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A Guide to Biblical Manhood

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 16:51


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Categories: Seminary Blog

Why does God allow missionaries to suffer?

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:56

If God is sovereign and all powerful, he must not be good. Or if he is good, then he must not be sovereign and all powerful.

So reason many who believe that there should simply not be any suffering in the world. But even if they understand some suffering in the world, surely an all-powerful and good God would not allow any difficulty to come into the lives of those who are serving him and his people.

Those who reason in this manner are dumbstruck when missionaries suffer setbacks, sickness, or sorrow—paying the ultimate sacrifice through martyrdom is completely inexplicable to them. They sometimes conclude that there is no God, or the One who exists must be powerless to stop evil, or that he is indeed powerful, but is evil himself, and therefore does not wish to stop it. Our sovereign, all-powerful, omnibenevolent God has used suffering to advance his cause and bring glory to himself throughout history and around the world.

The history of missions is filled with stories of those who suffered for his name to advance the kingdom. In Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The best apologists for Christianity in the early days were its martyrs. The anvil breaks a host of hammers by quietly bearing their blows.”

God’s sovereignty is clearly seen in the calling, guiding, and sustaining of missionaries in their work on the field. There is no other reasonable explanation why men and women with higher education, successful careers, meaningful ministries, and extended families would leave everything to go to live in difficult settings, exposing both themselves and their children to tropical diseases and dangers they would not know in the land of their comfort zone. But a right understanding of the call to missions assumes the very real possibility of suffering.

God of history

When Adoniram Judson was asking for the hand of his future wife, he wrote to her father:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

Jim Elliot often spoke of the dangers he knew he would face as a missionary in Ecuador’s eastern jungles. After watching a death there, he wrote in his journal, “And so it will come to me one day, I kept thinking. I wonder if that little phrase I used to use in preaching was something of a prophecy: ‘Are you willing to lie in some native hut to die of a disease American doctors never heard of?’”

Given that suffering is so much of the missionary’s life, we have to wonder why any sane person would leave the comforts of home to embrace it. I don’t think he would, any more than anyone would think of leaving a successful business to pastor a local church as a savvy career move. The call of God on the lives of men and women creates an inner sense of the “shoulds and oughts” and a fire shut up in their bones.

Only a sovereign God could so stir men and women to walk away from homes, families, careers, and lifelong dreams to embrace what may very well be a life of suffering; it’s not a choice one makes in a vacuum.

The Bible teaches that God has a plan for your life, and it may be very far removed from any plans you have developed on your own (Psalm 139:16; Eph. 1:11). The Bible records God’s calling of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jonah, and Paul to a life they would never have imagined—or chosen. In more modern contexts we often hear missionaries recounting their call to a life that is counter-intuitive at first, but perfectly understandable in response to his call.

What if God’s plan includes martyrdom?

Star athlete, Ed McCully, who won the 1949 National Hearst Oratorical Contest and was unanimously elected to be senior class president at Wheaton, had been accepted into Marquette University Law School. He was working as a hotel night clerk to while in law school. God called him to Ecuador through his study of Nehemiah during a night shift at the hotel the night before he was to begin his second year. He left all he had planned to follow God’s unmistakable call, knowing it would require sacrifice and self-denial. Ed was martyred in the Ecuadorian jungle on January 8, 1956, along with Jim Elliot and three other friends.

Jim Elliot was a fervent missions mobilizer, known for passionate preaching to persuade people to missions. “Our young men are going into the professional fields because they don’t ‘feel called’ to the mission field. We don’t need a call; we need a kick in the pants.” Yet, even this fervent young preacher understood the importance of hearing God’s call before stepping into such a life. He had been recruiting his friend, Pete Fleming, to join him as half of an initial two-man team in Ecuador. Pete hesitated before committing and Jim realized he might have been pushing too hard. He then wisely cautioned him in a letter to consider the challenges and be sure of a missionary call before launching out:

“I have no word for you re: Ecuador. I would certainly be glad if God persuaded you to go with me. But He must persuade you. How shall they preach except they be sent? If the Harvest-Chief does not move you, I hope you remain at home. There are too many walls to leap over not to be fully persuaded of God’s will.”

Sovereignty, suffering, and the Bible

We clearly see God’s sovereignty in the Scriptures and throughout the pages of history in the calling of men and women as well as guiding them to the places where he would have them to serve. Syrian Antioch was the first truly intercultural, international, missions-minded church. It was also a church of believers that were so committed to following Christ—even after the suffering and martyrdom that drove them there—that they were first called Christians there. It should be no surprise that it was to that church that the Holy Spirit said to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work of missions. They sent their best teachers to the places He was calling them.

God calls each of us to serve him, and he guides us to the places he wants us to be. In Acts 16, the Holy Spirit redirects Paul and his mission team to the place where he would have them go. He guides his people today in many ways as seen in his calling of young men to youth ministry, guiding youth ministers to transition to associate pastor roles, then to be senior pastors, and later to serve him in some capacity in their retirement. In the same way that he guides pastors from one church to another throughout their ministry career, he stirs, calls, and guides missionaries. Sometimes missionaries move to serve the Lord in other places or in other capacities when he redirects them.

Our sovereign God not only calls and guides, he also sustains those he leads through all the years, tears, and fears of their missionary careers. Would that we had time and space to review the sufferings of missionaries such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, C. T. Studd, and Jim Elliot, along with God’s sovereign sustaining. Those familiar with their stories know that God’s sovereign plan for them included suffering.

In contemporary adoption practice, the adopting parents give a child full rights of inheritance and familial equality with their natural children. Even though the adopted children may have no resemblance to anyone in the family physically, they are accepted and embraced as fully as the other children. The Bible teaches us that when God saves us, he not only adopts us into his family, he then begin begins to conform us to his image. Suffering is often the tool that God uses to shape and fashion us. He knows precisely what we need to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-30, 12:2; Phil. 3:10; 1-2 Peter).

When his children suffer, it is not cosmic child abuse, it is loving us just as we are, but loving us too much to leave us that way; he uses whatever he knows that we need to begin to take on the family likeness of our Elder Brother.

The Bible teaches us to rejoice in suffering, (Rom. 5:3-4; Acts 5:41), and presents plenty of our biblical heroes surviving and even thriving in and through suffering, such as Job, David, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Scriptures speak of the suffering of righteous people, teaching that it is for their good and his glory (Psalms 22, 73; Luke 12:12-19, 13:2-4; Rom. 8:33-39; 2 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 12:2-7).

Seed of the church

Even though the world argues that it cannot possibly be for our good, we recognize God’s sovereignty in our suffering—even to the point of martyrdom—and to do so, we need look no farther than the Lord Jesus Himself. Beyond his example of suffering for our salvation, we see in the Bible the good that resulted from the sufferings of others such as Stephen and Paul. The Christian life we have been called to live would be hard to understand and impossible to recognize without suffering. Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

All the martyrs of church history demonstrated the truth of Tertullian’s declaration in Apologeticus, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Throughout Christian history, it has been God’s sovereign plan to expand his kingdom through suffering. Indeed, there is such a close connection between suffering and success, trials and triumph, and pain and praise, that we should not seek to avoid suffering at all costs or keep it hidden when it happens.

Suffering advances the Kingdom in ways inexplicable to modern man. The persecution and martyrdoms of missionaries during the Boxer rebellion, including that of missionaries John and Betty Stam (relative of the late Chip Stam, longtime SBTS professor), were followed by significant advance of Christianity in China. Totalitarian regimes and countless tragic martyrdoms have not extinguished the church, but rather resulted in its growth.

After the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully in Ecuador, news media spread the news around the world. The number of those who volunteered to go to mission fields to take their place is estimated in the thousands, and they came from all over the world to go all over the world. In subsequent years, when the widows would tell their stories and noted the results of so many people surrendering to missions, some remarked that it was obvious why God allowed the men to suffer and die.

Yet, the widows wisely responded that although God had clearly used the events for good, they cautioned against concluding God’s reasons. Elisabeth Elliot said that we may not know until we get to heaven why God allowed the martyrdom, and we have no guarantee that we will be told even then. It is our place to trust our sovereign, all-powerful, all-good God in the meantime. Whatever success or suffering attends their work, missionaries recognize that it is all for our good and his glory, and all he wants is all they want.

The post Why does God allow missionaries to suffer? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Can Christians get tattoos?

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:14

The post Can Christians get tattoos? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The selfish reason to stay at the same church for a long time

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 13:14

How long should a pastor serve the same church? The Bible doesn’t answer that question. The average length of service for pastors in Protestant churches in America is down to about four years. For that to be a true average, think about how many pastors must serve far less than four years. There are plenty of situations and circumstances where a short-term ministry is completely legitimate, such as the Apostle Paul’s short ministries in various places in the Book of Acts.

Certain pastoral blessings happen best in shorter times. An interim pastor, for example, can be greatly used of the Lord to bring needed health and stability to a church during a difficult time of transition, saying important things that an outsider can express easier than an insider.

The five-year barrier

Although there are true blessings for pastors that serve four years or less, there are other blessings that really begin to accumulate after five years.

The number one qualification for serving as a pastor is to be above reproach according to 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:5. This means a man has to have a faithful track record among the people that he serves to even be qualified to be a leader in the church. While there are certainly benefits in checking the background references of a new pastor, it will take time before a congregation experiences his character, and can personally affirm it.

The Bible always assumes leaders will serve in the context of their community. The vast majority of qualifications for ministry in those sections of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are about character qualifications like humility, discipline, and not being greedy. The man’s family is also up for examination. How has he led his wife and children? Are his children faithful and respectful? Paul even mentions the man’s reputation with outsiders in the community. The way a man treats those in town that he does business with will say a lot about the kind of man he is.

When a man only serves for a few years in a place before moving on misses out on doing ministry out of the overflow of godly life lived out before a congregation.

Displaying the Christian life

A man who lives among the same people for decades will have an entire gallery of character sketches that have been drawn for the church and community to observe. While no pastor is perfect, all pastors are called to make visible spiritual progress. “Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Even when pastors fail, they can provide a good example of repentance and forgiveness.

The Christian life is caught as much as it is taught.

A proven pastor shows people how to live rather than just preaching about it from the pulpit. Example is huge in the Bible. Paul says to the Philippians: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).

The longer a church has her pastor the more example there is to follow. It’s one thing for a pastor to prove that the Christian life can be lived for two years in a row, it’s quite nother to prove that it can be lived for 10, 15, or 30 years in a row. It’s one thing to show a group of Christians that you can be a young married man with no kids and manage to pray and study the Bible and seek to live it out, it’s another to do that with multiple children at different stages of life. Can a man live for Jesus after his kids all leave home? Can a man serve the Lord even as he gets close to retirement age? A church with a long-term godly minister will get to watch an example of all of these things in flesh and blood.

Times of sunshine, times of rain

A man who stays at a church a long time serves the church in good times and bad.

Most churches have these waves. If a man only comes along when things seem to be on the upswing and then leaves as the hard times begin, the church will probably develop wrong ideas about both the man and the church. There are great benefits for a church to have a leader that endures the hardships with them. That pastor might not look like the super successful spiritual leader if he hangs around through the hard times as well as the good times, but the reality of his life and ministry will stamp the lives of those in that church in a profound way.

Individual spiritual journeys also have ups and downs. When a man shepherds the same flock with other godly leaders, he walks through the highs and lows with people. Since the Holy Spirit is working to make all Christians more like Jesus, the real Christians will come back around when they backslide. It would be sad to see the hardships of people and not get to experience the joys of restoration. Over many years, a faithful pastor sees it all.

Finally, pastors that serve in the same church for many years are personally invested in the church. While it seems nice for a new pastor to say he is part of the family, instead of just an outsider hired to do a job, it takes time for those words of commitment and connection to become reality. After enough time everyone will say it is our church family. We are seeking to serve the Lord together.

When a man just passes through church after church for two years at a time, can he even remember what it is like to personally belong to a church family?

Being a pastor brings many blessings. When God allows and strengthens a man to serve the same church for a long time, those blessings multiply. Always remember to pray for your pastor. Always be the kind of church member that encourages your pastor through good times and difficult times, all for a long time.

The post The selfish reason to stay at the same church for a long time appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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

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

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.”

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Does my church have to confirm my call to ministry?

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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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.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

6 reasons every Christian should study theology

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.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

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

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.

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

5 attitudes every new pastor needs

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

Most-read resources of 2017

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

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

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 08:00
Categories: Seminary Blog

31 questions to ask for a more Christ-centered 2018

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 07:00

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.

11. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year?

12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area?

13. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?

14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?

15. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year?

16. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it?

17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?

18. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?

19. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?

20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?

21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?

22. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year?

23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?

24. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year?

25. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year?

26. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year?

27. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year?

28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?

29. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it?

30. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year?

31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.

If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in your phone, day planner, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.

So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The post 31 questions to ask for a more Christ-centered 2018 appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

5 things your kids need to know about death

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 07:00

It wasn’t the first thing to enter my mind, but it might have been the second: How am I going to tell the kids?

The doctor had just laid out the cold, hard truth: “Your friend, Ken, has passed.” Ken was a dear family friend, a man my kids adored. A longtime staff member at the church I served as pastor, he died suddenly—at the church building, in the midst of his work. A heart attack ushered him into the arms of his Savior in an instant on that overcast fall morning. I was stunned. Our staff was stunned. The congregation was stunned. My children, who “helped him” regularly at the church while I sat in meetings, counseled members, or worked on sermon prep, would be most stunned of all. I planned my talk with them carefully and broke the sad news that evening.

Messenger of ill tidings

Our family faced death again in late-summer of 2015 with the sudden departure of my stepfather. Like Ken, he clearly loved Jesus and sought to please him. Gratefully, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). When the news came, my wife and I were again faced with delivering the sad news to our four children who range in age from 7 to 13.

As a pastor, I always found serving as the messenger of ill tidings particularly difficult. It’s even more tricky, though, when you’re telling young hearts whose ability to grasp death and all its implications is limited. Do we soft-pedal death, referring to it in vague, non-threatening terms? Or do we speak of it straightforwardly as we might with another adult?

My wife and I have found neither approach to be helpful. Obviously, how much and precisely what you say will be much different for a younger child than for a 12-year-old. Still, there are basic biblical realities they should all know.

Here are five fundamental truths we’ve explained to our kids when death has come close to home.

1. Death and judgment are coming to us all.

Sadly, death is part of our fallen world, and the Bible doesn’t shrink back from this truth. Psalm 139 tells us God has numbered our days. Since the Word doesn’t dismiss this truth as “overly negative,” neither should we.

Our family once had friends who never spoke to their kids about negative news stories, such as natural disasters or 9/11. They made it a rule never to discuss death. I believe this is unwise. By avoiding bad news, parents set up their children for unreasonable expectations and stark disappointment in a broken world. This approach subtly, even if unintentionally, communicates that life on earth is ultimate. Worst of all, it fails to provide a rationale for why the gospel is such good news. Every day brings us one step closer to that final day, and our children should be aware of that.

There is also a judgment awaiting every one of us (Heb. 9:27). I want my children to know that, as the great Southern Baptist pulpiteer R. G. Lee (1886–1978) famously put it, there is coming a “payday someday” for the way we have lived on earth (2 Cor. 5:10).

2. Death is not the way it is supposed to be.

This biblical truth is what makes death particularly sad. Tell your kids that death is an intruder in this world, that the first Adam’s sin opened the door through which the curse of death entered. Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1994) is a compelling resource (for adults) to help you put more biblical meat on the bones of this doctrine.

Explain to your children that this is why we are sad when someone dies. In our mourning, through our tears, we are admitting there’s really no such thing as death from natural causes.

3. Death for the Christian is to be with Jesus.

In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul toggles back and forth between whether it’s better for him to leave this world to be with Jesus or remain in it to advance the gospel. He then writes: “To live for me is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In a culture that does all it can to stave off any hint that humans will grow old and die, this is a deeply countercultural truth. But for the believer, crossing the chilly river of death is the pathway to paradise and pleasures that defy the descriptive ability of human language.

4. Death will one day die.

Give your children the unfathomably good news of 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” When the “already” collapses into the “not yet,” death will be dead, and this is cause for rejoicing. This is a choice opportunity to commend Christ to your children, to urge them to flee to the cross where Christ took the key to death and unlocked it from the inside in his resurrection.

5. Death is something we must all think about.

I don’t want my kids to obsess or become paralyzed in fear over the specter of eternity. That said, 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards provides an excellent example of the necessity of ruminating on death, even at a young age. Granted, Edwards was much older than my young children when he wrote his famous resolutions, the seventh of which reads: “Resolved, to think much on the brevity and how short one’s life is (Ps. 90:17).”

Edwards understood that life is a vapor, and that death should motivate us to live for another world. Tell your children that for those in Christ, our best life is later.

What about the death of unbelievers?

What do we say to our children about those who seem to have died in unbelief? This is even trickier but presents a key opportunity to discuss eternity, both heaven and hell. We should be no less clear about hell than was our Lord, who spoke far more in the Gospels about judgment than about paradise.

Whether I’m speaking to adults or children, I always avoid weighing in on the eternal destiny of one who appears to have died in unbelief. Of course, I make clear that anyone who would be saved must come to God through faith in Jesus. But we’ve told our children (and I’ve told family members of unbelievers) that the deceased person is in God’s hands—a righteous and just judge who can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t put it this way to avoid or minimize the reality of God’s wrath; it simply keeps me off the seat of eternal judge—a place that belongs to God alone.

Though there’s certainly much more that could be said about death, our kids need to be prepared—in age-appropriate ways—for life in a world captive to sin and death. And they need to be shown why the good news of God’s rescue mission in Christ, and his victorious war with death on Calvary’s tree, is good news indeed.

This is an adapted version of an article originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Do Old Testament commands apply today?

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 08:00
Categories: Seminary Blog

3 reasons to not skip the “boring” parts of the Bible

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 07:00

A few weeks ago, I preached Nehemiah 3. It’s a chapter that lists the various men and women who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Here’s a taste:

“…Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens…” (Nehemiah 3:10-11)

And more of that—for the entire 27 verses.

As the congregation surveyed the chapter beforehand, I’m sure many were thinking: “Is pastor Chad really going to preach on a chapter of obscure Hebrew names?” It’s one of those chapters you normally skip during your devotions, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Be honest.

My very first week as pastor–fresh out of seminary, no experience–I preached a genealogy from Matthew 1. It may have been a terrible sermon, it probably was, but I was trying to set a tone for our understanding of Scripture as a church:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

All Scripture–including the parts you might be tempted to skip or downplay. How do we view them? Here are three brief things we need to remember when we come to these passages:

1. It’s not about God fitting into our story, but us fitting into God’s story.

I think many of us come to the Bible and want to “get something out of it” — which is okay. However, it can create this idea that the Bible is only valuable if it proves to me how it fits into my life. So when we come across a genealogy and there are no little nuggets or quick takeaways, we turn the page.

But the Bible’s purpose is to draw us into the grand narrative of the Lord and his people. It draws us out of the darkness and into the light of the gospel. The Scriptures are the real story. We have to figure out how our lives fit into the Bible. Genealogies, number tables, and lists of land allotments all have a purpose in the story God is telling if we are willing to sit down and listen.

2. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

In your head you may protest: “But, reading this chapter is a waste of my time.” No. You “waste” your time on so many more trivial things: Netflix, Facebook comments, sitting in a fishing boat, catching up on scores on ESPN, or watching those annoying recipe videos in your timeline.

There are worse things you could waste your life doing besides reading the Word of God no matter what it says. If we feel anxiety about trying to struggle through a list of Hebrew names for five minutes, maybe we need to spend some time reflecting on our own self-importance. Sometimes God shows us our pride by consuming our day with what we perceive to be a “meaningless task” (I’m a parent of four, so I know all about that).

After all, to the rest of the world you are more obscure than Hashabneiah, Malchijah, or Hasshub—at least their names are recorded in Scripture forever. Still, God cares for you. When you hit those “boring” passages in your Bible reading, take comfort that God is at work even in the most mundane details of your life.

3. This is a relationship.

We don’t try to “get something out of” every conversation with our kids or our wife or our co-workers. Why must we “get something out of” every conversation with the Lord?

Use those seemingly mundane passages as an excuse to simply relish the fact that he is speaking to us, that he cares about us, that by the blood of Jesus we are his people. The Lord of the universe has revealed himself in letters, words, verses, and passages that we can read–some of them more easily than others. But he is speaking to us in every word—so let us listen.

There are no unimportant words in Scripture. So let us delight in them and preach them all.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

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