Recently I had a conversation with a student about some trials his family is facing—one of his siblings has become wayward. He explained how his father is willing to accept this wayward sibling back into his home on the condition of repentance—an adherence to the house rules.
As I listened, I wondered: Does the child feel as if returning home is even an option? So, I asked. The student quickly responded, “Yes; my father loaned his RV to her, which impressed on me his Christlikeness.”
As I considered his answer, I could not help but wonder: What is the difference between being religious and being Christlike? Throughout the Gospels, Christological examples of service are rife, and evaluations on service are also widespread.
Couched between Christ’s teaching on the Beatitudes and prayer, Christ demands His disciples to live righteously, even perfectly, in this world. Christ says, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). And, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). These two passages should create an ominous reflection; however, more often than not, we appease our conscience theologically, saying: these passages are dealing with an unattainable righteousness, an alien righteousness, His righteous. Even though these theological truths are undeniable, practically, Christ commands His followers to live righteously, overshadowing the religious leaders. So, what does this kind of life look like, and in what way should Christians be identified as Christlike?
Matthew addresses the Jewish tradition, and in this tradition, the Law is pivotal for an adherent to be considered godly. Jesus makes this point clear, saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Even in modern, Orthodox Judaism, to the degree that one adheres to the Law, he is identified as “a godly man, the prophet—the creator of worlds” (Soloveitchik 90). The Law is thus to be implemented “without any compromises or concessions, for precisely such implementation … is his ultimate desire” (Ibid). This is the posture of the religious leaders within the Gospels, for they often condemn Jesus for not keeping “the Torah without … compromises or concessions.”
So, how does Christ demonstrate the kind of honorable actions that overshadow the religious leaders of his day? Ironically, He eats with the unrighteous (Luke 5:30), works on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8-14; John 5:8-10), refuses ceremonial washing (Mark 7:3ff), and fails to condemn a sinner (John 7:53-8:11). In all of these situations, Christ justifies His actions, proving them to be perfect, righteous and wise.
In Judaism, adhering to the law takes on two forms: Halakha (strict adherence to a sacred command) and Aggadah (wise exegesis of a sacred command). The Halakhic man strictly obeys the laws “without compromises or concessions,” but the Aggadahic man exegetically treats passages, reflecting God’s loving character while responding thoroughly to an apparent need. For example, in the Halakha, one cannot touch a dead body or work on the Sabbath; but what happens in the event that a Rabbi walks a short distance (about a half mile) to the temple and sees a dead body? The Halakahic man bypasses the body; but the Aggadahic man buries the dead and grieves the loss (Book 4.11a: Tracts Pesachim). So, in the Aggadah, one negotiates the strict standard of the Law and responds with a kind of wisdom that preserves the character of God, serving an immediate need.
So, to what degree do we wrestle with the Scriptures enough to exemplify Christlikeness, benefiting the other person, and preserving the character of God? In every situation where religious leaders condemn Christ for some violation, He evokes the wisdom of the Law, exemplifying the character of God and the benefit of the other person. Christ even addresses situations showing that obeying the Law implicitly is not most desirable.
How should we wrestle with the situation that I mentioned from the beginning? Should we think this father’s acts of providing shelter, rules and expectations are Christological? The first thing one should do is consult the Scriptures in a way that upholds God’s lovingkindness while looking for a beneficial outcome for the other person.
How is this done? One should ask the question: Does the Bible have a direct prohibition about how to treat a wayward child; and does the Bible negotiate this prohibition in a narrative? For example, the Bible is clear about how to treat a rebellious, disobedient child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Exodus 21:17); however, narratively, this parental command was never enacted. Story after story illustrates God’s lovingkindness and longsuffering even to a disobedient child.
One clear example is the father’s response to his son in Luke 15:11-32 (The Prodigal Son parable). The older son had a clear reason to be “angry,” unwilling to celebrate his brother’s transformation. But, in the father’s wisdom, the father pleaded with his older son to feel the pain of loss and the pleasure of redemption, for “this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32). In Halakhic terms, the older son correctly responded, but in Aggadahic terms, he failed to uphold the lovingkindness of God and meet his brother with rejoicing. A higher wisdom is desired—a divine response displaying the character of God in the midst of a challenging situation.
So, was this father acting with Christlike, Aggadahic wisdom, giving shelter to his daughter with his RV? No, but he acted as a good man, even as a good religious man. The Aggadahic wisdom demands a warmth far beyond shelter, love far beyond rules, service far beyond preconceived expectations. Aggadahic wisdom daily seeks after the wayward without a protective distance.
You’ve always believed you should have what evangelicals commonly call a “quiet time.” Sometimes called “daily devotions,” a quiet time typically consists of Bible reading and prayer. Beyond these, the event can be highly individualized in terms of timing, duration, location, and content. Many add meditation on Scripture to their reading of it. Others will include some form of journaling. Some will append a brief devotional reading from another book. Generally, the goal is to feed the soul and commune with God.
Lately, however, your devotional habits have languished. In light of the struggle, privately you’ve been doing a little spiritual cost/benefit analysis about the whole enterprise.Do you really need it?
Relax. Why stress about it? Who wants their spiritual life to be a struggle? Let me help you see why you probably don’t need a quiet time anyway.
For starters, you’re incredibly busy. In fact, you’ve never been busier. God has given you many responsibilities, and you try to be faithful with them. If you take time for Bible intake and prayer every day, you’ll lose valuable time you could devote to other important God-given tasks.
Second, you can’t be in two places at once. With so many needs to meet and people to help, isn’t it a bit selfish to get alone with God and sacrifice time you could use in ministering to others? True, even Jesus frequently withdrew from teaching and ministering to the crowds who sought him in order to strengthen his soul in prayer. But does that mean he’s an example to us in this?
Third, you’re already spiritually mature. Think of all the Christian books and blogs you’ve read in your life. Didn’t they draw a lot from Scripture? Think of how many sermons and Bible lessons you’ve heard. By now, haven’t you reached a level of spiritual maturity where daily devotions simply repeat material you already know? Do you think God expects you to meditate on his Word day and night?
Fourth, you don’t want to be a copycat. Just because the great Christian heroes of the past had a regular commitment to prayer and meditation on Scripture doesn’t mean you should. After all, you’re helped by resources they never had. You have a smartphone and the Internet.
Fifth, you don’t want to become legalistic. To think that your soul needs to feed on God’s Word and seek communion with him every day would almost be tantamount to saying that your body should have food virtually every day. And who would want to fall into the legalistic trap of feeding one’s body daily? Moderation is so important when it comes to the things of God, isn’t it? As Ecclesiastes 7:16 warns, “Do not be overly righteous.”
Still feeling remorse about an inconsistent devotional life? Don’t worry; you can always start again someday when life slows down.Think again
Convinced? Well, before you completely forsake your daily devotional time, you might consider a few things. Here are five reasons your devotions should matter to you:Making a priority of time with God is a mark of grace
It’s hard to argue with Jonathan Edwards here:
A true Christian. . . delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitary places. . . . True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places, for holy meditation and prayer. . . . It is the nature of true grace, that however it loves Christian society in its place, yet it in a peculiar manner delights in retirement, and secret converse with God.Jesus is indeed the great example of personal piety
Yes, you could serve others more if you abandoned your devotional life. But the same could be said for the time you spend eating and sleeping. Would you discard them to meet people’s needs? While there are times to minister to others instead of replenishing your soul or body, as a long-term practice this is neither wise nor fruitful. Jesus could have met literally every need presented to him. But even he sometimes walked away from needy crowds to pray. Jesus is our example of all things good, including the priority of meeting with the Father.Even until death, Paul wanted to saturate his soul in Scripture.
In the last inspired letter he wrote, Paul pleaded with Timothy, “When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). These writings almost certainly included a copy of the Old Testament. If a Christian as spiritually mature as the Apostle Paul required the regular intake of Scripture until death, dare we ever think we’ve “outgrown” the need for it?We are called to imitate spiritual heroes.
In Hebrews 13:7, God commands us to remember, consider, and imitate Christian leaders of the past. We’re told, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” The consensus of the spiritual giants of Christian history that testifies to the indispensability of a believer’s devotional life should not be forgotten nor their example forsaken.Rightly motivated devotional habits are never legalistic.
Neither the strictest obedience to the Word of God nor the most zealous pursuit of holiness is ever legalistic if one’s motives are right. The measurement of legalism is not the consistency of one’s devotional practices but the heart’s reason for doing them.You’ll likely never be less busy.
If you can’t make time to meet God through the Bible and prayer now, it’s very unlikely you will when (if) life does slow down.
Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Tim 2:15)
The interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15 has been an item of great debate among commentators. The confusion over the meaning of this verse is reflected in different English translations. For example, the NASB says that “women will be preserved,” whereas the ESV says that “she will be saved.”
The NASB reflects the view that Paul is merely stating that faithful Christian women will be preserved physically when they give birth. But this is implausible because we know that not all faithful Christian women survive childbirth. The ESV is nearer the mark. This particular Greek word always refers to spiritual salvation elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, and we have no reason to think the verb is being used differently here.
If this is the case, is Paul suggesting that women are saved by means of bearing children? This would seem to contradict Paul’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works (e.g., Eph 2:8).
One ancient interpretation of this text avoids this question by holding that this statement refers not to childbirth generically but to the childbirth of the Messiah Jesus. This interpretation harks back to Genesis 3:15, which says that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the Serpent, a prophecy fulfilled ultimately in the birth of Christ, who destroys the works of the Devil. Thus, women are saved through the childbirth of Christ. But that interpretation makes little sense in context.The wider meaning
As Tom Schreiner points out, it is more likely that Paul uses childbearing as a figure of speech known as a synecdoche. A synecdoche is a figure in which the part stands for the whole. Childbearing is a part of a larger whole, which is the woman’s wider role to care for the home. This is the same role Paul describes in Titus 2:4–5: “Young women [are] to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
So, in both 1 Timothy 2 and Titus 2, Paul declares that wives have a God-ordained role to play in caring for children and the home. This is not claiming that a woman must have children in order to be saved. It is not even teaching that a woman must be married to be saved. But for those women who are married, God assigns a special responsibility to care for the home.
A wife’s fulfillment of this role will be one of the evidences of perseverance in the faith. Salvation is future in this verse: “She will be saved.” Thus it is not entrance into salvation that is in view but the future consummation of salvation. Women who embrace their God-ordained role while continuing in the Christian virtues of “faith and love and holiness, with self-control” will find themselves saved on the last day.Response
Female readers might consider whether their assumptions about discipleship line up with Paul’s. It would be unbiblical and unhealthy to assume that careful Bible study and theology are the exclusive preserve of men. This is not what Paul teaches. When Christian women gather together with the church, they are there to be instructed and discipled in the Word, just as men are. All people must be students of the deep things of God.
God has so ordered the church that its teaching authority resides with the pastors (elders). The congregation recognizes and puts forth qualified men for this position. And women are called to learn in quietness and submission within this order. God has a reason for ordering the offices of the church in the way that he does. And Satan hates that reason. God intends the all-male eldership to reflect the principle of male headship established at creation.
God intends male headship in marriage to portray Christ’s loving headship over his bride the church. That means that the principle of headship is not an imposition on God’s people. It symbolizes both to God’s people and to the world the unsurpassed beauty of Christ’s saving work.
Editors’ note: This article is adapted from the ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon: Volume 11 edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr, and Jay Sklar. It was originally published on the Crossway Blog.
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Some people love change. Others hate it. For most of us, though, change is both a challenge and an adventure.
There are many different kinds of change, of course. Some changes come in the natural progression of life, like moving from one grade to the next. Other changes come from leaders whose decisions impact our lives. Still others come from the sheer shiftiness of life in a tectonic world, whether those shifts are subtle or dramatic.
Ultimately, though, our hearts determine how we respond to change because the heart is mission control center for human functioning. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Jesus teaches, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). What we think, desire, and do—including the way we process change—all rises from our hearts.
With that in mind, here are four feelings we often experience in the midst of change, along with four pairs of contrasting responses we can choose. My prayer is that by examining these heart-responses, we can learn to embrace change and walk with joy through the transitions God maps out for us.Nostalgia
Nostalgia is the sweetening of memories over time. Nostalgia is a great gift, but also a powerful drug. Take too much of it (or take it too often) and you’ll be addicted to the past.
Comparison is a common by-product of nostalgia. We compare how things were to how things are, the glorious past with the inferior present. Of course, with the syrup of nostalgia ladled all over our memories, the present never tastes nearly as good. Yet the wise man says, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this’” (Ecc 7:10).
Gratitude is a much wiser response to nostalgia. Instead of comparing the past with the present, we should thank God for the past, and expect the present to be filled with his faithfulness just the same. For example, Ephesians 5:18–20 tells us to “be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gratitude for God’s blessings in the past helps us see his hand in the present, since he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.Uncertainty
As things change, we can also experience uncertainty. We’re not sure what’s going on, and we don’t know exactly where we’re headed. Even when we know the big picture, the inherent uncertainty can leave some of us floundering.
Fear is a common response to uncertainty. Of course, a certain kind of trepidation is expected in a new venture. But often our fears inflate and expand, filling us with debilitating anxieties that are as unrealistic as they are unhealthy. To the fearful among us, God might say what he said to Joshua, a new leader on his way toward massive change: “‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’” (Josh 1:9).
When you know God is leading you forward, a better way to respond to uncertainty is anticipation. Later in their history, God told his people, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:19). Even though they would be exiled far from home, God pointed toward his coming redemption and urged them to keep their eyes open for what he would do.Confusion
In the midst of change, the uncertainty we experience can quickly turn to confusion. Maybe we don’t understand our new leaders, or we feel like we’ve gotten mixed messages, or we’ve fallen into speculations and assumptions, which always twist up our thinking.
In our confusion, it’s easy to give in to frustration. Frustration is understandable at times, but you don’t want to let it become the norm. Because once irritation makes itself at home, we become the most grumbly version of ourselves, unable to experience much besides our aggravated feelings.
There’s a much better response to confusion: communication. Asking our questions, communicating our concerns, listening well, taking time to process—these are all wise ways to work through the frustration that can build when we feel confused about the changes we’re experiencing.Excitement
There’s an entire demographic, of course, that sees change as exciting. Whether it be wanderlust or a divine calling, there are plenty of times when the prospects of change generate excitement more than any other emotion. We’re excited for the new opportunity, the new job, the new relationship, the new vision or cause or responsibility.
But when you’re in a big group undergoing change and you’re excited about what you’re seeing, it’s easy to stay a spectator. New developments are interesting to watch, and the unpredictability can keep you glued to the screen without jumping in to serve.
Yet the excitement of new beginnings should turn you into a participant. You too have gifts and talents and resources to throw into the mix. You too should join in sacrificing for the cause you’re so excited to see unfold. You too can help shoulder the load, since every exciting vision immediately translates into hard work.
The apostle Paul urges us, “Do not be slothful in zeal” (Rom 12:11). And because of our coming resurrection, he invites us to be found “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).A Dramatic Difference
Imagine you belong to a good church or group or organization undergoing significant change. Now picture most people in your group responding to their nostalgia, uncertainty, confusion, and excitement with comparison, fear, and frustration as spectators.
But now imagine that, instead, everyone makes the conscious decision to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for the past, a sense of anticipation about the future, and a commitment to communication when things are unclear or confusing, all while investing their talents and energy as eager participants in the new chapter God’s writing into your lives together.
The difference would be dramatic — even transformative. Because the most important change happens in the heart.
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“You fake it ‘til you make it.” So the saying goes. I can’t tell you how many are faking it in the ministry, but I can tell you that the tensions run high with the pressure that comes with ministry—preaching, ministering to people, giving counsel, keeping up with relationships, and all the while, maintaining a strong marriage and family dynamics. Time for prayer and personal study can easily fall by the wayside. Ministry is too often measured by performance. Burnout ensues as soon as something goes wrong—and something always does. So faking ministry may seem to be a temporary answer, until it’s clear that you won’t make it.
It’s the temptation that many ministers face: look and sound the part of the minister, and hope that no one catches you as an imposter. But it’s not just the minister who faces this temptation. It’s also the rest of the church—the stakes are high for not only acceptance but in becoming model members. The pressure for ministers and congregants alike tears up the church within.
Let’s be honest here. The church is stinking of fakery. Trust me, it’s not anything new. Not to point any fingers, but look at the churches in Corinth and all of Galatia. The pressure is real because of the desire to perform because of the expectation that ministers do their part and members do theirs.
Do, do, do. But where’s the grace in all of this?
My heart breaks. It’s almost as if the church is constantly concocting programs that try to regain the favor of God all over again. The definition of grace that I was taught as a boy is “getting what you don’t deserve.” It’s the Sunday School answer that I’ve found revolting, because there’s no God in that definition. Grace is God’s love. Love poured out. Love that defines new life for all brokenness. Love that God gives simply because He said, “You’re mine as you are.”
My young children do not try to act up so that I will love them more. They have the absolute assurance that their dad loves them. This is my constant reminder that grace is real, because God doesn’t see my accomplishments to evaluate my status as a child of God. I have no balance or system to work in order for God to love me more—He demonstrated His love for me, for the church, already in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 5:8). All this because He loves me and He wants me to love Him above all else (see Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). This relationship is grace, a love relationship that defined the course of human history through God’s work in the church.
Grace shatters the desire to fit in. Grace cripples the desire to be praised by others because Christ has already secured the church’s place by His side. This grace doesn’t need faking, because grace finds us when we are most authentic. Honest. Vulnerable. It’s in our weakness that grace is made sufficient.
Some people liken grace as a freebie, a handout given at a soup kitchen for the soul; the sustenance needed to carry the feeble soul to higher places. But what if grace is more like a declaration of a relationship grounded in freedom? Not free to do whatever one wishes, but free to become a child of God, accepted freely into His good will. Run. Play. Laugh. I see how I ought to live this life. My kids show me what full acceptance looks like—that is, what full-on security offers me.
The church is a place for this experience of deep-seated, grounded acceptance that comes from a love assured by God and reinforced by the community that seeks to love God more, above all things. When the community of God responds in true worship, there is:
- Joy, which cannot be faked, enlivening the hope in the here and now—and all the uncertainties of the days to come. See Matthew 13:44.
- Boldness in loving others, without the need of validation from others or any expectation to receive something in return. See Matthew 6:1-4.
- Excitement in seeing God advancing Kingdom work: lives changing, faith maturing, growing perspectives into what God is doing. See 1 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4-8.
- Gratefulness in receiving grace, the love that gives us confidence and security in Christ. See 1 Corinthians 4:7.
- Humility in knowing that God is working great things in the body of Christ. See Ephesians 3:20; Ephesians 5.
Ministry involves everyone in the community to respond to the one true, living hope in Christ. Not performing, but striving for excellence in loving others.
If we can’t get this loving part right, we might as well call ministry what it is … fakery.
In 1992, Orman Simmons received a phone call from the chairman of the denominations committee in Arkansas, asking him to serve on one of three boards across the Southern Baptist Convention, one of which was Southern Seminary.
Simmons told the chairman he would serve on any of the boards except Southern Seminary’s.
He knew about Southern Seminary from afar through his church and his ties with the convention. In short, Simmons refused to serve on the seminary’s board because of his interactions with seminary students. He found members of the student body — and the faculty who taught them — distressing because of liberal theology coming out of the school.
Simmons wasn’t the only Southern Baptist with these concerns. That same year, the seminary’s board elected a new president, who they charged with addressing those very theological problems.a new investment
After graduating from the University of Arkansas, marrying his wife, Marilyn, and going to medical school, Simmons served in the Army for three years, including a year in the Vietnam War. He returned to Little Rock after the war for residency — the start of a celebrated, 40-year career as an OBGYN.
Early on in his practice, Simmons reconnected with an old friend from medical school who suggested they start a medical clinic together. Their goal involved providing affordable medical care to any woman in their community who needed it.
Simmons said this provided the best opportunity to invest in these women’s lives as the clinic served both as a medical facility and a ministry, which Simmons and his wife valued as an essential part of their lives as Christians.
Simmons started the medical clinic before he ever received the call from the chairman about the open board position. After he refused to take the position, the chairman called him a second time, saying the committee believed Simmons needed to join the seminary’s board of trustees.
This time, he agreed.
Simmons’ first board meeting coincided with a new president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., who celebrated 25 years as Southern’s president earlier this year. Mohler and Simmons both joined the seminary at a time when board meetings, classrooms, and even the chapel exuded a sense of hostility toward conservative change and new leadership.
Mohler received little support from the seminary community, but Simmons said the board “watched him walk through that season with such grace and poise, even when the meetings were, in terms of trying to meet with the students, not pleasant at all. It felt like them against us.”
Even with the pushback, Mohler “didn’t let personal attachments affect what had to be done to get the seminary back on track,” Simmons said.
The seminary culture began to change when Mohler replaced existing faculty and as new students arrived. The academic personnel committee also started to encourage students to think more about life after the diploma, and what seminary trained them for.
“To see those men come in with a passion for making sure the students understood what they were there for and to make sure they were well prepared for what they were going to meet on the other side of that diploma was absolutely amazing and a joy to behold,” Simmons said. “And to see that transition occur when no one said it could be done was amazing.”
“To watch God do something that we thought couldn’t be done was unbelievable, particularly with some professors whose theology was so off.”
Simmons said the transformation the seminary community experienced over time encouraged him and the other trustees. “To watch God do something that we thought couldn’t be done was unbelievable, particularly with some professors whose theology was so off,” he said. “We happened to be blessed just to walk through this time that God was doing all this work, so to him goes all the glory, not us.”more than a partnership
The Simmons family and the Mohlers developed a friendship that Simmons said they forged through the difficulties of Mohler’s first few months as president, as he worked to rebuild the seminary’s faculty and culture.
“It’s been more than a professional relationship at the seminary,” Simmons said. “This was forged tightly out of all the mess we went through with them while they were going through the transition from the previous administration to get the school back on an even keel.”
The Simmonses continued to invest their lives in the seminary for the next 25 years, sending their children and grandchildren to Southern and Boyce College, investing in the school financially, and continuing a friendship with the Mohlers through the years. Simmons also served as chairman for the Southern Seminary Foundation and was given the Benton Award — the highest honor a Foundation associate can receive. Craig Parker, senior vice president for institutional administration, called the Simmons family the “backbone of the Foundation.”
“Orman and Marilyn love the church and they love the Bible,” Parker said. “Thus, they are completely committed to all we are doing at Southern Seminary, and they have put that commitment on display for a quarter-century. They step up to serve every time we ask.”
The Simmons family has recruited dozens of friends in Little Rock to support the seminary financially, and their daughter and son-in-law are also Foundation associates. Two of the Simmonses’ grandsons — Seth Singleton and Douglas Allison — are graduates of Boyce and Southern, respectively.
“We feel so blessed to have been able
to be there and be a part of it because I didn’t want to do it, and yet the Lord gave me the opportunity to see it all.”
“We’ve felt that what was being done was so blessed by the Lord and was so important to the future that we have invested part of our family, our time, and our income,” Simmons said. “We have a threefold investment and we are so grateful the Lord has allowed us to do this because of the eternal rewards that will be manifest through these commitments.”
Mohler’s sentiments about the Simmons family are similar: “Orman Simmons was one of the earliest trustees to join the seminary’s board of trustees after I became president, and he and Marilyn, and their larger family have been amongst the closest friends, the dearest companions, and the greatest champions we’ve had along this way,” Mohler said in a recent interview.
“We have shared life together. We have often laughed together and sometimes grieved together. We have stood at gravesides together, and have lived the story of Southern Seminary the last 25 years together.”
The Simmonses’ investment in Southern Seminary and in the Mohlers’ lives is not only threefold but eternal and far-reaching, according to Mohler.
“At this point in my life I’m evermore aware of the fact that the story of this school through those years cannot be told without Baptists like Orman and Marilyn Simmons who’ve not only made just a difference but a decisive difference.”
Simmons continues to encourage men and women to attend Southern Seminary, believing it is the best place for ministry preparation. And even though he did not want to get involved with the school in the 1990s, looking back he is grateful both for his time serving the seminary and the blessings he received through joining Mohler in the mission to provide faithful and true theological training for men and women for ministry around the world.
“We feel so blessed to have been able to be there and be a part of it, because I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “And yet the Lord gave me the opportunity to see it all.”
RuthAnne Irvin is an editor for Made to Flourish, a Kansas City-based parachurch ministry.
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Every Sunday, when I finish preaching and come back to my seat in the second row, my ten-year-old daughter gives me two thumbs up. She probably knows that I need the encouragement because of how often she has heard me get in the car and say, “That was terrible.”
Every pastor is prone to self-loathing and exaggeration about how poorly he preached on Sunday. Sometimes, we are telling the truth and the sermon really was that bad. Every pastor will preach a “bad” sermon from time to time.
The issue we must wrestle with is what we do after preaching a bad sermon. Do we stay up all night on Sunday night replaying it in our heads or do we do something a little more productive?
Before we talk about how we should respond after we have preached poorly, we first need to define what a “bad” sermon is.
What Constitutes a “Bad” Sermon?
For the average Christian, a “bad” sermon usually means one that was boring or that went ten minutes too long. However, those of us who preach God’s Word every week need to have a more developed understanding than that. We need to know the aim of a sermon so we can know when we have missed the mark.
For the purposes of this post, I need to lay my cards on the table. I believe in what has been called “expositional preaching.” The best short definition of this type of preaching I have seen is that the main point of the passage under consideration is the main point of the message. In other words, whether you are in a topical series or preaching through a book of the Bible, an expositional sermon seeks to open God’s Word and explain what it says rather than imposing a meaning upon the text.
With that in mind, there are six characteristics of a bad sermon.1. You didn’t explain the passage well
If the point of the text is to be the point of the message, then it follows that our first task is to explain the passage of Scripture. You can’t explain what you don’t understand. My college preaching professor used to say “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew. If you don’t grasp the text, the people aren’t likely to understand it either.2. Your application was shallow
In expositional preaching, you don’t just explain what the passage means. You also press the truth of God’s Word into the hearts and lives of your listeners by making relevant and pointed application. Sometimes your sermons fall flat because your application missed the mark. Sometimes this happens because you didn’t think through your application or you applied the passage to internet debates rather than the people in the room.3. You lacked passion
I hesitate to bring up the issue of passion in preaching because passion can be faked. It is not hard to manufacture excitement, but week-in and week-out, people will be able to tell when passion is genuine and when it is fake. If your heart has not resonated with the message you are preaching, it is going to be hard for people in the pew to care as well.4. You didn’t try to make the sermon interesting
In a perfect world, you don’t have to work on an introduction to get people interested in the sermon, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We dwell in a world where people often go an entire week without thinking about anything related to the things of God. While you don’t want to resort to theatrics to get out the message of the Gospel, you do need to craft sermons that will pique people’s interest and make them want to hear a word from Scripture.5. You didn’t preach the gospel
You don’t preach every sermon like it’s a tent revival, but every sermon must point to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every passage of Scripture helps people understand the work of Christ, so every sermon must point to him as their only hope as well. Look back over yesterday’s sermon. Did you tell people about Jesus’ death and resurrection and call them to faith in him?6. You preached too long
I know that in a perfect world you should be able to preach for two hours and people should hang on every word. However, we live in a world where people struggle to listen to one person talk for a long period of time and very few of us have the ability to be interesting for that long. It is possible — actually, it is probable — that your sermons are at least five minutes too long.
Now that we have seen what defines a bad sermon, here are five steps you need to take when you preach a bad sermon.Trust the Spirit’s work
We never want to become the guys who use the Holy Spirit to excuse a lack of preparation or sloppiness in the pulpit. At the same time, we do need to remember that the Spirit uses even a kernel of truth to impact people’s heart with the gospel message. God’s Word does not return void, so if you preached the truth, even if the sermon fell flat in many ways, the Spirit will use that word in people’s hearts. Trust that he will work. Sometimes unexpected fruit comes from poor sermons.Rest in the gospel
Praise God that we are justified by faith alone and not by good preaching. Pastor, you are a Christian first. If you did not carry out your calling effectively, rest in the finished work of Christ and in the knowledge that you are a child of God by faith alone. Don’t look at next week’s sermon as a chance to redeem yourself, but as an opportunity to proclaim the grace you basked in all week long.Diagnose what went wrong
Look through the characteristics of a bad sermon and figure out if any of them apply to your most recent sermon. Think through your preparation and your delivery. Did you understand the passage? Did you apply it faithfully or superficially? Did you apply it to an internet debate or the people you preached to? Look at the current state of your walk with the Lord and try to remember what time you went to bed Saturday night. Is your walk with the Lord stagnant or vibrant? Was your delivery off on Sunday morning because you did not get enough sleep to be sharp on Sunday?Determine how to address it
Considering what went wrong, how are you going to address the problem? If the problem was with your explanation of the passage, what are you going to do differently in preparation this week? Do you need to tweak the way you study? Should you spend some time discussing the passage with people in your church so that your more faithfully apply the passage? Think about how you are going to preach the gospel from the text this week.
If the issue is with your spiritual life, how are you going to spend more time with the Lord this week? What sins do you need to repent of and how do you need to grow this week? Whatever the issue, come up with a plan of action so that you approach the problem constructively rather than wallowing in self-pity.Rest well next Saturday night
Sometimes we forget that we are whole people. If you do not sleep well on Saturday night, you will not feel well on Sunday morning. It will influence the way you preach. Your mind will not be as sharp and you will have a tired delivery. Cut out caffeine after 5:00 PM and determine that you are going to get in bed a little bit earlier than usual. Don’t start watching a movie at 9 p.m. and avoid the late-night football game. It will be worth it.
By God’s grace, pastor, you have a few days before you stand to preach again. Work hard at study and don’t get up until you understand the passage you are preaching. Think and pray about how to best apply the text to apply the passage to your hearer’s hearts and how to point them to Christ. Then, pray that God’s Spirit will take the words that come from your mouth and use them to change hearts for the Father’s glory.
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