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We are made in the image of God, an image that is tarnished yet has survived the fall. Who we are is intrinsically connected to who God is. Our spiritual depth, our being able to know ourselves, is linked to knowing God and who He is. This is where God’s word comes into the equation, because the Bible is one of the primary ways God discloses himself—what He’s done, what He’s doing, and what He promises to do. Spiritual depth is far more than how much you know the Scriptures or even how well you know it. It is knowing the Word of God and the God of the Word, the book and its author. We come away with a better, more thought-filled understanding of what He is like, what He says, what He expects of those who bear His image, and why, and how He empowers those who follow His son Jesus ...
Every pastor deals with a certain reality every single week. I’ve heard it referenced as the “relentless return of Sunday.” You preach your heart out, pour yourself empty, and exhaust yourself physically and emotionally only to wake up on Monday or Tuesday and realize the process begins for another week. In many ways, it is equivalent to writing and presenting a research paper every single week.
Any honest pastor will tell you there are days when you stare blankly at a certain passage of Scripture and have the thought, “How do I preach this?” We question how to make it into an outline. We wonder how we can apply this to our people’s everyday lives. Sometimes we even wonder what in the world the passage means!
I’ve discovered a secret that has been more helpful to me in sermon preparation than any other principle. I also believe it’s the key to personal discipleship, to counseling burdened people, and even to sharing the Gospel with a lost friend. Here’s the principle: Just say what the Bible says.
That may sound overly simplistic. In fact, I bet when you read that statement, you thought it was an extremely elementary thing. I understand that. I really do. I also believe that sometimes we complicate preaching, discipleship, counseling, and evangelism. I want to encourage you to begin implementing this simple principle in your everyday life. Here’s how this statement affects the following areas.
There are passages that are difficult to preach. Shocker, right? Some texts are hard to understand, difficult to work into an outline, or tough to try to apply to a group of people. My guiding principle throughout this is to just say what the Bible says. I believe it was Paige Patterson who once said, “Expository preaching is getting your people to read their Bible.” There is perhaps no better way to implement expository preaching than to just say what the Bible says. No more, no less. It’s important to notice that the most important question in sermon preparation is not, “What does the commentary say?” God wrote a book. Let that book speak to the people of God.
What is successful discipleship? People would probably answer this in a myriad of ways. I believe all successful discipleship has one thing in common: an intensified passion and focus on the Word of God in the life of the person being discipled. If that happens, then it truly will affect all other areas of his life. In other words, if we can get that person to begin to just say what the Bible says, we have helped put him on the path toward an abiding walk with Christ.
The Word of God affects all of counseling. It doesn’t matter if it is a professional counseling environment or one friend counseling another over coffee. We have all had those difficult times in the midst of counseling someone else or simply giving advice to a friend where we have come to that line. You know, THAT line. Do I take a step out and tell him what he really needs to hear? Do I tell him what God’s standard is for his life? Or do I cower back in fear and just say something to appease him? We should maneuver through these times by simply saying what the Bible says.
The reality of heaven and hell are tough things for a lost culture to grapple with. If we’re honest, it is a difficult message to deliver to people who don’t believe the same way we do. Some, in an attempt to be loving and inclusive, change what the Bible says to make it more palatable to a lost person. How unloving! The most loving thing we could ever do is say what the Bible says. The Bible speaks of repentance, of faith, of surrender, of taking up your cross, of following the Lord Jesus Christ. Those words are life. Just say what the Bible says.
I truly believe that if you’ll begin to practice this principle in your everyday life, you’ll see the Lord do some amazing things. God loves to work in the lives of those who hold His Word as the source of life and truth in the world. Will you take God at His Word? Will you just say what the Bible says?
As a culture, we can’t wait to get to Christmas. Retailers can’t wait to put out the Christmas decor and prep you for their “must have” Christmas deals. Children can’t wait for presents, and parents can’t wait for the extra vacation time. Everything in our frenzied Christmas culture is driving us to that 15-minute period on December 25 when meticulously wrapped presents will be clawed open to reveal an item that will likely be in next year’s garage sale or donation box.
As advertisers and retailers push the season of Christmas upon us with ever-increasing ferocity, it has increased our impatience and inability to wait. The very thing that was once part and parcel of the season has become its dreaded enemy: waiting. We have been trained to miss the weight of waiting during the season.Waiting for Christ
First, we must understand that the church is not in the “Christmas season” but the season of Advent. Advent (from the Latin for “coming” or “arrival”) is the church’s celebration of the first coming of Christ. It’s the season of reflection upon the light of Christ shining after a long period of darkness.
The nature of Advent is all about waiting.
It points us back to the 400 years of silence following the last prophecy of Malachi who foretold the arrival of the Messiah and the era of justice he would usher in with this kingdom. As Malachi’s final pen stroke dried on the papyrus, the people began this period of waiting. In that period of waiting, God’s people faced intense suffering. Wars continued, famines struck, infertility persisted, and the broken world continued to demonstrate its need for redemption. A messiah was promised, yet the promises of God seemed to be null and void. Where was God in the midst of people’s affliction? Where was his promise of healing and restoration? How could he leave his people in the midst of their distress? These questions marked this agonizing period of waiting.Waiting is good, waiting is difficult
Advent is all recognizing that we have real problems that require divine solutions. In the midst of this waiting, we ask God to intervene in our lives to bring healing, strength, and hope. The 400 years of God’s silence put his people’s faith to the test. Advent for Christians presents us with an opportunity to enter into this era of delayed gratification. Though on one side we recognize the Savior has come, we also need to acknowledge the dramatic nature and timing of this coming. Paul said at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6). God knew the timing of Christ’s coming; he had planned it from before the foundations of the world. Yet there was still a necessary time of waiting.
Waiting in Scripture is often characterized in two different ways.
- Waiting is for the sanctification of God‘s people. By waiting, we are trusting the Lord and our faith is tested as we hold to God’s promises. The Psalmist declares, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 31:24).
- Waiting relates to God‘s sovereignty and divine purposes. God challenges Job to ponder his sovereignty when he says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4). We were not present with God when he created the universe, nor are we able to give him counsel. This doesn’t make him capricious, but one who is sovereign and who has good and proper plans for his creation. Waiting, therefore, is the proper posture for a finite creature who is fully dependent upon an Infinite God.
The reality is this: we hate to wait. By nature, we are impatient. This tells us waiting is actually good for us and is molding us into the likeness of Christ. Paul encourages his readers, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:11). Indeed, one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience (Gal. 5:22).
Christ is the fulfillment of our waiting.
This does not mean however that we should neglect the heavy feeling of waiting which has marked the people of God and should still mark us today. The Christian faith is a waiting faith. The people of God in the old covenant waited for in the coming of the King born in Bethlehem. In the new, the people of God wait for the King to return a second time in glory.
In a season fraught with busy schedules, waiting is counter-cultural. But we do not wait without hope. We wait and we hope because we recognize that we have a God who fulfills his promises, even though we may not always recognize how he does so. We wait because we know God has a redemptive plan which is more beautiful than any other vision this world can offer. This plan, so clearly demonstrated in Scripture, has as its fulcrum the coming of God’s Son in the flesh.Put Christ at the center of your waiting
Thus, Christ is at every point the focus of our waiting. This season should instill in us a richer understanding that God has a plan which will be accomplished according to his will and purpose, and ultimately for our good. As ministers of the gospel, we should not be remiss in communicating this glorious truth to our people.
What would it look like to be a Church once again marked by the weightiness of waiting? While war continues, relationships fracture, sin and suffering persist, we wait for the return of the King. So let’s avoid the temptation to make this season of Advent more palatable by neglecting the weightiness of waiting. Let us reflect on the period of silence preceding the coming of Christ, and find strength in our current waiting. Advent means “to come,” and we wait longingly for the Lord to come again.
And let us pass this critical message on to those whom God has graciously put in our care.
Early in my career of teaching systematic theology, a student arranged an appointment with me in my office. After the customary small talk, he cut to the quick: He was experiencing multiple physical problems, plagued by insomnia, digestive and excretory problems, blood in his urine, lethargy, and attention deficit. He wondered what spiritual causes could lie at the heart of these physical symptoms, and he wanted my advice about how to become well again. I hardly needed to probe much, but my questions caught him off guard because they focused on physical matters: What are you eating? His answer: “junk food.” Are you scheduling rest periods? “Too busy for relaxation.” How are you exercising? “No need for that.”
Becoming irritated with my line of questioning, he said that because his body was going to be sloughed off at death anyway, he did not need to be concerned about eating well, resting well, and exercising well. I countered with an observation: His body was (literally) breaking down before his eyes, and he would soon be no good for himself, his family, and the church ministry for which he was preparing through his seminary studies. And, I added, I thought the problem was a physical one, not a spiritual one. But that was not the answer a “spiritually minded” evangelical like him was accustomed to hearing. Besides, this student had come to me with an expectation that I would share something with him from the Word of God. But I was not prepared to do so.
This encounter plunged me into a crisis: As a professor of theology at an evangelical seminary, I wondered what I should have shared with this student from Scripture that would have helped him with his physical problems. If you found yourself in a similar situation, what would you communicate?
At best, evangelicals express an ambivalence toward the human body, and at worst manifest a contempt for it. Many abhor their body — often because of tragic experiences with it (like physical or sexual abuse). Other Christians, due to either poor or non-existent teaching on human embodiment, consider their body to be a hindrance to spiritual maturity, or even inherently evil.
However, in my study of Scripture, I have discovered a remarkable perspective toward the body, one which affects how we live out our existence as created beings, how we view and experience our salvation, and how we trust and obey God as maturing believers in Jesus Christ.
The human body is an essential aspect of human beings during their earthly existence and, following Christ’s return and the resurrection of their body, in the age to come. Specifically, the body is the material component of human nature distinct from— but intimately linked with—the immaterial component, commonly called the soul (or spirit). Only between physical death and the return of Christ will human existence be a disembodied one. The soul (or spirit) will survive death and continue to exist while the body is sloughed off, but this is an abnormal condition (2 Cor 5:1-10). Embodiment, therefore, is the state of human existence between conception and death, and again after the resurrection of the body and for all eternity. The normal state of human existence is an embodied existence.The Created Body
Human beings are this way because God designed them so. This was true of the first man, the first woman, and it is true of each and every human being since the original creation, as God is intimately involved in fashioning human life from the moment of conception. As David extols God in a psalm, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Ps 139:13, 15).
Embodiment is God’s creative design for human beings, who should be grateful for their physical existence. Moreover, the church is called to minister to people as holistic human beings created in the image of God. This worldview entails treating all people — both Christians and non-Christians alike — with respect for their inherent dignity. Furthermore, the church should be engaged in helping the poor and marginalized through deeds of mercy, communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, and discipling Christians by addressing their many needs — intellectual, emotional, volitional, physical, educational, and socio-economic.The Gendered Body
As embodied creatures, human beings are either male or female (Gen 1:26-27); indeed, gender is a fundamental reality of human existence. Unlike secondary characteristics such as hair and eye color, height, and body type, gender is a primary characteristic. God does not create a generic human being and then add on gender; rather, he creates a human being either as a male person or as a female person. Human genderedness means that a man is conscious of and knows himself as a man, he relates to other human beings as a man, and as a man he relates to God. Similarly, it means that a woman is conscious of and knows herself as a woman, she relates to other human beings as a woman, and as a woman she relates to God. Try as I might, even urged on by my wife, I cannot see life from her — a woman’s — perspective. Human beings are perspectivally gendered — as designed by God. Accordingly, men and women should be thankful for the gender with which God created them, and any sense of superiority or inferiority because they are male or they are female is wrong and dangerous. Gender differences should be celebrated, and men and women should learn to enjoy personal, pure relationships with the other gender.The Sexual Body
An important aspect of gender, and hence of human embodiment, is sexuality. Indeed, God created human beings as both male and female so that they could fulfill the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This universal command means that the majority of human beings will be married, and the general portrait that arises from Scripture is that marriage is between a man and a woman who commit themselves to living in a monogamous relationship. Sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed within the bounds of this covenantal framework and is designed for several purposes, including pleasure, procreation, and unity. Tragically, the fall into sin wreaks havoc with human sexuality, and Scripture presents instructions intended to help people overcome temptation and failure in this area. In no uncertain terms, Paul warns against sexual immorality, placing it into a category by itself by explaining that “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (v. 18). This heinous sin wrenches away one’s body from its rightful membership and unites it in membership with the body of someone other than one’s spouse.
Anyone reading this article is certainly aware of the many troubles the church encounters in this area of human sexuality: rampant sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, sexual abuse of children and women, pornography, “sexting,” prostitution, and other problems. Cognizant of these many challenges, we should never lose sight of the fact that human sexuality, and sexual intercourse between married couples, are wonderful gifts from God for his embodied creatures — gifts that should be celebrated and enjoyed.The Disciplined Body
Paul’s reminder to Christians “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19), while specifically directed at the problem of sexual immorality, has a broader application: Human beings are to respect and care for their body, and such attention requires physical discipline. Elsewhere, the apostle gives instruction to Timothy: “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8). Using the metaphor of athletic preparation for the Isthmian games, Paul urges his disciple to focus on training in godliness, which would include study of Scripture, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines.
Bodily discipline includes regular exercise, good nutrition, proper rest and sleep, and avoidance of body-harming substances. Insights from exercise physiology and nutrition can be helpful in this regard. It would be embarrassing to ask when was the last time you heard a sermon on physical discipline or participated in a Sunday school class about diet and exercise. While it is not my purpose to minimize the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines, a proper theology of human embodiment corrects a much-overlooked aspect of Christian living and church education: physical discipline in regard to eating, exercising, resting, and avoiding harmful substances is an important component of life in the human body. When spiritual disciplines call for accompanying physical activities like fasting, solitude, temporary celibacy, and the foregoing of other legitimate bodily pleasures, the goal should always be increased spiritual vitality and never the punishment of the body as an opponent or enemy of spiritual maturity.The Body and the Worship of God
When most Christians think of worshipping God, they imagine singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the Word of God read and preached, praying corporately, and the like. Few would consider the role of their body in worship. In a popular definition, Archbishop William Temple described worship as involving a person’s conscience, mind, imagination, heart, and will — with no mention of the human body! Scripture, however, presents an active, physical involvement in worship: the raising of hands, indicative of both blessing God (Ps 134:1) and pleading for his help and mercy (Ps 28:1-2; 88:8- 10); kneeling, bowing, and falling down, exhibiting humility and abject shame before the Lord (Rev 4:9-11; 5:8-14; Ezra 9:5-6; 2 Chron 6:12- 14; Ps 35:13-14; Neh 8:5-6); dancing or leaping, manifesting intense joy (Ps 149:3-4; Ex 15:20- 21; 2 Sam 6:14-17); and clapping and shouting praise to God (Ps 47:1-2; 66:1). Certainly, many cultural realities must be considered in this discussion, but embodied human beings qualified to worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) are to engage in this activity with the entirety of their being — and that includes their body.
Worship, then, involves bodily participation as Christians physically express their praise, confess their sins, plead for divine mercy, and exalt in God’s blessings, which are also tangibly exhibited by the tangible rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Unsurprisingly, then, Paul urges Christians “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).The Future of the Body
Finally, for those who have died as Christ-followers, who exist as disembodied beings in heaven with the Lord (2 Cor 5:1-9), the return of Christ will result in the resurrection of their bodies. They will be brought back to life with glorious, renewed bodies. For those who are still alive at the second advent, the return of Christ will result in their bodies being instantaneously changed into glorified bodies. In both cases, these resurrected and glorified bodies will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and dominated by the Spirit (1 Cor 15:42-44; Phil 3:20-21; Rom 8:11).
Embodiment is the future hope and blessing for human beings. Thus, as fallen and sinful human beings are called to salvation through Christ, and they are not just “souls to be saved,” but the human body is included in this divine work. Indeed, against the prevailing view held by many Christians, death resulting in disembodied existence in the presence of the Lord is not their ultimate hope. Rather, the resurrection and glorification of the body at his second advent, leading to embodied existence in the new heavens and the new earth, is their ultimate hope.
As divine image bearers created for embodied existence both now and in eternity, we do well to live our human embodiment cognizant of the rich instruction given in Scripture and here developed in a brief article. Whether we are confronting questions from people experiencing physical problems, addressing the uniqueness of human genderedness and sexuality, struggling personally with gluttony or sloth, selecting clothes to wear, expressing our worship through physical acts, praying for the sick, or pondering the mystery of the life to come, Scripture provides abundant teaching that corrects wrongful attitudes toward the body and underscores the wonderful reality of human embodiment.
Editor’s Note: This article is revised and adapted from Gregg R. Allison’s 2009 paper Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment, published in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Used with permission.
Southern Seminary founder John A. Broadus was a vocal proponent of bodily health and discipline within the seminary community, even recommending muscular exercise to preachers in his influential book The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (1870).1 During his tenure as seminary president, Broadus believed so strongly in the value of physical exercise for ministers that he designated two students to lead daily instructions in gymnastics throughout the year.2
The seminary’s first serialized magazine periodically featured articles mindful of a student’s physical fitness. Thomas W. Young, a student, wrote a satirical piece for an 1889 issue titled “Students Should Not Take Exercise.” Taking aim at what he perceived as a trend of overzealousness toward academic study at the expense of physical health, Young mused “too close conferment to the study may cause you to become pale and amaciated (sic.) and troubled, doubtless, with dyspepsia, but these are no hindrances to your usefulness, besides they are indications of being a hard student.”3
The Seminary Magazine gave occasional consideration to good diet as well as exercise. Dudley S. Reynolds, M.D., penned a more sober-minded article for an 1892 issue, recommending dietary prudence.4 He warned against the ill-effects to the liver and kidneys due to consumption of “insoluble foods” such as the skins of potatoes, apples, and other yeast-abundant fruits.
In 1903, the Magazine ran a more jovial editorial on the subject entitled “Gastronomics,” courtesy of student John Roach Straton, who later became famous nationally as a preacher and moral crusader. The future evangelist asserted that “many a poor sermon is the net result of too much fried chicken and too large slices of ham for breakfast!” Turning his attention to the seminary’s dining hall, Straton continued:
Brethren, is not the manner of our eating in the Hall entirely too gay? This is a fast age, but the age would have to quicken its pace to catch up with the clipper gait at which we dispose a meal in the Hall. . . . The manner in which we bolt a half-hour meal in ten minutes is likely to cause dyspeptic preachers, which in turn is calculated to cause dyspeptic preaching, which is in turn is very bad—is awful!5
In 1897, the seminary dedicated its Levering Gymnasium at the downtown campus at the intersection of Fifth and Broadway, an occasion that would have surely delighted Broadus had he lived to witness it. Funding for the gymnasium came primarily through a $10,000 gift of trustee board president Joshua Levering. As 19th century Americans became more urbanized, city-dwellers increasingly recognized the importance of gymnasiums to promote a culture of bodily health. Publications from that era provided instructions on stretch drills and moderate weight lifting, but the instructions on using apparatus such as balance bars, suspended rings, and vaulting bars might be considered too specialized for the average contemporary workout.6 A marvelous photograph dated around 1912 evidences the fact that Southern Seminary students were sufficiently able-bodied to implement handstands and precise balancing drills into their gymnasium routines.
The seminary built a second Levering Gymnasium for the current campus in 1929, and for many decades the gym served as the go-to-place for the seminary’s physical fitness conditioning and extracurricular activities. After the construction of the Honeycutt Campus Center in the 1990s, the Levering Gym remained accessible but as a supplement to the Health and Recreation Center. Levering’s legacy will continue to endure through a planned refitting of the gymnasium to host the SBTS CrossFit program.
More resources on SBTS history can be accessed through the Archives and Special Collections in the James P. Boyce Centennial Library.
1John A. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1894), 452-58.
2Catalogue of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1891-92 (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1892), 2.
3Thos. W. Young, “Students Should Not Take Exercise,” The Seminary Magazine, March 1889, 83.
4Dudley S. Reynolds, “Disturbances –Physical and Mental Development,” The Seminary Magazine, February 1892, 250.
5John Roach Straton, “Gastronomics,” The Seminary Magazine, March 1903, 248.
6Classified Gymnasium Exercises of System of R. J. Roberts with Notes (Springfield, MA: W. F. Adams, 1890). James Madison Watson, Hand-book of Calisthenics and Gymnastics: A Complete Drill-Book for Schools, Families, and Gymnasiums (New York: Schermerhorn, Bancroft, and Co., 1864).
At the peak of her modeling career, Amrit Ahluwalia was making $20,000 for a day’s work. She was the highest-paid model in North India, where she’d risen to stardom. She appeared in a chart-topping music video in her country, received multiple offers to act in movies, often acted on TV, and felt like she was in complete control of her career.
She started modeling after winning Miss Teen 2009 for North India, and she spent her last year of high school playing soccer with a national-level team before winning Miss Chandigarh in 2013. Chandigarh is the capital city of Punjab, a state in North India.
When she wasn’t playing soccer or modeling, Ahluwalia studied at Punjab University, one of India’s top universities, where she worked on a diploma in fashion design and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She speaks fluent English, Punjabi, Hindi, and French, and did well in her studies.
Although Ahluwalia’s focus was to honor her parents’ wishes for her to complete college, she put all movie offers on hold, but fully intended to sign onto them as soon as she completed her degree program.
When she received results from her final year of college, which determined whether or not she would graduate, she realized she had failed a basic subject, and according to the Indian education system, would need to retake her final year. Her ego was smarting, and she was about to give up on her education and start her acting career.
But that night, God unexpectedly gripped Ahluwalia’s heart.
Until she was about 16, the only “god” Ahluwalia knew was that of the Sikh religion. Sikhism is a relatively new religion (circa. 18th century), and the eighth-largest religion in the world. Followers claim their religion is monotheistic, but they also worship 10 “gurus,” or spiritual messengers, who lead to god, Ahluwalia explained. As a child, she was forced to attend worship in the Sikh temple and pray to their gods. She described her Sikh family at the time as pharisaical.
Even though she grew up in an affluent part of India, Ahluwalia’s childhood was riddled with struggles. She worshipped Sikh gurus, seeking answers to her difficult life from them.
“I had bowed down in front of so many gods. I had asked them, ‘please take away our troubles. Please, why do we suffer so much?’ I would have so many questions, and I never felt like they answered me.”
One day, at the invitation of some friends, her mother attended a prayer meeting. As a devout Sikh, she had never heard the gospel. Yet during the meeting, she felt compelled to pray. “I want to know who the true God is,” she prayed, receiving a vision of Jesus and feeling a profound sense of peace come over her. She believed the gospel.
At the time, Ahluwalia’s father lived and worked in another part of the country. Their marriage had crumbled. After Ahluwalia’s mother became a Christian, she picked up the phone and called her husband.
He had been set up to take the fall for his boss’ embezzlement of company funds, and he was at the end of his rope, not knowing where to turn next. “You should pray to Jesus,” Ahluwalia’s formerly Sikh mother said to her Sikh father. Later that night, he was awoken by an unexpected phone call around 4 a.m., the time Sikhs traditionally recite their chants and prayers. Recalling what his wife had said to him, he prayed to Jesus Christ instead.
“He said, ‘Jesus, if you’re there, you know I’m stuck and I’m going to jail. I don’t know what will happen to my kids. Please help me if you can,’” said Ahluwalia.
Soon after, his boss called and told him that something was compelling him to let Ahluwalia’s father go, and that he would take full responsibility for his own embezzlement. Soon after, her father converted to Christianity.
“You know how in the Bible we see God changes the hearts of people?” Ahluwalia said. “I have seen the Bible lived out. I’m still seeing it today. It’s amazing. It’s so real to me.”
After witnessing her parents’ conversion, their restored marriage, and experiencing God’s work in her family, Ahluwalia wanted to follow Christ too. She began to read the Bible and understood God’s character as a God who keeps his promises. She forsook the other gods, and like her parents, chose to follow the true God of the Bible.
During her modeling career, Ahluwalia refused to participate in the typical modeling lifestyle, avoiding situations that made her uncomfortable, choosing what she wore for photo shoots, and declining anything that compromised her conscience. Her faith was important to her.
Then, she received that failing grade report at the end of what she thought would be her last year of college. She was confused. She was disappointed. She was ready to give up on her college degree and — her parents’ wishes notwithstanding — start acting in all the movies she had put off. Then, she heard a voice.
“The only thing he said was ‘Leave modeling and pursue my kingdom,’” she recounted. She looked around the room, wondering where the authoritative, loving, fatherly voice came from. She knew it was God. She began to experience the depths of her sinfulness over the next several days, even seeing what she identified as a video reel of her sins replaying in her mind. She knew there were critical steps she had to take in order to be faithful to the Lord.
“I knew he died for our sins, but you know, it never made sense to me — my depravity,” she said. “That was the day it was so clear to me and that was when I realized I need Jesus so badly. More than anything else.”
Although she knew she could use her modeling career as a platform for the gospel, God began revealing to her ways that she was making herself and her career an idol.
She broke contracts, had to fire people, and saw her kingdom as a movie and modeling icon crumble. She spent the next year finishing her psychology degree, learning to live with less money than she ever had to in her adult life, and seeking the Lord’s will for what was next.
She continued attending a house church with her parents, and waited for the Lord’s direction. “During that time I found a lot of comfort from the Bible,” she said.
“I didn’t know what God was calling me to do. What does pursuing his kingdom mean?” Ahluwalia asked herself. She determined during that season that faithfulness meant attending church, helping those around her, and using her psychology degree to counsel.
After coming to the United States for a time, and through the patient counsel of people in her Washington D.C. church, she felt led to “seek God’s kingdom” by moving to Southern Seminary to study counseling.
Since joining Southern, Ahluwalia has developed a mentoring relationship with several professors, especially Gregg R. Allison and Eric Johnson. They have helped her become a better counselor and minister effectively, she said. Michael and Cynthia Smith have served as her American parents during her nearly three years, and Ahluwalia credits them with helping her difficult transition to American culture.
This month, Ahluwalia will graduate with a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Southern and will start working as a pastoral care resident in the faith and missions area at Norton Healthcare. She hopes to leave behind an awareness of Sikhism, and the idea that each person is unique and must use their gifts to serve him.
“Studying biblical counseling under Southern professors has really helped me with counseling people not only at my church, but from all over the world,” she said. “My time here has given me more than I expected.”
Almost everyone commits to finally getting serious about that at the start of a new year. Lainey Greer is the group fitness coordinator at the Health and Recreation Center at Southern Seminary and Ph.D. student in systematic theology, and she has 15 years of experience working as a physical trainer and personal nutritionist. In an interview with Towers, she suggested a few ways you can get serious about your fitness level. If you want to follow through on your resolution in 2018, these nine tips are a great place to start.1 Don’t look for a quick fix
You won’t solve all your eating habits or body composition overnight, Greer says. Commit to a lifestyle of healthy eating and a balanced, consistent workout regimen to get the results you want. “We don’t grow in spiritual discipline overnight. It’s the same thing with physical discipline,” she says.2 Find a program that fits your goals
Greer recommends three to four days of cardio training and two to three days of strength training as a simple, general program for those starting out. Make slight changes from that based on your goals. For cardio, interval training (interspersing your workout with brief rest or recovery periods throughout) gets the best results. For lifting, focus on whole-body movements.3 Be balanced
Dudes: You have legs too. Don’t just train your chest and biceps. Ladies: “spot reduction” is not a thing. You can’t do 100 crunches and get six-pack abs — diet and nutrition does that.4 Watch your form
Squatting and deadlifting is great, Greer says, but make sure you’re doing it right. “Right” means proper depth on the squat (no deeper than at or just below parallel) and a flat back and firm gut on the deadlift. Don’t heel-strike or run on your toes. Stop hyperextending (a reverse arch in your spine…think about it like lifting your sacrum to the back of your head) on the back extension machine — especially with weights in your arms.5 Don’t overdo it
Overtraining is a real problem, and one that only keeps you from progress. Greer recommends having friends hold you accountable in your life balance. Here’s a hint: If you feel the overwhelming need to exercise every time you eat something “bad,” Greer says you might be idolizing your fitness.6 Fight for an accurate image of yourself
Body image problems are systemic in American culture and common to both genders. For the most part, women feel pressure to be thin while men want to be “swole.” In both cases, their standard of attractiveness comes more from Instagram than Scripture, according to Greer. “There are different body types — be okay with how the Lord made you. Don’t have unrealistic expectations,” she says. Seek to honor the Lord with how you use your body (1 Cor 9:24-27) and eat food (1 Cor 10:31).7 Eat protein, limit sugar
Greer suggests some basic standards for good nutrition: Drink an ounce of water for every half-pound of bodyweight (so, if you weigh 160 pounds, drink 80 ounces of water), eat colorful vegetables, eat less than 30 grams of sugar, eat whole grains, don’t eat a bunch of processed foods, don’t drink your calories. Girls especially need to eat more protein, Greer says (fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, lentils). It won’t hurt for very active people to aim for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day.8 Stick with it
Changing programs every other week is a great way to not make progress. The most basic regimen followed precisely is far superior to a more complex method you follow inconsistently. Don’t miss workouts, improve a little bit every time, and save the complicated stuff for next year.9 Pick a class
You don’t have to go it alone. Southern Seminary’s Health and Rec Center offers several free group fitness classes, from pilates and Zumba to kickboxing and jiu-jitsu. Busy moms can try out Momma Fit, a class designed specifically for them. You can also push yourself in SBTS Crossfit for a monthly fee. Greer also provides free nutrition assessments (reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thomas R. Schreiner
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament
I would choose Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The carol bursts with joy, which is fitting at our Savior’s birth. We also see why Jesus came: “God and sinners reconciled.” The truth of the incarnation is wonderfully communicated.
Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching
However commercial the Christmas season grows, whatever waves of cultural ignorance or resentment threaten to overwhelm and flood its historical and theological moorings, I always count on Hark the Herald Angels Sing as an anchor of biblical and beautiful truth. In a department store or a mall, in a restaurant or a party, when I hear Mendelssohn’s tune or Charles Wesley’s lyrics, I thank God that he gets the praise due him even from some who do not know him. The first verse begins innocuously enough with angels singing—who could possibly object to singing angels?—but immediately dives into the deepest truths of the incarnation and its divine purpose. The preincarnate Christ willingly lays aside his glory so that God might reconcile sinners to himself! The truth that enraged a paranoid Herod, that the baby of Bethlehem is born King of the Jews, is now sung by school choirs, at office parties, and in the perennial “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” What a glorious reminder of the gospel, that the newborn King, offspring of a Virgin’s womb, was born that man no more may die.
Dean of Boyce College
I don’t have a singular favorite, but one I do particularly love is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Every advent season, it aids me in recapturing the wonder of Christian anticipation. It reminds me of the glorious good news that in Christ, God has made his dwelling among men. What grace to know and see what Old Testament saints for centuries anticipated and awaited. And yet, the hymn reminds us that the Christian is still someone who awaits and longs for a future coming of the King and his eternal city.
Assistant Professor of Humanities at Boyce College
My favorite carol is In Dulci Jubilo, composed probably in the 14th century. It was originally written in alternating lines of Latin and German, but Robert Pearsall’s English translation of the German lines has proved the most popular version since the 19th century. It is widely believed — though no one is sure — that the third verse was added by Martin Luther in the 1530s. The tune, which was later used for Good Christian Men Rejoice, is at least as old as the original words, and perhaps older. For me, the carol’s antiquity, melodic beauty, and verbal simplicity make it uniquely precious. It brings to my mind’s eye snow falling in a medieval churchyard. I hear the bells of heaven (mentioned in the fourth verse) ringing in joy and triumph, no longer marking the dreary passing of the hours but heralding the One who makes all things new. It helps me feel connected to the love, hope, and faith of countless generations of believers who have trusted in Christ before me, and that is no small thing in this 21st century.
Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation
O Holy Night. This carol emphasizes the life-changing and earth-shaking historical event of the incarnation, without which there would be no cross or resurrection.
Assistant Professor of Teacher Ed; Chair, Department of Education
Silent Night is my favorite Christmas Hymn. During the holidays, as I was growing up my mom and dad would sing that song as we put up the tree or worked around the house. One day a long time ago, I heard my dad speak on this hymn in church and he reminded us that he loves this hymn because it reminds us to keep silent and allow the Lord to talk to us and work through us.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, talks with Towers writer RuthAnne Irvin about his new book, MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite.
RAI: For those who haven’t picked up the book yet, can you explain the difference between multisite and multichurch, or if you use those terms interchangeably?
GA: They have different meanings. Multisite is the structure most people are familiar with in terms of video venue or high centralized control, with little decision-making happening at the local campuses. It’s all run by the central, main structure. Wherever you go, no matter what campus you go to, it looks pretty much the same. Multichurch insists on more autonomy for the local congregations, more decision-making, live preaching, local elder teams or pastoral teams, and contextualization. Multichurch consists of independent churches that become interdependent through collaborative or collective efforts.
RAI: Why did you and Brad House decide to write this book?
GA: In 2006, Zondervan published a book called The Multi-Site Church Revolution, and that was the first book-length treatment of this phenomenon called multisite. A couple years ago, after 10 years of that book’s existence, Brad and I had a conversation about a second-generation, more mature reflection on the multisite phenomenon. The evolution at Sojourn was going on, so we’d moved from what we’d call a multisite church to what we call multi-church. So we wanted to tell our story, provide language for people in the multisite movement, and talk about how to move and have different expressions of multisite.
RAI: Why should Christians care about this and how can we do a better job when thinking through starting a church or planting a church, and incorporating creativity and a theology of beauty?
GA: God himself is glorious and beautiful. He’s created a world and assessed it as very good. The Garden of Eden contained plants with food that were not only good for eating and nutrition, but also satisfying to the sight; they were beautiful. The church historically has emphasized structure that highlights the transcendence of God or the presence of God, through things like stained glass windows where light shines through, or three windows emphasizing the Trinity. With church planting or any existing church, we try to go beyond mere utilitarianism, beyond pragmatics and function, and ask what can we do — even simply — to communicate and portray the beauty of God through our buildings, through our structures. What’s wrong with having a polity, church government, programs, and structures that are beautiful and not just utilitarian?
RAI: In your “Landmarks” chapter, you write that “When we see the creative character of God in the innovative impulse to advance his kingdom, we become encouragers and counselors rather than critics.” Can you explore why that’s important when thinking about multi-churches?
GA: In many of our circles, novelty and innovation are bad words. I understand why. There’s bad novelty. There’s novelty for the sake of novelty’s sake. There’s innovation just to be different. But if you take novelty and innovation in terms of creativity, we’re saying not to be different just to be different but are there ways for the church to be and to act in this world that reflect the character of God, disciple the church’s people, and engage with non-believers in a way that’s refreshing, still biblical, contextual, still gospel-centered. We see multichurch as a creative way of being the church and being missional by saying rather than come to a central big building, what if we take the church and plant different congregations to reach a city? Each congregation looks different, feels different, has a different sense because it’s contextualized. As we lead people to the Lord and begin to disciple them, we’re not asking to leave their neighborhood, drive 25 miles or 15 minutes, but we have a congregation close to them. So those are the kind of creative things that we’re looking at.
RAI: Did you write the book as a response to certain problems you see with multisite? What were some other issues you wanted to address?
GA: Probably the number one criticism of multisite is the use of video. The vast majority of multisite churches use video to one degree or another. Video delivers a virtual presence. The virtual is important. Presence is important. The presence of the pastor preaching the Word, celebrating baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Also seeing the fall of high-profile, multisite pastors reminded us that any leader can fall, so it’s not just multisite that prompts people to fall. A pastor in a church of 35 people can fall for many different reasons, so it’s not the structure itself. But we wondered if there something in the structure that contributes to propping up a pastor, filling his head with pride. What if we had a structure where you’ve got three, four, five congregational pastors who meet regularly, love one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, really mix it up when there’s problems — what about a creative solution like that? Hence, multichurch.
RAI: How do you engage with people who disagree with you on your view of multichurch?
GA: The notion that the church has to be one service where all the people are able to gather together is based on a faulty understanding of the Greek word ekklesia. The church in Jerusalem was a multichurch. All the people, or as many as could, gathered in the temple for worship, for hearing the Apostles’ teaching, for prayer, for giving, and evangelism, but they also gathered in the homes of Christians, which weren’t small groups of the church in Jerusalem. They were the church of Jerusalem, and what was going on in the temple was going on in these congregations. I think we have a biblical precedent, and that this was true in the early church: There was a church in Corinth, a church in Philippi, a church in Thessalonica, a church in Rome, and each were spread out into these various Christians’ homes, which made the congregations of the church. So we have a basic disagreement on the approach to determining what a church should be.
RAI: Are there any misconceptions about a multi-church model that you like to teach about or tell people about when they come to you to ask you questions? Misconceptions that you often hear or that you have to wrestle with and deal with?
GA: Misconceptions: it’s the sexy thing to do, it’s novel, it’s creative. It’s not sexy; it’s a mess. It’s really hard. I think we help people have realistic expectations. Other misconceptions: it’s promoting a brand or building a platform. I know the four congregational pastors at Sojourn regularly talk about not being a brand and not developing something that could be taken on the road as a national phenomenon. Another misconception is that we’re saying this is for every church; it’s not. We would not counsel the vast majority of churches to go this direction. There has to be the proper context.
RAI: How would a small church move in their mindset toward multichurch, or partner with other churches in order to reach their neighbors better?
GA: Partner with other churches. For impacting the city and the region and the world, small churches collaborating with other small churches can do a whole lot of evangelism and missions. It’s really hard to do it alone. Our Lone Ranger-syndrome, our extreme autonomy, our rejection of authority and accountability, make a recipe for disaster. I think that’s what we’re seeing in a lot of small churches. They refuse interaction with anybody else, any other churches. Brad and I think that a very high, biblical value is interdependence, not independence. It’s hard to find autonomy and independence in the Bible. But interdependence definitely is emphasized. Small autonomous, independent churches can connect together and covenant together to be interdependent to reach a city, a region, part of the world.
RAI: How do you counsel pastors and churches that want to move — if they have a pillar church model — to multichurch, or if they’re multisite and want to move to multichurch?
GA: Talk with Brad and me. Expect it to be extremely hard to do, and it’s messy. You really need to think carefully about it. A lot of churches go to multisite just for pragmatic purposes when they run out of space. It’s often just the need to expand because of growth. Growth is a great thing. We would encourage them not to do it for pragmatic purposes, but think biblically and theologically about it and have theological and biblical convictions about it.
The post The contextualized church: The benefits of a multichurch model appeared first on Southern Equip.
MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite by Gregg R. Allison and Brad House (Zondervan 2017, $17.99)
Multisite churches — often like the ones you see on Sunday morning television —include multiple locations with individual worship teams, leadership, and frameworks for ministry, including somewhat of a “brand” for their church. While this model of church growth is common as churches expand beyond their facilities, it often promotes individuality and autonomy instead of collaboration and community among the different campuses.
In their new book, MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of Multisite, Southern Seminary professor Gregg R. Allison and Brad House, executive pastor of ministry at Sojourn Community Church, discuss the differences and benefits of a multichurch model for today’s growing congregations.
Multichurch, as opposed to multisite, is defined by Allison and House as “one church made up of multiple independent churches,” and “a local community of Christians that matures and multiplies its influence through launching, developing, and resourcing multiple congregations to reach its city with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” These independent churches work toward one common goal, while collaborating with each other for the good of their communities.
Allison and House discuss several models of churches, including the pillar model, the gallery model, franchise model, cooperative, collective, and network models. The authors explore each model in light of biblical prescriptions, examining both the strengths and weaknesses of each church model. They believe church leaders can learn from different models, appreciating aspects of each as expressions of the creativity of God in humanity.
“When we see the creative character of God in the innovative impulse to advance his kingdom, we become encouragers and counselors rather than critics,” they write. And “by regarding the creativity of others as imaging our creative God, we are free to appreciate, evaluate, and even learn from different models.”
In addition to using an individual’s gifts for the good of the church, presence is an essential — and specific — aspect of the multichurch model, avoiding video simulcasts and encouraging churches and their leadership to meet together regularly.
“Unlike multisite, multichurch is more than a church growth strategy. Multichurch encourages, with intentionality, the multigifted members of the church to develop into the vibrant, mature, and multiplying body God calls them to be,” they write.
Not only does a multichurch model encourage multiplication for the flourishing of communities, it promotes unity through diversity, encouraging all members to use their gifts and abilities for the growth of the church. It provides opportunities for service in unique ways: from teaching and discipleship opportunities to missions, evangelism, and programs such as ESL training. The whole point of multichurch, Allison and House write, is to promote interdependent churches for multiplication, maturity, and building the kingdom of God through contextualized church bodies.
From how to organize church polity to money to membership and ministries, Allison and House provide a thorough history of multisite churches and where they believe multisite needs to go in order for healthy, interdependent congregations to thrive for the good of both the members and the cities they minister to. While the multichurch model is not for every church, this book provides a helpful guide for any pastor or leadership team thinking through multichurch options as their church grows.
“A multichurch believes the gospel changes everything: individuals, marriages, families, neighborhoods, educational/social/economic/political structures, working conditions, and systemic sins like racism, sexism, and abortion,” they write. “A multichurch fosters a climate where leaders do life and ministry together. It nurtures service where members are equipped to exercise their spiritual gifts and are challenged to develop as leaders.”
This past Tuesday I took my 13-year old son to visit the newly-opened Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. If I had to pick one word to describe it, the word would be impressive. Sure, I am an apologetics professor at Talbot School of Theology and am naturally interested in the history and cultural impact of the Bible. But I went with high expectations, and the Museum exceeded them ...
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
You make a distinction, which I accept, between “knowing” and “showing” that something is true. But the thing is that I don’t know that the Resurrection is true, therefore, assuming it is, I need to be shown this. The problem is that, from the standpoint of the skeptical but open-minded seeker, as I consider myself to be, when looked at dispassionately the historical evidence is, while perhaps sufficient for corroboration of what one already believes, for the rest of us fragmentary and unconvincing ...
I love preaching an expositional series. That’s been my practice for 39 years of pastoral ministry. Getting into a book, working through its richness each week, and applying truth to my own life and to the congregation has been unusually satisfying.
Then come the holidays.
Admittedly, as I work through my preaching plans, sometimes I’m caught in a bit of an ugh moment in considering whether or not to break for a seasonal sermon. That means pausing my train of thought, picking a random text, working through its biblical context, and making applications that may be unrelated to the theme I’ve been preaching.
Still, I’ve found this pause useful on many occasions.
I’ve also discovered not every holiday requires a series pause. Sometimes, if appropriate, I can refer to the season in the normal series’ introduction or at some point along the way without preaching a different sermon. On other occasions, a focused sermon proves appropriate.
Here are three areas of sensitivity to help you decide if you need to break from your expositional series when holidays roll around.1. Be theologically sensitive
Think about the big picture of what you are teaching your congregation. You desire that they understand the storyline of Scripture. Pausing to think more intensely on the incarnation at Christmas and the resurrection at Easter will fit that theological aim. Sometimes breaking for a mini-series on the incarnation or the Passion narratives will help you to connect the theological dots from the whole of Scripture much better than a single sermon for the season. Interrupting your expositional series is certainly appropriate for that aim.
Does everyone in the congregation understand these major biblical themes of incarnation and resurrection? Make sure by regularly revisiting them, since they are central to seeing Christ in all of Scripture. This practice solidifies the congregation’s grasp of Scripture and understanding of biblical theology.
On the other hand, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, New Year’s Day, and similar holidays do not hold the same weight in teaching biblical theology to your congregation as Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter. So we need to broaden our sensitivities to another consideration.2. Be culturally sensitive
Holidays outside Christmas and Easter may be a good time to break your series to make biblically appropriate application. To address the subject yearly, I normally preach a family-oriented sermon on Mother’s Day but not necessarily on Father’s Day. I preached through Ephesians last year, including several sermons on the family in November. My associate pastor preached “Who Is Building Your House?” from Psalm 127 on Mother’s Day, and I preached from Ephesians 2 on Father’s Day with no reference to the occasion. I would get to it in five months.
At other times, prompted by issues in the community or a rise in marital counseling, I’ve used both of those family-styled holidays to preach on the Christian view of marriage or parenting. Must you do the same? Not necessarily, but be sensitive to your congregation’s needs.
Since I weave gratitude into the warp and woof of my preaching, pastoral prayers, and comments in worship, I generally do not pause to do a separate message on Thanksgiving. But that’s me. Your setting might profit from it. On occasions when the transition into the new year comes with extraordinary anxiety, I might do a separate sermon addressing this concern on New Year’s Sunday. Depending on my current expositional series, I may break on Reformation Sunday to address one of the solas of the Reformation. Otherwise, I illustrate the sermon from a Reformation figure or event.3. Be pastorally sensitive
Here’s where consciousness to the Spirit’s leadership focuses your preaching plans. Is it timely to break your series to preach on a holiday-related theme? We finally determine that it’s not about what someone recommends or what we feel like doing, but plans for preaching must remain sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. Planning preaching involves more than calendar and texts. We must seek the Lord’s desires.
Additionally, you and the congregation may need a little change of diet from a long expositional series by doing one or two sermons during a holiday period. For instance, if you’ve been preaching through a Gospel for a year and have another year to go, doing a break on occasion will be good for you—lest you lose sight of broader biblical themes—and for the church, lest members wonder if you’ll ever preach from another book.
Since the holiday-themed sermons generally have a more limited textual range you may struggle to locate a different text for yet another year’s holiday. Face the fact that you will repeat Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives and Philippians’ “forgetting what lies behind.” And rightly so! It’s okay to repeat those texts.
Your prior study and notes may speed preparation time, so you might enjoy a bit of the particular holiday with your family. Scheduling those repeated texts in your preaching plan allows you to catch your breath so you can renew your energies toward your regular expositional series. In such cases, be pastorally sensitive to yourself—the pastor.
A congregation may expect a holiday-themed sermon. If your tenure among them is brief, then be slow to change that expectation, but don’t be hamstrung by it. Ultimately, you answer to the Lord for what you preach. Deliberately work toward focusing their attention on the regular exposition of God’s Word. Use holiday sermons for theological instruction and pastoral application rather than merely fitting into a grid for the sake of the season.
This article was originally published at TGC.
For most of the history of the church, church leaders understood that the Old Testament taught a complete ban on any interest on loans. As noted in Part 1, the subject of this study is the matter of loans to fellow Israelites who had the potential for paying the loan back, not the topic of charity to the poor. Three important passages in the Pentateuch or Torah guide the main teaching on loans and interest in the Old Testament ...