias to go. Are you going?

3. He LEANS into the Lord (Acts 9:17).

Being surrendered to God, Ananias obeys. Ananias walks with a lean to obey Jesus, and he does what he is told to do. He appears before Saul and has the honor of laying his hands on this broken, blind man, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Saul’s blindness dissipates.

Ananias didn’t have unwavering trust in God, yet he obeyed. You may be the same way—your trust in God will often be tested. Your faith, often, will be weak. But followers of Jesus—disciples of Jesus—obey. God’s commands do not always make sense, but they are always right!

But this is what I love the best…

4. He LEAVES the story.

Ananias’ role in this entire story is small but significant. This man who was a disciple, and one who wavered, was obedient. This small act of obedience led to a great impact on the Kingdom of God. Ananias disciples Paul, then he leaves the story.

That’s the lesson. This is why I want to be like Ananias. When we obey God and His Word, even in the small things, the results will be big. God knows better than we do; we just need to trust Him along the way. Perhaps Ananias never knew in his lifetime the full extent of what his obedience meant, but I know that Jesus Christ knew, and you do too.

In 2018, I want to be like Ananias of Damascus. I want to my life to demonstrate that I’m a disciple; I want to listen to His voice, lean into His will, and leave.

The best thing we can be known as is a disciple of Jesus. So, ask yourself this question: How can I be known as a disciple of Jesus in 2018? Listen to Him, lean into His will, and leave for Him to do great things.

[1] The term “accidental Pharisee” comes from a book by Larry Osborne, where he writes about the tendency for spiritual zeal that does not align with the totality of Scripture. He defines “accidental Pharisees” as “people like you and me who, despite the best of intentions and a desire to honor God, unwittingly end up pursuing an overzealous model of faith that sabotages the work of the Lord we think we’re serving.” (Larry Osborne, Accidental Pharisees, (Zondervan; Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2012), pg. 17)

Categories: Seminary Blog

5 attitudes every new pastor needs

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 01/02/2018 - 11:06

Throughout the year, young men (and sometimes older men) anxiously waiting for their first pastoral charge receive the call, pack up their belongings, and move their family to a new community. I remember that first pastorate, too. Having begun serving a small church in rural southwest Mississippi during my last year of seminary, on graduation day, a couple of the members helped load our furniture and kitchen wares onto a cattle trailer and moved us to the church pastorium (yes, I wrote pastorium; a house owned by the church for the pastor). I didn’t know what I was getting into.

Every pastor has to experience the first year of pastoring to start laying groundwork for a lifetime of ministry. So what should a new pastor focus on during that year?

Expect the unexpected

A young pastor wrote me about the first year of ministry. I grinned widely as I read about the “firsts” that he was experiencing, and thought of my own first year. In a typical Baptist church, the first year includes experiences of first baptism, first revival meeting (the inaccurate vernacular for a protracted series of services), first wedding, first funeral, first deacons’ meeting, first business meeting (uh-oh), and first conflict. Nothing in seminary can quite get the young pastor completely ready for that series of “firsts.”

So keep handy a copy of Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry (ed. Thomas K. Ascol). Read it and re-read it. Work through C. H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. Refer often to Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding series that deals with funerals, visiting the sick, shepherding the flock, etc. Make a practice of reading the 9Marks eJournal and Founders Journal for the nuts and bolts of ministry written by seasoned practitioners. Work through Timothy Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader, Conrad Mbewe’s Foundations for the Flock, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching & Preachers, and John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Make arrangements to attend a good conference where you will be trained, encouraged, and exposed to excellence in ministry, e.g. National Founders Conference, Together for the Gospel National Conference, The Gospel Coalition National Conference.

Remain teachable

One serious malady that often afflicts those freshly minted with a seminary degree is I-know-it-all-now-itis. Such a one is a card-carrying MDiv-er, who has taken a range of ministry-related subjects in readiness for pastoral work. That’s a good thing to have and it does lay groundwork for preparation. But that seminary degree only gets a pastor started. It exposes him to a lot of good things and rich truths but it will take years to solidify, hone, and in some cases, prune what he’s learned to become useful in pastoral work.

Meanwhile, it’s okay that these new pastors have yet to master ministry. The early years of pastoral work become part of the wonderful process through which the Lord teaches and trains a man so that he can faithfully serve the body of Christ for decades to come. So what should he do? Read voraciously. Develop friendships with older, experienced pastors instead of only young guys. Seek help without apology. Most pastors who’ve been at it for a while will gladly assist a younger brother in ministry. All of us need it!

Establish priorities

1.  Major on developing a strong devotional and prayer life. Nurture your walk with Christ. Let nothing substitute for a joyous, vibrant relationship to Christ.

2. Develop in your ability to expound and pastorally apply God’s Word. Biblical exposition, if handled properly, will open the text and let the text speak to the needs of the congregation with sensitive, pointed application. Never stop growing in this area.

3. Be attentive to your marriage and family life. Attentive means that you lay aside the unending demands of ministry to focus on your wife—serving her, loving her, and enjoying her. Your children need that kind of attentiveness too. Don’t over-schedule yourself in ministry so that your family only gets the crumbs of your time and energy.

4. Gather around you a few men in whom you can pour your life in a disciple-making relationship. Read and study the Word together. Pray together. Hold one another accountable. Serve Christ together. Do gospel work together.

5. Patiently listen, shepherd, and serve the body entrusted to you. Some pastors rush in as the professionals ready to make massive changes in a church. They generally have short pastorates. Take the time to know your flock. Learn to genuinely love them. Don’t try to make major changes in the first year, maybe even the second and third. Focus on incremental changes in important areas essential to the church’s health. Lay biblical, theological groundwork for changes so that they come more naturally as the body learns the Word and applies it.

Concentrate on just a few things

Ministry will be filled with highs and lows, ups and downs. That’s normal. So just the time that you think a particular low or downtime spells the end of your pastoral tenure, realize that it’s part of the cycle of serving a congregation through the rugged issues of life. Persevere through the difficulty. We live in a fallen world. Your ascendency to the pulpit hasn’t changed that reality. So concentrate on a few things:

  • Be faithful as a Christian, husband, father, friend, student of Scripture, and pastor.
  • Preach well. A lot of things can be excused but not sloppy, a-theological, poorly exegeted, unorganized, sentimental, application-less preaching. Don’t let leisure or undiscipline or stubbornness get in the way of good preaching.
  • Shepherd well. You’ve been entrusted as an under-shepherd by the Good Shepherd to care for one of his little flocks. One day he will ask for an accounting of how you cared for, loved, served, and pastored his people. Be ready to give an account of faithfulness.
  • Set an example as a believer. Concentrate on living a joyfully holy life.
  • Let Scripture drive you and your ministry rather than the latest dog and pony show. Put into practice dependency upon the sufficiency of God’s Word.
  • Find your greatest joys, as Jesus told the Seventy, not in what you might accomplish in pastoral work, not in how great you imagine your preaching to be, not in how many have been added to the church’s membership, not in the esteem of others toward you, but that your name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
Remember: You are dependent on the Lord

Enjoy the process of pastoral work. Not every day will be rosy. Unexpected demands and challenges will keep you dependent on Christ. Learn that the Lord faithfully abides with you as you, in weakness and sometimes fear, shepherd the flock of God.

The post 5 attitudes every new pastor needs appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Paralysis of the Fear of Man

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 01/02/2018 - 10:10
“I do not know this Man that you are talking about” (Peter in Mark 14:71). It’s easy for us to stand at a distance and throw stones at Peter for denying Christ, and to claim that we would do better than he. But have you ever squandered a clear opportunity to testify about Jesus? Truthfully,... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

SBC’s Call to Prayer Month

Southwestern Seminary - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 09:30

The people of God need to pray, we ought to pray, we MUST pray. Great movements of God are normally preceded by great movements of prayer by God’s people. We see this pattern throughout Scripture and throughout the history of the church. God does not need us to pray in order to move. But in His sovereignty, He has chosen to work in power, time and time again, in response to the concerted cries of His people. Since 2012, the Southern Baptist Convention has declared January of each year a month-long Call to Prayer. Such a declaration is honorable and right, but is not of much impact unless we actually heed the call.

The New Year is always a time of changes, fresh starts, and renewed promises. May we seek the Lord in having a renewal in the discipline of prayer! I have never experienced a time in my Christian walk where I felt like I was praying too much. I doubt you have ever had such an experience either. How can we respond to this Call to Prayer in such a way that it is not just another event on the SBC Calendar? If it is going to be more, we need to be intentional with a plan of action. How, then, must we pray?

1. Have a plan for your personal prayer life

We talk about prayer, we have studies about prayer, we even sometimes go to conferences about prayer, but are we praying? Every believer should establish a pattern of consistent and focused prayer. Certainly, we should “pray without ceasing,” but this verse does not exclude us from the consistent need to be still and get alone with God. According to Mark 1:35, Jesus rose long before daylight and found a quiet place to be alone with the Father. The pattern of our Savior was to remove Himself from the busyness of life and ministry to seek the Father. What intentional steps are you taking to improve your prayer life? Here are a couple that have been helpful to me through the years:

  • Journaling. Writing down my thoughts and prayers always helps me to stay focused. There are so many distractions around us at all times that we must find ways to keep our thoughts on the Lord.
  • Prayer List/Cards. Keep a running prayer list, with specific requests to direct your prayer time. Specific requests help us see when God has answered our prayers and encourages us through the process. I teach in a seminary and have students come through my classes each semester. I have each of them fill out a card with their family information and any specific prayer requests. These cards (hundreds of them now) are a special and important part of my prayer routine. Establish prayer cards or reminders helpful to you in your personal prayer time.

2. Have a plan for your family prayer life

Christian families ought to be praying families. Life is busy, and if we are not careful, there can be seasons of weeks, months and even years where the only time you pray with your family is at the dinner table before a meal. Even these prayer times are in great danger in our culture because of the busyness the world demands from our families. How can we redeem the focus of prayer in our Christian families?

  • Be intentional. If you do not make family devotion and prayer time a priority, it normally will not happen. Think through what works best for your family and take the steps necessary. Family devotion is most effective in our home around the dinner table. The benefits of this time are many, including guarding family meal time, we are less tired than in the early mornings or late at night, and we save money by not eating out as much.
  • Be specific. I know this sounds incredibly simple, but take prayer requests before you pray with your spouse or with your family. Maybe it is just me, but if I am not incredibly careful, my prayer times can fall into a vain repetition. I am not talking about trying to use fancy words or overly repeating the same phrases, but without specific prayer requests, many of my prayers begin to sound the same. Take time to listen to what is going on in the lives of your family members and then lead praying through those issues specifically.

3. Be involved in your church prayer life

Does your church family have an organized prayer ministry? How involved are you and your family? We make time for what is most important in our lives. In many ways, we have not recognized with our time, energy, and resources how important prayer is to the believer’s walk individually but also corporately. If your church has a prayer ministry, you should make every effort to be faithfully involved. If your church does not have a prayer ministry, maybe God will lay a burden on your heart to start one.

The month of January is a Call to Prayer throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. I pray the Lord Jesus strengthens us to heed the call and grow as men and women of fervent prayer.

Categories: Seminary Blog

You are beautifully made by God

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 12/26/2017 - 09:30

This summer, I was visiting my son Thomas and his wife Holley, who are missionaries in Belgium. Besides longing to see them, I was interested to see a local expression of the European attitude to Christianity and religious belief. Thomas and Holley had already put a lot of work into speaking French, understanding the local culture, and building relationships. Holley wanted me to meet one of her good friends and so, one morning, we went to meet Jessica at her work. Holley was and is excited about this friendship and hoped that Jessica would come and join a Bible study in the future.

Jessica came across as a lovely young lady. She was friendly, smart and an overall attractive person who seemed to be successful in life. After we had chatted for a while, I noticed she had a unique, abstract tattoo on her forearm. I commented on it and how unique it was. She said that she had had it done as a reminder for her to accept herself. I was surprised and told her that she seemed to be a lovely person who had been beautifully created by God. I pushed a little further and told her that God does not make mistakes and does not make rubbish. She did not expect this response and was not sure how to answer. I did not want to cause embarrassment, so we talked about other things and then left on a good note.

Jessica’s story illustrates what can happen when biblical truth is removed from a cultural worldview. Is human life random and only significant in how we try to make it so? Do we have to make our lives mean something? Do we end up creating distinctions between people and valuing one life over another so that some lives count more than others?

The value of human life is an essential teaching in the Bible. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Job 33:4 says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

These passages are life-changing. If God has created human life, then every life is meaningful—even when our culture and personal life experience tell us otherwise. But Scripture goes even deeper.

The biblical principle of the Imago Dei is found in Genesis 1:26—“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” This is amazing! All human beings are created with God’s likeness within them. This makes each person incredibly valuable. Jessica has no idea how amazing and valuable she really is.

Ah, but there is more! In Psalm 139, we read of God’s personal involvement with each human being in a way that should blow our minds. He does not just create us and then leave us alone. He is intimately part of our lives so that there is no place we can go that He is not there.

Because we live in a fallen world, our own sinful natures and the lies and deception of Satan will distract and blind us to God’s presence in our lives. This is the predicament in which Jessica finds herself—God is right there with her, but she cannot see it; it is like a hidden mystery. The way out for Jessica and every other person who is spiritually blind is found in Colossians 1:26-27—“the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jessica can solve the mystery and discover how valuable she is as she discovers Christ and the message of the Gospel. But this passage also shows that the way for her to discover this is through someone like Holley—it is as Holley proclaims Jesus, who dwells within her life, that Jessica will discover her own need for Christ.

My heart breaks for the people of Europe who find themselves trying to give a meaning to life that can only be found in the Gospel. I have discovered that meaning, and this Christmas is a special opportunity for me to share Christ with many people like Jessica. Will you join me in looking for every opportunity to do so?

Categories: Seminary Blog

Most-read resources of 2017

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 12/26/2017 - 07:00

In this pilot year, God has used Southern Equip to train hundreds of thousands of pastors, missionaries, counselors, and other gospel leaders – both current and future – for more faithful service. Here is a compilation of our most popular resources.

The post Most-read resources of 2017 appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why Christ’s birth was an act of war

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 12/22/2017 - 07:00

Wars and rumors of war.

Throughout the world right now, armies are planning and preparing for various military operations. Closer to home, domestic abuse, interpersonal strife, and political injustice continue unabated. Just this week, I learned that a man was shot and nearly killed less than a block from my house.

All that to say, we live in a violent world. And it is right, to pray for, work for, and want for something better. But it is wrong, to think that this sort of violence is new or that God is unaware.

As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Injustice, immorality, and bloodshed are as old as sin itself. But just as old is the promise that God will redeem his people and deliver them from the curse of sin.

This was the promise in Genesis 3:15, when God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” And this ancient promise is just as good today as it was 4,000 years before Christ.

A world gone to seed

Indeed, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know how strange and circuitous God’s story of salvation story is. God did not bring peace to his people in Genesis 4. Rather, he let the world go to seed—literally.

In Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel in cold blood. Theologically speaking, the seed of the serpent killed the seed of the woman. And from this first act of aggression, bloodshed has followed. Yet, in the face of this violence, God chose one people from whom he would bring a peace-maker. Often Israel, like Abel, would find themselves subjected to the serpent’s seed. But at other times, they would themselves become a brood of vipers, earning the divine wrath of God.

This is how Isaiah 59 depicts Jerusalem, when God compares their sin to that of snakes and spiders. And it is this graphic image that Paul applies to the whole world, when he quotes Isaiah 59:6–7 in Romans 3:15–18:

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”

For us who live in the same dark world described in the Bible, we need to remember that this is the backdrop to the birth of Christ.

What Mary Knew

In our commercial age, it is easy for us to let Hallmark movies, white elephant gifts, and other candy-striped decorations shape our vision of Christmas. Accordingly, it’s easy to misread the story of Christ’s birth because of Christmas.

When that happens, we may still use biblical language, but without understanding the whole story, we may miss the meaning. And this is why it is so important to see the warfare imagery attached to Christmas. In Scripture, the birth of Jesus was not a holiday; it was instead the fulfillment of an ancient promise—that God would fight for his people.

In fact, this is what we read in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), a song praising God for the way he would exalt the humble and humble the exalted. In her words, there was no sense of saccharine sentimentality, no “Mary did you know?”

What Mary knew was that she lived in a time of intense darkness and political oppression. Thus, the good news of the Messiah included God’s answer to her (people’s) pleas for mercy.

To be sure, the story of Mary and Joseph is not a first-century romance inspired by God. No, as Scripture tells us, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). In a world overrun by injustice, the light of the world came to destroy the darkness.

Thus, to understand Christ’s Incarnation, we must see how his birth inaugurated a military campaign to end all wars. Indeed, this is what Mary’s words mean in Luke 1:51, “He has shown strength with his arm.” For Mary, a woman steeped in the Scripture—her song is a “remake” of Hannah’s song of praise (1 Samuel 2)—she knew that the arm of the Lord would destroy his enemies and save his people.

Her mention of the Lord’s arm reveals her trust in God to save. And like Miriam, she could sing to the Lord for his glorious triumph (Exod. 15:21), even as she awaited its arrival. Indeed, her words reflect her confidence in the Lord’s coming salvation. And we do well to listen to them in concert with the promises of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s Divine Warrior

Depending on how you count, there are at least 12 instances where the arm of the Lord is mentioned in Isaiah. Beginning in Isaiah 30, God promises redemption through his strong arm. For instance, in Isaiah 51:5, 9 the people cry out for the “arm of the Lord” to “awake” and “put on strength.” Then, in answer to that plea, Isaiah 52:10 says, “Yahweh has bared his holy arm before the eyes of the all the nations.” This verse leads into the climactic Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13–53:12), where again the arm is mentioned in 53:1: “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

In these verses, we begin to get the sense that the arm of the Lord, which was a metaphor for God’s strength in Exodus and Deuteronomy, is now coming closer to being a person. This is most clearly foretold in Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5. In the first instance, we see that when the Lord looks on the sins of Jerusalem, he sees no man who will intercede. As Isaiah 59:1–15a indicate, all have sinned; none have made peace in Jerusalem. Therefore, Yahweh promises that he will come and save them.

Verse 16 says, “his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” Like in Isaiah 40:11, the arm of the Lord is more than a metaphor. It (or he) becomes the actor who will judge wickedness and save those who cry out for mercy. In this context, verse 17 says the Lord (or is it his arm?) will clothe himself in military regalia: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.”

Outfitted in this armor, verses 18–19 further the image of judgment, but verse 20 returns to the main point: the Lord himself is going to come to Zion and redeem his people, those who call out for God to have mercy on their sin.

This is the main thrust of section, which portrays God as Divine Warrior. Only God as Divine Warrior would not come merciless vengeance. Instead, Isaiah 59 tells us what the rest of Isaiah has been forecasting: the Lord is going to bring salvation by coming himself (Isaiah 7:14), as a humble son of David (Isaiah 9:6–7), filled with the Spirit (Isaiah 11:1–5; 42:1–4; 61:1–4), so that he can lay down his life for his people (Isaiah 52:13–53:12), thus inaugurating a new covenant (Isaiah 54–55; 59:21).

Pastor, Preach this message on Christmas

At Christmas, this is the message we need to hear. Jesus did not come to pay for a holiday season; he came to proclaim peace to those far and near, to eliminate public injustice, and to expiate personal sin. Indeed, because we still await the return of Jesus, we do not yet see all things put under his feet (Heb. 2:8). But by promise of God’s unfailing word (Isa. 40:8), we have unparalleled confidence that what Isaiah foretold and what Mary sung is what we can believe too—that the bells we hear on Christmas, like the bells on the priests clothes, beckon to look forward to the day when the Prince of Peace will establish peace on earth.

This is the sentiment which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured long ago. When considering the mocking sound of Christmas bells in midst of the Civil War, his poem (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) captures the tension we feel at Christmas time—joy in the midst of war; light in the face of darkness; thankfulness for what God has done, but longing for the fullness of kingdom to come.

At Christmas, this is the battle that rages in our world and in our souls. It is the battle that spans from Genesis to Revelation, and it is a battle whose happy ending comes in the resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. For truly the baby born in the manger was not given to us as a sentimental token of God’s love. Much better, he is the Lord incarnate—the Divine Warrior wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The post Why Christ’s birth was an act of war appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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