The Amazing Grace of Friendship

| Scott Connell |

January 1, 1773 is a momentous date for hymnody. It not only serves as the date that ‘Amazing Grace’ was first presented to the public by John Newton now almost 250 years ago, but it is also the date that William Cowper penned ‘Conflict: Light Shining Out of Darkness,’ based on John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We know the hymn today as ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way.’ It is hard to imagine a more fruitful single day in English hymnody nor a starker juxtaposition of two texts depicting the nature of the friendship that these compositions represent—grace and darkness.

January 1773 was a difficult month for Cowper, a man often plagued by lengthy periods of depression and even moments of insanity. By the winter of 1773, Cowper and Newton had developed a deep friendship over six years as neighbors and co-laborers in the parish church in Olney, England. Cowper had become a lay minister in Newton’s church, and they often served the people of the parish church together. Newton saw in Cowper what Cowper could not see in himself. He had studied his friend through their countless walks and conversations along the River Ouse and around the parish for ministry. In their time together, he sought to discern the contours of Cowper’s mental landscape and the potential causes of his emotional turmoil. He loved his friend, and he tried to develop strategies to counteract Cowper’s melancholic tendencies, which were often unpredictable and, at times, unreasonable. Brotherly affection had compelled Newton to invite Cowper into his ministry as lay curate at Olney’s parish church, into his writing as a promising poet, and into his life as the closest friend he had outside of his wife. Cowper would similarly characterize Newton when he wrote: “A sincerer or more affectionate friend no man ever had.”

Despite the optimism that a New Year’s Day can bring to some, the first day of 1773 was a devastating day for Cowper. The special morning service over, Cowper began to succumb rapidly to the onset of his life’s third bout with depression that would last in some measure for the remaining 27 years of his life. It also marked the extinguishing of some aspects of Cowper’s evangelical zeal and service. Cowper never attended church again, feeling completely unworthy to do so.

The January episode was demonstrative of a lifetime of mental and emotional turmoil. On his best days, he was distracted and emotionally uneasy by the inner struggles that could pull him into the depths of despair. On his worst days, the undercurrent overcame him, and he was plunged into darkness. January 1773 proved to be such a vortex of emotional turmoil. Cowper had convinced himself that while Jesus’ grace might be extended to anyone else, he had been singularly excluded from that grace by a special decree from God. Writing this profound hymn that afternoon, while there was still some light by which to see, now seems a profound attempt to grasp for that ray of light before he lost sight of it completely. For six years prior, that light most often was embodied in the care of his dear friend, Newton. It is thus fitting that the last words Cowper ever sang in worship included Newton’s now immortal words of sovereign and sustaining grace. One can only imagine how these verses and their eternal theme lodged themselves in the caverns of Cowper’s troubled mind as a musical deposit that Newton could draw upon in the days that followed. What must have crossed Cowper’s mind that day as he sang words of such promise as, “’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” His hymnic response in “God Moves” indicates that in that moment, he believed it would—“the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”

It is impossible to fully comprehend what Cowper was experiencing and how his ability to maintain rational thought could be so elusive. One author explains, “It is in Cowper’s mental condition, which in his later years alternated between assurance and despair, that we discover the fundamental reason for his fears and distresses. Though believing that the Christian was eternally secure, he remained convinced that he was the exception. This conflict of mind exacerbated his distress.”[1] Newton wrote to Cowper of this paradox:

How strong that your judgement should be so clouded in one point only, and that a point so obvious and strikingly clear to every body who knows you!… Though your comforts have been so long suspended, I know not that I ever saw you for a single day since your calamity came upon you, in which I could not perceive as clear and satisfactory evidence that the grace of God was with you, as I could in your brighter and happier times.[2]

Is this not true of some in the church today? They hear of God’s amazing grace but convince themselves that it could not be so for them. How are we to serve them? Newton provides a model for us.

What was Newton compelled to do when his friend was exhibiting such perspectives?

Persist in proclaiming amazing grace!

John Piper calls this “Sing[ing] the gospel to the deaf.” “Let us rehearse the mercies of Jesus often in the presence of discouraged people. Let us point them again and again to the blood of Jesus.”[3] Newton stubbornly ‘sang’ the theme of “Amazing Grace” over his friend for the rest of his life. Even as Cowper protested its applicability, Newton persisted in its theme. He continued to present the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. He found a hundred ways to sing the song of ‘Amazing Grace’ to his friend. He would not relent. He was committed to combating his friend’s insistence on being damned, with Christ’s insistence that ‘grace would lead him home.’ And so, in person, and in writing, Newton faithfully and relentlessly blasted the light of the gospel against the stronghold surrounding Cowper’s mind until it could find a crack or crevice for a ray of grace to seep through. One beam of grace at a time was sufficient to keep him for 27 years. Newton was persuaded that ‘A life of joy and peace’ would one day reward Cowper’s (and his own) persistence. He was jealous for his friend to know such joy and peace for eternity.

We should be the same for our friends.

[1] Cromarty, “Grace in Affliction,” 72.

[2] Letter from John Newton to William Cowper in 1780, cited in Hindmarsh, “The Olney Autobiographers,” 83.

[3] John Piper, “Depression Fought Hard to have Him: William Cowper (1731–1800),” DesiringGod.org, November 26, 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/depression-fought-hard-to-have-him.

How To Help Your LGBTQ Friend

| Spencer Harmon |

If you are an evangelical Christian, the odds are that you know someone in the LGBTQ+ community. If you don’t, you will. 20% of Gen Z identifies as something other than heterosexual.

Pretty soon, you will meet someone who has a partner of the same sex or “identifies” as something other than their biological sex.

What do you need to know as you minister to your friend?

This can be an overwhelming question if you are a Christian who believes the Bible. That is because two things are crystal clear: (1) the Bible teaches that the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is sinful and destructive, and (2) our culture is deeply hostile to anyone who would embrace what the Bible teaches.

That means you are going to get into some tense moments if you are a Christian seeking to be faithful to Jesus during these times.

There is much we could say that would be helpful to understand, but there is only one thing you must understand if you are going to engage with your LGBTQ+ neighbor on these tense topics with truth and love.

You need to know what a human being is.

What Is a Human Being?

The Bible teaches that human beings are created by God in his image as male and female to glorify him, and they are pervasively sinful and must be redeemed.

OK, that is a packed sentence. Let me unpack it and explain why it’s so crucial for you to understand as you engage with your LGBTQ+ friend on these issues.

Human Beings Are Created.

The Bible teaches a stunning and transformative truth about human beings: they are created. Look at the first four words of Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man….”

The implications of this simple truth are explosive in our cultural confusion. If human beings have a Creator, it means he is the one with the authority to define who we are, and we do not. We do not get to decide, fundamentally, who we are, or the nature of truth or reality. Instead, who we are is revealed to us in creation. We will either accept this or suppress it (Romams 1:18).

But that’s not all.

Human Beings Are Image Bearers.

The implications of this simple truth continue to unfurl. God does not simply define us by creating us; he also gets personally involved with us by giving us an identity. Look at the next words of Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

If what God says is true (and it is!), then being a human being means being the image of God as male and female. This means our identity comes from God, not ourselves. My deepest feelings and longings, as real as they are, are not my identity. My identity is not found in myself. My identity is found in God.

This is controversial, yes. But it is also absolutely precious and beautiful.

This means that every human person is precious because they are made in God’s image. It means that God loves every individual human being and has given them an extraordinary purpose to glorify him. It means that both men and women are created by God with a fundamental equality and a glorious capacity to glorify him.

God gives us our identity.

But what if my deepest feelings contradict my God-given identity?

Human Beings Are Pervasively Sinful.

By now, you probably see how different the world of the Bible is from our culture.

The Bible says we have a Creator who authoritatively defines us. Our culture says that we can define ourselves based on our own experiences and desires.

The Bible says we have a specific identity as those created in God’s image to glorify him. Our culture says that our identity is a fluid thing that can change based on the experience of our desires and feelings.

But how does the Bible explain what we see in our culture? Isn’t it true that many people experience gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction? How can this happen if what God said is true? If God has designed us, it seems like human beings aren’t operating according to that design.

That is exactly what the Bible teaches.

The Bible teaches that after God created human beings and gave them their identity and purpose to glorify him as male and female, we rebelled against him and rejected his authority. Since that moment, sin has corrupted us pervasively – in every way.

Sin now corrupts our minds. This is how Paul explains it in Ephesians 4:18:

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”

Did you see that? By nature, human beings are darkened in mind. We are ignorant. We are hard-hearted. This means that we don’t think about life according to God’s design. Paul says in Romans 1 that we look on God’s design in what he created, and we suppress what we see and live in rebellion to it.

This is the answer the Bible gives for why people experience transgender feelings. It’s the answer the Bible gives for why people pursue a homosexual lifestyle. Sin has pervasively impacted human beings, and as a result, we rebel against God’s design.

Conclusion: We Must be Redeemed

This is why the last part of our definition is so important: humans must be redeemed.

The Bible teaches that freedom for human beings is not found in rebelling against God’s design to live according to our sinful desires. Instead, the Bible teaches that freedom from sin’s pervasive effects is found in trusting the only perfect human being: Jesus Christ.

This is what we have to offer our LGBTQ+ friends: hope through Jesus.

Yes, the Bible teaches that we are born with a corrupt mind that thinks and feels sinfully. But it also teaches that it is possible for people to be “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” and to put on a “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).

Through repentance and faith in Jesus – we can experience real transformation on the inside. Our LGBTQ+ friends can experience desires that align with righteousness and holiness.

Our culture is telling us that freedom and hope are found outside of God by reinventing and redefining our world apart from him. But it’s a lie. It’s found in Him.

The only way we can be free from the condemnation and guilt that we deserve for suppressing God’s truth revealed to us in his creation is found in Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to absorb our judgment so that there would be no condemnation left for us (Romans 8:1).

And the only way to experience freedom from the painful impact of this sin-cursed world on our bodies is found in Jesus Christ, who resurrected from the dead to set this world free from its bondage to corruption so that we would experience this dazzling reality called the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:22).

We have a great hope to offer our LGBTQ+ friends, and it starts with the answer to a very simple question with a glorious answer: what is a human being?

Human beings are created by God in his image as male and female to glorify him, and they are pervasively sinful and must be redeemed.

Miscarriage and Mercy

| Andrew Morrell |

A Dark Day

“Oh, my! It looks like you are having twins.”

These were the first words the doctor spoke to us at my wife Kate’s routine ten-week ultrasound.

The news was surprising and wonderful. God had given us not one beautiful child created in his image but two.

“Hang on,” the doctor said only a few seconds later. “One of them doesn’t have a heartbeat.”

We walked out of our doctor’s office that day bearing the weight of a reality that was unthinkable when we walked in. One of the beautiful and precious twins that had lived in Kate’s womb for a few short weeks was now dead. We wouldn’t get to squeeze his cheeks, tickle his belly, or watch him grow up. He was gone. We named him Samuel.

It was a Tuesday. And it was the darkest day of our life.

As we got into our car to drive back home, the darkness of miscarriage descended on us like a thick fog. And yet, even as we sat in our car weeping, the light of God’s mercy began to pierce through that dark fog.

In this post, I want to share four ways that the light of God’s mercy met us in the darkness of miscarriage.

1. The Mercy of God’s Presence

 As we sat in our car outside the doctor’s office, we felt alone. No one else besides our doctor knew about the miscarriage. We were bearing the burden of this terrible news all on our own.

But in the lonely darkness of miscarriage, God met us with the bright mercy of his presence. As we sat in our car and wept with broken hearts, God was faithful to his Word: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). On the day of our trouble, God proved himself to be a very present help (Psalm 46:1).

Moreover, God’s presence brought the comfort of sympathy. Our doctor didn’t understand. She responded to the miscarriage by making a glib joke about “dodging a bullet.” But Jesus understood. Jesus is a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). This meant that the one present with us in our pain was also the one who could understand our pain more than anyone else.

In the darkness of miscarriage, God meets you with the merciful light of his presence.

2. The Mercy of God’s Promises

 What hurts the most about miscarriage is the loss of promise. It crushes all the hopes and dreams you had for your child. All that remains is the sharp pain of knowing none of it will happen. This hopelessness overtook us even as we drove home from the doctor’s office.

But God met us with the mercy of his promises, and through those promises, he gave us hope.

He gave us hope in his faithfulness. It didn’t matter how dark or painful the road ahead of us was. We knew that God would be with us (Hebrews 13:5) and would never let anything separate us from his love (Romans 8:39).

He gave us the hope of purpose. We didn’t know why God decided to take Samuel away only a few short weeks into his life. We lamented and even dared to ask God why he would allow such suffering into our lives. But we knew God was in control. We knew he loved us. And we knew that he would bring good out of this terrible reality (Romans 8:28).

He gave us the hope of heaven. Though we were experiencing the acute pangs of suffering and death, we knew a day was coming when God himself would wipe all our tears away (Revelation 21:4). We knew a day was coming when we would be reunited with Samuel and see his face for the very first time in resurrection glory (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

Into the darkness of miscarriage, the promises of God shine the light of present and future hope.

3. The Mercy of God’s People

We were tempted to stay in the darkness of miscarriage. The prospect of sharing this news with others and letting them in on our pain was daunting.

But God answers the weakness and vulnerability that miscarriage brings with the support and love of his people. And that is exactly what he did for us.

As we shared our burden with members of our church family, God used them as a source of encouragement and care. Friends checked in on us and brought us meals. Other women in our church who had experienced miscarriage reached out to Kate and told her their stories. Countless people prayed for us. They bore our burden (Galatians 6:2). This encouraged us and made us thankful in a way we didn’t even think was possible amid the grief we were experiencing.

The light of Christlike love and care and service from God’s people pierces into the darkness of miscarriage.

4. The Mercy of God’s Preservation

 The pain of miscarriage morphs. At first, it is like the sharp pain of an open flesh wound. But over time, the pain dulls and becomes more like scar tissue. You carry it around with you always, but the aches come in occasional waves.

Kate and I face these aches in a very unique way. Samuel’s identical twin brother Teddy is now two. His life is a testimony to the mercy of God to not only take a son from us but also to give us one. But his life is also a reminder of our loss. Every milestone we pass with Teddy – his first step, his first word, etc. – is a milestone we didn’t get to pass with Samuel. As the milestones stack up, so does the sense of loss.

But the mercy of God isn’t a one-and-done kind of mercy. It is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). And that means that each permutation of pain is met with a fresh dose of God’s preserving mercy. Our faith remains steadfast and steady today because his mercy met us again this morning.

The light of God’s mercy has shone into the darkness of miscarriage from the moment we began to weep in our car to this very moment as we continue to deal with the aches and pangs of loss. And we are confident that his mercy will continue to preserve us until the end.

A Darker Day

The Tuesday we found out about the miscarriage was a dark day. But an even darker day preceded it. That day was the darkest day in all of human history. It was the day that Jesus Christ, the Author of Life himself, was nailed to a cross and died.

But even the darkness of Jesus’ death could not blot out the light of God’s mercy. Rather, from the darkness of Jesus’ death burst forth the radiant light of his resurrection. And now, because Jesus lives, all the brilliant rays of God’s mercy shine into the life of everyone who places their faith in him. Because Jesus Christ subjected himself to the darkest day in history, you can find hope in the mercy of God on the darkest day of your life.

Loving Difficult People

| Ernie Baker |

Let’s be honest; some people are hard to love. Unfortunately, from the stories I hear, it is often a spouse.

Your difficult person may not be a spouse; he could be an extended family member or even someone in your church who just “rubs you the wrong way.” 

A Model to Follow

As we live our lives, the realities of our fallen world are realized in our difficult relationships. Scripture is realistic about this. In particular, as Paul writes, he applies biblical teaching to this very subject. In Ephesians 5, he writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (vs. 1-2). Who are the “us” that Christ loved? Certainly not very loveable people (see 4:17-19)!

In these verses, our Lord dying on the cross for difficult people is being done as an act of worship to the Father. We have a humbling model to follow.

Identifying the Difficult People

Paul is writing to people in what must have been a tense situation. Roman citizens and Jews who had become converts were now in the same church in a Roman Colony named Ephesus (See 2:12-18). Can you imagine the potential for conflict?

If you grew up in a Roman home, you would have been taught to think of Jews as rabble-rousers. Jewish children were taught to think of the Romans as oppressors who were suppressing the liberties of Jews. Now they are in church together! Paul is deeply concerned that they learn how to get along in Christ (4:1-3).

Paul believed that the ground at the cross is level, and the gospel of grace and mercy makes relationships work… even with difficult people!

Maybe you married a person from a different cultural background, or that person you are having a hard time loving in your church just doesn’t see things your way because of his family or church upbringing.

My wife and I come from very distinct backgrounds. My family is deeply rooted in American history. Two branches of my family have been in the country for almost 400 years and another for almost 300!

My wife’s family, though, on both her mother and father’s side, has been in the U.S. since the early 1900s and comes from a Slavic origin with all the ethnicity that comes with that (including special Christmas cookies from Czechoslovakia)!  There were some rubs early in our marriage, especially with my mother-in-law. I wasn’t like them, and I wasn’t from their area.

In addition to the background of Ephesians, it is clear in the book itself who these difficult people are. The people our Lord died for “Lived in the passions of … flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3). I counsel people who live carrying out the desires of their bodies and minds. These are not nice people to be around (see also 4:17-19)!

If we are going to love difficult people who are like this, we will need some deep motivation.

Motives for Following the Model

I am reminded of how important having a deeper motivation for loving difficult people is when I remember a specific counselee. I had asked a wife to show love to her husband in specific ways throughout the week. She said, “I don’t love him, and you wouldn’t want me to be a hypocrite, would you? If I show him love, but I don’t feel it, I would be a hypocrite.” What would you say?

My response was to ask her if she could love him as an act of love for her Lord in appreciation for the grace she had received in Christ. You see, as people overwhelmed by grace, we give grace and forgiveness (see Matthew 18:33-35). How much are you moved by the grace you have received?

The bigger my sin looks to me, the smaller other’s sins against me look in comparison. Why should I have a great degree of toleration for my wife and others? Because I remember how much God, in Christ, tolerates me (see 4:2).

As Beloved Children

Paul gives some motivations right in the verses. First, if we are part of God’s family, there ought to be family characteristics. According to Ephesians, we have been adopted into God’s family (1:5). There should be a family resemblance, so Paul says to be imitators of God as beloved children.

It may feel impossible to love this person who is like sandpaper. However, it is not. Because of the gospel, we are capable of supernatural acts of love and should be motivated to do so if we are truly in the family (see 3:20-21).

As a Fragrant Offering and Sacrifice

Here is another motivation—the strongest, in my opinion. As our Lord hung on the cross, His sacrifice was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. “Offering and sacrifice” is Old Testament worship language. In other words, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who gave Himself for our wretchedness as an act of worship. He is asking us to do the same for the wretch in our lives.

Be encouraged! God considers it an act of worship to Him each time we choose to love a difficult person like Christ did while hanging on the cross.

If you can’t love the person because of your affection for him, can you love out of your affectionate worship for the Lord?

Some Practical Ideas and Perspective

Perhaps you are seeing the need to love the difficult person in your life, so here are some ideas for how to do it.

Consider reading Matthew’s account of the crucifixion in chapter 27 daily for a week and ask the Lord to melt your heart by what your Savior did for you on the cross.

List your five worst sins (maybe no one else knows about them) and thank the Lord for forgiving you (if you have asked for forgiveness). Then, ask yourself what it would be like for you if God treated you the way you treat the difficult person in your life (see Matthew 7:12).

One last thought: you are probably the difficult person to someone else.

Will the Church Arise in the Ashes of Roe?

| RJ Lago |

The Fall of Roe

In the 8th century, Saint Boniface[1] was implored to not cut the tree of Thor down. This mighty oak was believed to be a tree belonging to Thor, the god of thunder. The people pleaded with Boniface to not cut down the tree or else bring curses, fire, and destruction to the people. As he approached with an ax, the people shouted piercing screams till they saw the ax thunder into the tree’s side.

When the tree finally fell, many in the town immediately repented at the proclaimed Gospel of Jesus Christ. The story goes that the same tree was hauled off to be used to build the first church for the town. Saint Boniface watched the mighty oak of a pagan god be brought down, and the sound of its thunderous fall is still rolling today.

Another pagan god’s mighty oak has come down: Roe v Wade. For years children have been destroyed on the altar of human autonomy. The church of Christ has been fighting for this moment. You can read more on that here, but my hope in this article is to describe one way we must take this fallen oak and make it into a work of the Lord. The answer is for the church to arise and adopt and or care for all these children.

Three points on this:

1. A Crucial Work

My wife asked me, after we celebrated the overturning of Roe, what happens to the children who won’t be killed now? The answer is a difficult but simple one. Christians must fill the gap and embrace the weight of these children’s needs.

I give no qualifiers to this statement: if you are a Christian, you are called to care for the orphans in our society (James 1:27). I do not mean that you must adopt a child tomorrow, but every Christian must care for the fatherless at some level. Jesus calls the children to himself without hindrance because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them (Mark 10:14). So, now the church has a supreme opportunity to care for children born to mothers who would have previously killed them. Will the church follow her Savior and bring the children into her arms? Or will we let the state do our God-given assignment?

With the falling of the great oak of Roe v Wade, a superior tree must be planted in its place: the charity of the local church. One of the main points for abortion has been the argument that these children will have a horrible life, be subject to the foster system, or be unwanted. These outcomes only happen because of sin. When men and women have sex outside the God-given bounds of marriage—consequences ensue. The irony is that no child is a consequence. Instead, children are a blessing. The church must embrace this blessing and adopt the gift as her own.

My wife and I became foster parents in 2019, and our first placement has become our oldest son. He is a dancing miracle. My son is one of the greatest joys in my life, and I cannot imagine the world without him. The process was, at times, exceedingly difficult. Nevertheless, the blessing to our family of him in our home is far superior to any other outcome. The Church is missing this blessing today.

Here are a few ways to evaluate your life as it relates to picking up the burden of fostering and adopting children:

  1. Have you ever considered fostering or adopting a child in America? Why or why not?
  2. Are you supporting or starting a ministry at your church to care for the children of this country?
  3. Even if you are single, older, or unable to presently care for a child: how are you supporting those who are fostering or adopting?
  4. Are you making excuses or letting the fear of the arduous work of fostering or adopting stunt your action to serve Christ?

2. The Church Has Always Done This Work

Until recent history, Christians have carried the burden of society’s orphans and the needy. Since the earliest days of the Christian church, the reputation was that the church would meet the needs of the orphans. Early Christians would routinely save children abandoned to die on a dung heap and raise them as their own. Many historical Christians founded orphanages, hospitals, and schools for these adopted children. Adopting and caring for children is not a new call on the church but a renewed call.

Thankfully the Apostle Paul gives us clarity for our mission: present yourself as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1–2). The church must present herself as a sacrifice by doing the work that our brothers and sisters of old have always done. To see the end of abortion, we must witness the church reclaim her beauty in caring for the least of these.

Historically the church has championed the care and adoption of the lowly. Only in recent memory have we neglected this call and given it to the state to strangle. But we read that God has taken it upon Himself to care for the afflicted (Psalm 10:16–18; Deuteronomy 10:18). Furthermore, you are not a Christian until you have experienced His adoption by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:12–17).

The Christian is saved by God’s grace. This abundant mercy means that God forgives our sin at the cross of Jesus Christ, but He also adopts us as children (Galatians 4:4–7). We were children of wrath, but now because of the power of adoption, we are sons and daughters of God (Ephesians 1:3–14, 2:1-10). The Christian is adopted, and now the question is: will we correspondingly care for the needy children? Will the Church rise to her former glory and stand in the gap for the children of this nation? I believe, by God’s power, she must.

3. If the Church Will Not Rise, Who Will?

Consider what our nation has just done for almost 50 years: we have slaughtered 60 million babies. Do you trust our government to fix the solution? The answer for 50 years has been to kill the problem of “unwanted” pregnancies, not love them. Instead, the call is louder than the sound of a tree falling in the woods. The church must rise and overwhelm the adoption and foster systems with the love of Christ.

Adoption and foster care ministry is demanding but abundantly worthwhile. The children in a Christian home will be loved, cared for, and taught the gospel at every age. Every church that proclaims the true gospel of Christ must see the end of Roe as a tremendous opportunity to reach the lost. Our people must fall in love with adoption and foster care, and we must encourage everyone to strive in these endeavors. Every church and her members must pick up the cross and care for the needy.

Till Every Child Has a Home

May 24th, 2022, is the day our son took my name as a Jr. and became a Lago. It was one of the best days of my life. I had been in courtrooms before for tragic events, but this was a joyous occasion. We were adopting our son.

Immediately before we stood before the judge, we were told that we had to give a reason for wanting to adopt our son. What would you say? Matthew 10:19–20 came into my mind at that moment, and I asked God for wisdom in this historic family moment. I said (if I remember correctly because it was so nerve-racking) what I hoped you would say, “I am a Christian. I love Jesus Christ because He first loved me. I want to adopt this boy because God has adopted me as a son because of the work of Jesus Christ. God gives us this call to care for the needy. All the praise goes to Christ.”

Countless children, like my son, need a Christian to stand before a judge and advocate for them. The church must stand up and adopt these children in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God.

[1] Radiant: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History By Richard M. Hannula

A Personal Health Update

| Heath Lambert |

Dear First Baptist Family,

This morning I shared with our church the bad news that I now require another surgery in an attempt to correct the nerve problems in my brain. For anyone who was not there, I wanted to share this information with you.

Many of you know that since my second surgery last year, I have endured ongoing symptoms of pain, discomfort, and spasms. I have been able to manage some of these symptoms with medication that have stifled the pain and minimized the involuntary movement, but it has become increasingly clear that my problem has remained.

A few months ago, I was recommended to a different neurosurgery team at a different hospital to see if there was anything more that could be done to address this problem. Just over a week ago, I met with my new doctor to review the results of my latest MRI. Unfortunately, those images clearly show more blood vessels compressing a crucial nerve in my brain. This neve compression is the cause of my trouble and must be relieved for me to have any chance of improvement. The only way to do this is with another surgery.

For those of you keeping count, this will be the third surgery on my brain in three years. These operations are grueling; I am tired of them and do not relish the thought of another one. Nevertheless, this is what the Lord has for me. It is so clear that this is from the Lord and that he wants me to experience another season of profound weakness. I know God. I love him, and I know he loves me. I trust that this hard thing will be a good thing in his compassionate hands.

In 1 Samuel 3, Eli the priest gets bad news about suffering that he and his family are going to endure, and his response is to say simply, “He is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:18). These are the first words I thought about when I got the news last week, and they are a reflection of my own heart. God is in control of every part of my life. It is mine simply to go where he leads.

Sharing this news with you is very hard for me. To be completely open with you, I dread dragging our church through another one of my surgeries almost more than I dread the surgery itself. You have always been so kind, so generous, so compassionate, and loving, but I know all this takes a toll on you too. I am so sorry about this and want to ask you to please come with me another step on this painful journey I’ve been walking.

As we go down this road together, I want to ask you to pray for several specific things.

Pray for my family. Pray for everyone, but especially for Lauren. Nobody has a heavier burden to bear in the aftermath of these surgeries than she does. Lauren is the kindest and most faithful wife there is. She loves me, wants me better, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens. But recovery from these surgeries is a heavy load. It requires her to be more than a wife. It requires her to be a nurse and single mom. Ask the Lord for grace and strength as she does this.

Pray for me. This has been a long road for me. This trouble started for me in 2017. It has been five years of dealing with this difficulty. Then there are the surgeries. The point of the surgery is to solve a nerve problem but to solve it, they have to create a hole in the back of my head to access it. That means that I wake up from surgery with what amounts to a bullet hole in the back of my skull. To say that recovery is unpleasant is, to say the very least. Please pray for comfort and rest while I recover and that I would bounce back quickly. More than that, it would mean more than I can express if you would please pray that this surgery would work, that the Lord would heal me, and that this painful trial could finally come to an end.

Finally, pray for our church. No surgery comes at an opportune time. But exciting things are happening at our church right now, including expanded educational space, new space for ministry to people with disabilities, completion of our newly-renovated auditorium, and near-completion of our renovated and expanded gathering space in the West Lobby. More than that, we have had dozens of people joining our church. It is exciting, and I want to help, not slow it down. Pray that our church grows, expands, and increases its faithfulness during this time. Pray we grow in love and dependence toward God. Pray that we look back on this and see his hand using this to guide us into a new and exciting season in the life of our church.

On August 4, another surgeon is going to drill into my skull for the third time in three years. When he begins his work of cutting and drilling, it will be an extreme act, but not a violent one. Everything he does that day will be to care for and help me. If a human physician knows how to use scalpels in an effort to bring about good, then we can trust The Great Physician to turn all of our suffering for our good and his glory.

In each of my other surgeries, I have met with the Lord in profound and powerful ways that have changed my life. I believe that is going to happen this time as well. But it is not enough for me that I meet with God. I want all of us to do that. Let’s pray together that this will be a time of growth and spiritual renewal where God does exciting things beyond anything we ask or imagine.

I have great confidence that this is exactly what will happen.

Regardless of what happens, however, I want you to know how much I love you. I can’t imagine that any pastor has ever experienced such great love from such a remarkable group of Christians as you. It is my joy—and the joy of my entire family—to live with you, to serve with you, to grow in Jesus together, and to love you and to be loved by you. Thank you for everything you are and for all that you do.

I love you with all my heart and can’t wait to see you in September.

In Jesus,

Pastor Heath.

Refusing to Celebrate in a Post-Roe World

| Heath Lambert |

A Moral Earthquake

The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson was a massive earthquake that rocked the entire world. Only time will tell how massive is the number it registered on the cultural Richter scale. What we know right now is that there was a massive fault line separating professing believers. You might not have seen it before, but the Dobbs earthquake has turned that fault line into a massive chasm.

That chasm separates two kinds of people in the Christian community.

A Chasm Between Two Kinds of Professing Believers

On one side of the chasm are the Christians who are celebrating the end of the era of Roe. On the other side of the chasm are those who are not.

I have taken one opportunity to celebrate this moment in a blog and another opportunity in front of the congregation at First Baptist Church. Here, I want to strain my eyes across the wide chasm separating those of us who are celebrating and try to understand the tiny little figures walking around quietly on the other side of the breach. Their silence is motivated by something important and has mammoth implications. If you’re excited about the overturning of Roe, then you need to understand what is going on with those who express no joy.

Two logical possibilities exist to explain the refusal of leaders to celebrate in the Christian world.

Two Options Explain the Absence of Joy

The first option is that they are not celebrating because they are not happy. They believe the Supreme Court got it wrong and that we were better off the way things were. This is appallingly wrong but simple enough to understand.

The second option is that they are happy Roe was overturned but are unable to say so. That one is tricky. How are we to explain so-called Christian leaders whose job it is to give commentary on cultural issues yet remain silent on one of the greatest moral and cultural developments of our time?

Granting exceptions to any leader who has been bound, gagged, and trapped in a basement since the decision—or any other such providential hindrances—the only logical reason for the silence is that a public celebration would offend people they wish to please.

The Biblical Truth Behind a Refusal to Celebrate

There they are. Two reasons exist for a refusal to celebrate Dobbs on the part of apparently Christian leaders. One has to do with a lack of joy in a just decision; the other has to do with a lack of will to express that joy in front of unjust people.

Neither of those are good reasons, and neither of them bode well for the integrity of the so-called Christian leaders.

As you think about that, consider the words of Proverbs 21:15, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

There is a lot to say about the implications of that passage to joyless men and women who think of themselves as Christian leaders. But one truth needs to sink deep into the hearts of those of us who are happy. It is this: the Christian leaders who have refused to celebrate this wonderfully just decision from the Supreme Court have revealed their heart and have lost any claim they have to be a trusted voice for Christians. They must repent.

The Bible, The Supreme Court, and Bodily Autonomy

| Heath Lambert |

Since Dobbs v Jackson overturned Roe v Wade the cry of opposition has been that the fundamental rights of women have been abridged. Sometimes that cry sounds like, “my body, my choice.” At other times it sounds like women refusing to let their “reproductive rights” be infringed. The driving logic behind all this is a belief in bodily autonomy. The idea is that since my body is—well—mine, I can do what I want with it.

We must think through such a claim from the standpoint of biblical faithfulness. Here, I want to offer four thoughts in response to the claim of bodily autonomy.

Bodily Autonomy and Legitimacy

First, those who argue for bodily autonomy have some things right. Our bodies are sacred, valuable, and infinitely precious. The Bible is clear that we are made as human beings by God in his image (Genesis 1:26). Those arguing for bodily autonomy might locate the reason for our worth in something other than the Bible, but we all agree that our bodies are precious, that those bodies are to be honored and protected, and that no person has the right to oppress, harm, or otherwise attack our bodies unjustly.

All agree that things like murder, sexual abuse, and other kinds of assault are wrong.

Bodily Autonomy and Abortion

In fact, it is just at this point that those who argue for bodily autonomy are so gravely mistaken. Because we agree that the human body is sacred and protected, this argument is the exact point where those in favor of abortion are so desperately and ironically wrong. Regulations against abortion are not meant to attack the body of the woman but to protect the body of the unborn baby. If we want to talk about the value of bodies, we have to talk about the value of all of them, not just the bodies that can speak, hold signs, and walk into Planned Parenthood clinics.

That babies are a distinct human life is beyond dispute. This has been established by scientific authorities, like the American College of Pediatrics who say, “At fertilization, the human being emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species of Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is one of form, not nature.”

More importantly, the full humanity of unborn babies is established by God in his Word, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

The bodies of babies are obviously dependent on the bodies of adults, but this does not remove their worth. If you locked me in a room full of formula and diapers with a baby for one month and came back to find I had let the baby starve, you would never accept an excuse of bodily autonomy from me. Instead, you would insist that righteousness demands that I use my body to protect the body of someone who needs my help. This is never more true than with the bodies of women caring for the precious bodies in their womb.

Bodily Autonomy and The Supreme Court

The response from pro-abortion advocates has been guided more by outrage than fact. The Supreme Court refused to say whether abortion should be legal or not. The Supreme Court was silent on religious reasons for or against abortion. The Court made a straightforward decision about what the Constitution says, “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

This decision is so clear that I hardly think I can improve on it but with so much confusion these days, it is worth a shot. The Supreme Court said they have no authority to give a judicial fiat in favor of or against abortion. Their decision says that if a person wants to use her freedom to try to get an abortion, she has every right to get a group of people together and pass laws to allow that.

That same freedom, however, goes to those of us who oppose abortion. We have the right to get another group of people together and try to restrict abortion. We will use that freedom with all our might.

The Supreme Court, in other words, has not infringed on bodily autonomy. It didn’t even speak to it. They made a decision to ensure that Americans have the freedom to work this out for themselves.

We must pray that we will use that freedom righteously.

Bodily Autonomy and God

Now we come to the heart of the matter. I established earlier that the value of the body comes from our creation by God in his image. But I stopped short of endorsing the claim of bodily autonomy. That is because, though our bodies have worth and value and must be protected, we are not really autonomous over our bodies. As God’s creation, we belong entirely to him.

Psalm 100:3 rings out over all creation, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his.”

Every Christian must be gripped by the truth of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”

Whether in creation or redemption, we are the property of God himself.

That means regardless of what any human authority says, whether, from a group of physicians, lawyers, or rioters, we only have the freedom to do with our bodies that which honors God.

No one who acknowledges the authority of God could ever claim bodily autonomy and would never seek to snuff out a precious life he made.

Summer Reading Recommendations

| Sean Perron |

Summer is an ideal time for rest and recreation. During the hot month of July, many people try to vacation, rest, and change up their normal pace of life.

Perhaps you are looking for an enjoyable book to read before the summer comes to an end.

A good book isn’t just enjoyable; it changes you. Reading often blows fresh wind into your spiritual sails if you are discouraged by a trial or struggling with sin. Even the Apostle Paul knew the value of reading and asked Timothy to bring him books while in prison (2 Timothy 4:13).

Whether you are in prison or by the pool, reading a Godward book is a real gift.

I know people who read voraciously. I have other friends who don’t remember the last time they read a book. Wherever you are on the reading spectrum, I have a modest goal.

Buy one of the books on this list and give at least one chapter a try—just one chapter.

I am confident this is obtainable. It is just one book added to your nightstand and just one chapter on a weekend or weeknight. If this plan seems like an absurdly small goal, then you can achieve it! If this plan seems overwhelming to you, then you need to cut something out of your schedule to be able to breathe a bit more this summer.

Not all books are created equal. Some books should only be browsed, and some should never have been written. The three books listed below won’t waste your time and will increase your faith. They have eternal significance, and I suspect you won’t be able to stop at just one chapter.

1. Hope: Living Confidently in God (31-Day Devotionals for Life) by John Crotts

Who doesn’t need hope these days? This small book won’t disappoint you. My wife, Jenny, and I have been reading one chapter a night out loud before bed. Each chapter is short but is packed full of rich ingredients. Your faith will be enhanced, and discouragement in your heart will be lifted. The book is also centered on the gospel and is a great gift to give unbelievers.

2. The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

We all talk about grace…but do we really understand it? This readable book has changed thousands of lives. It brings about a significant shift in thinking about grace. It addresses simple yet profound questions such as: How does God view you before and after you sin? How does God think about you on your best and worst days? How do you grow as a Christian?

3. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

Have you ever been confused when reading the Bible? The Bible can be intimidating and complex! This is my favorite book on how to understand God’s word. Each question is important, and each answer is digestible. The content will deepen your understanding of the Scripture and leave you hungry for more. You also don’t have to read the book cover to cover; you can just read whatever questions interest you.

Whether your summer involves cookouts, beach trips, or the park, I hope you will enjoy a good book that brings you closer to God. May it be as refreshing to you as a cold glass of lemonade!

Three Ways God Guides Us In Making Decisions

| Sean Perron |

Where should I go to school? Should I take this new job? Should I pursue marriage? How many kids should we have?

There are countless decisions we encounter throughout life. Some are big; some are small.

Regardless of the size, Christians can often be confused about God’s will for their lives. Perhaps even the thought of making decisions stirs up anxiety and paralyzing fear.

How should we think through the decision-making process? While every question can’t be answered in a blog, there are three basic principles that can guide us. Knowing God’s will starts with Scripture, includes desires, and ends with resting in God’s kind sovereignty.

1. God Guides First and Foremost Through His Revealed Will

His revealed will can be found in the Bible and is not hidden from believers. God has been kind to give believers specific directions concerning life and godliness. If someone is looking for inner direction without listening to God’s directions in the Bible, it’s like they are looking for eyeglasses already on their nose. It does not make sense to ignore what God has already spoken in an effort to obtain special knowledge of his secret will. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Expecting God to reveal some hidden will of direction is an invitation to disappointment and indecision.”

What are some of the specific directions God has given in his Scripture? The Bible is clear that holiness is a part of his will for every Christian’s life (Hebrews 12:14). God’s will for every Christian is to grow in godliness (1 Thessalonians 4:3). One very practical question for making decisions is, “will this cause me to look more like Jesus?” If the answer is “no” to this question, God is guiding you away from that direction. If the answer is “yes,” God has given you some strong measure of direction on the matter.

It might be helpful to eliminate choices during the decision process. For instance, the Proverbs address the issue of work ethic and time management (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:27). The question should be asked, how could I work to the glory of God in the current situation I am in? This type of question seeks to apply God’s revealed will and therefore glorify God in everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). God certainly honors this obedience and fills the believer’s heart with joy instead of gloom. Instead of being reactive and waiting for God to give an inner sense, it would be more biblical to begin obeying the commands found in the Bible, which God has already revealed.

2. God Can Use Desires To Guide Us

After assessing the facts of Scripture, how should a believer make decisions between multiple good biblical choices? Perhaps there are three promising job opportunities that all meet the biblical criteria. Perhaps there are two potential mates that are pursuing Christ and have great personalities. One helpful question at this point is, which do I desire most?

The Bible addresses how the desires of the heart fit into the decision-making process. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse teaches that desires are, in fact, an aspect of God’s guidance. There is an “inner sense” that God sometimes gives concerning decisions in life. However, this inner sense is formed by the truths of Scripture. If someone is delighting in God, then their desires will certainly be shaped by God and his words. In this way, a person can have the freedom to act as he desires if he is walking with Christ daily. There is a freedom God gives to those who love him, and God leads them by the desires he gives them. One should not be afraid to act if the desire is informed by the Bible and flowing from a heart that is seeking Christ. You can pray, “God give me holy desires and establish my steps as I seek your will.” God leads his people by giving desires as they delight themselves in him. It has rightly been pointed out by DeYoung that even the apostle Paul made decisions this way in Acts 15:28 and 20:16. This is a freeing reality, and it can help immensely to know that God often wants his people to act on the things they want.

3. God Guides Our Lives Under His Caring Sovereignty

What if we don’t know what we should do? We must prayerfully trust God to guide us even when we are confused. Making decisions in life cannot be addressed without mentioning the sovereignty of God. Romans 8:28 is important in understanding how God directs the circumstances and decisions of life for the good of his people, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Learning that God sovereignly works even the smallest decisions out for the good of his people is a big relief. We can be confident that God will work all things together for our good if we love God.

Paul gives us a beautiful passage in Ephesians 1:3-14. In verse 11, he says that we have an inheritance with the God who works all things according to the counsel of his will. This is comforting and reassuring that God’s loving guidance surrounds us at all times. If I have a clear sense of my long-term destiny, then that will affect the way I live and will influence how I evaluate the events of my everyday life. If a believer is delighting himself in the Word and beginning to obey the Scriptures in any given issue he encounters, then he can feel freedom under the sovereignty of God to act according to the desires God places in his heart.

This is also encouraging because even if he does not feel any overwhelming desires, he can trust that God will order his steps for his good. Proverbs 16:3-9 tells the believer to commit their work to the Lord, and then their plans will be established. Desires do not have to be present in order for God to be kind to his people and guide their steps.

What decisions in life are you facing? Where do you need to turn to the Lord, knowing he cares for you and will guide you as you act in faith? Whether your decisions are big or small, God can guide you through it all.

 

Roe Is Over—Now What?

| Heath Lambert |

A Day I Never Thought Would Come

I was born in 1979, just six years after the Supreme Court effectively made abortion the law of the land in Roe v. Wade. My entire life has been overshadowed by the legality of the vile practice of abortion. Since becoming a Christian in 1994 I have done whatever I could to help bring an end to this era of death. I have longed for it, prayed for it, voted for it, and raised money for it.

But, in retrospect, I realize I never saw a true path to ending it. I believed my efforts were faithful, but I never really saw how they could be fruitful. The deck always seemed stacked against reversing the decision. And then came this glorious day, June 24, 2022. A day which will be remembered in eternity as one of justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. It is a day so many of us have desired for so long. Roe v. Wade is overturned.

In a serious and tightly argued opinion that you should take the time read, the Supreme Court argued that its precedents on this issue have been based on rights never included in the constitution, weak legal arguments, and specious science. They state definitively, “All in all, Roe’s reasoning was exceedingly weak, and academic commentators, including those who agreed with the decision as a matter of policy, were unsparing in their criticism.” The Court’s decision ends with these words,

Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives. The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

And there it is. It is so ordered. When I read those words, I wept. Roe is over. Abortion is no longer considered to be the law of the land.

But now what?

Let me suggest three things.

1. This Is a Time for Christians to Praise

Psalm 146:1 commands, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!” That is a command we should always obey, but on days like today we feel the urgency of it more than normal. After decades under an iniquitous legal ruling, and after the massacre of over 60 million lives, God has given our country a precious gift.

Oh, how we must praise the Lord today. We must praise the Lord for this decision, for the lives it will save, for the wisdom of the court’s conservative majority, for the presidents who appointed them, and for the governors, lawyers, and attorney generals who fought this case all the way to the Supreme Court. We must praise the Lord for his faithfulness, justice, mercy, grace, and love.

This is a remarkable day, and we must praise God for it.

2. This Is a Time for Christians to Work

Christians should not be confused about what has happened today. This is an unmitigated and glorious victory, but it is not the end of anything. Now that Roe has been overturned our real work begins.

Christians must have growing passion to fund efforts to eliminate abortion through crisis pregnancy centers and other options. We must work to elect faithful men and women who will protect the rights of the unborn. We must labor to enact legislation and constitutional amendments at the state and national level to ensure that the laws of men reflect the Law of God.

The Supreme Court said clearly that theirs was the decision to, “return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

Ending Roe was the work of demolition. Now the work of construction begins. That work will happen state by state, election by election, person by person. And, Christian, that work begins now.

3. This Is a Time for Christians to Love

The enemies of life are going to make this fight ugly. This decision will be opposed ruthlessly with blades, fire, bullets, and blood. We need to brace ourselves for this.

But Jesus says that our weapon is love and identifies that love as how people will know we are Christians (John 13:35). As we enter into the darkness that will comprise the wicked opposition to God’s gift of life, we must ensure that we replace that darkness with the light of our affection and the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

We must love our opponents. We must love broken and desperate women who feel that the only hope they have is found in turning to an abortionist for care. They must see that the loving care of Christ is better, more tender, more faithful, and more life-giving than anything in the culture of death.

We must love the surviving children of abortion with our commitment to bring them into our homes and love them as our own.

We must love these precious people with mouths that proclaim freedom in Christ, and with arms that wrap them in an embrace of love, demonstrating what that love is like.

This is Just the Beginning

Roe is overturned. It is a glorious day. But our work is not over. By God’s grace, it is only now beginning. May he make us faithful as the work continues.

What Happened? Why Many Millennials and Gen-Z-ers Are Embracing Secularism

| Trevor Komatsu |

The Post-Graduation Exodus

Something has gone terribly wrong. For the past few decades, young people are exiting the churches they grew up in at alarming rates.[1] Vast amounts of church kids are graduating from our youth groups and never coming back. What happened? What went wrong? These kids were raised in the church. If we want to understand Christianity’s decline and secularism’s rise among young adults, we must answer a simple question: who is teaching the children?

This question matters because students will become like their teachers. Jesus says in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” When Jesus uses the word “teacher,” he is not referring exclusively to what happens during school hours (although this is certainly important!). A “teacher” is anyone who shapes your thinking, values, and behavior. Our kids, whether they realize it or not, are in a never-ending state of discipleship. Whether it is their friends on a text thread, the latest Netflix series to drop, or their favorite influencer on TikTok; their thinking, values, and behavior are being shaped by teachers. So when we ask, “Who’s teaching the children?” We are really asking, “Who will my son or daughter become like?” They will become like their teachers.

This question matters because too many of our children have the wrong teachers. If teaching is about influence, think for a moment about which voices have the greatest influence on this generation. Today’s greatest “teachers” are the directors of Hollywood, politically correct corporations, and Instagram influencers who preach a “you-do-you” gospel and not the “repent-and-believe” gospel of Jesus. The biblical gospel says that Jesus is the king, we are the rebels, and the only solution is to turn from our sin and to trust in him. The “you-do-you” gospel elevates the self as king and calls anyone who comes between you and your inner desires a hater. The people actively shaping this generation’s vision of right and wrong are TikTok stars who are obsessed with gender ideology and sexual liberation. The preacher and the Sunday school teachers get an hour and a half every week. These secular teachers get up to seven hours a day.[2] Who’s teaching the children? This question matters because children are being shaped by voices that hate Jesus and are leading them to the path of eternal destruction. What are we to do in the face of such widespread secular discipleship? While there are many biblical strategies to reverse this pattern and reclaim the next generation, I want to outline what I believe is one of the most important.

Fighting for the Next Generation

Parents, you must embrace your identity as the lead teacher. Jesus Christ has called you to be the primary disciple-er of your children. This is taught in several passages, but I want to look at just one. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Notice Three Things:

  1. God commands parents to teach their children, not the priests, the Levites, or some other elite religious group, but moms and dads. Parents are called by God to be the primary disciple-ers of their children.
  2. Verses 4-5 teach that moms and dads must disciple their children out of an overflow of their own personal knowledge and love for God. You cannot teach your kids to love a God you have not known and do not love. The amazing person and work of Jesus Christ must first be “on your heart.”
  3. Moms and dads are called to disciple their children “diligently.” This teaching must happen “when you sit down…when you walk…when you lie down.” The Christian home must become a greenhouse that grows followers of Jesus.

Parents, you must embrace your identity as the lead teacher in your child’s life. Ironically, one of the greatest threats to embracing this identity is discipleship by delegation: when you pass off discipleship to a pastor, the youth leaders, or a Christian school. Don’t get me wrong. I am so thankful for every parent who brings their kid to church. This is a big deal! But if your default is discipleship by delegation, you will miss out on the incredible blessing of taking direct ownership of your child’s discipleship. As a pastor and ministry leader, I am not the one called to be the primary disciple-er of your kids; you are. One of the most significant ways to fight for the next generation is to begin seeing yourself as personally responsible for the discipleship of your children and to embrace the unique challenges and responsibilities that come with the job.

If we want to “stop the bleeding” in our churches and reach and reclaim the next generation, let’s embrace our identity as the primary teachers of our children. Let’s become more aware of the secular influences that can so often sneak in the backdoor, and let’s give our kids a more compelling vision of what life is about: worshiping the risen and returning Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, we will reach the next generation and see God raise up an army of young people who refuse to live by the dictates of the culture but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

If you are eager to raise up your kids as disciples but need some practical guidance, I want to recommend two resources. One of the best books that lays a biblical foundation for discipling kids is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. This is especially helpful for parents who are parenting through the “little years.” Second, The Disciple-Making Parent by Chap Bettis is filled with rubber-meets-the-road parenting advice. What sets this book apart from other how-to parenting books is the fact that Bettis is anchored in a biblical understanding of who kids are and how they change.

[1] For a survey of these statistics, see Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post Christian World by James Emery White.

[2] See this 2019 report by Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/report/2019-census-8-to-18-full-report-updated.pdf

The Southern Baptist Convention in 2022: A Sketch of Where We Are

| Heath Lambert |

A Glorious Mugging

Participating in the Southern Baptist Convention can feel like a mugging. The days are long, disorienting, often brutal, and when it is all over you feel sore.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the SBC, and always appreciate the unpretentious majesty of a room where celebrity pastors and rural preachers all get a ballot and an opportunity to speak. But we all know the days can be long and the issues painful.

If the SBC in 2022 was a glorious mugging, then I want to provide a police sketch of the event. That is to say, I want to describe where we are as a convention now that the votes have all taken place in Anaheim.

Here are five broad strokes describing the SBC as I see it today.

1. The SBC Wants to be Conservative

There has been a lot of talk about liberal drift in the SBC. It is worth noting that drift is always a threat, and we must be ever diligent to protect against it (Hebrews 2:1). I will not participate in a liberal denomination. Neither will my church. Because drift happens slowly and over time, it is always wise to watch for early signs and correct them quickly. This work of watchfulness will always be our job.

But if the SBC goes liberal, it won’t be today. The best evidence of this that I saw happened on the first day of the convention. In response to a church who has ordained several women pastors, an important committee in the convention recommended taking a year to study matters related to the issue. The committee did not equivocate on the issue of female pastors but wanted to study practices across the convention.

The recommendation went over like a lead balloon.

The response from the floor of the convention was so strong, that the committee was forced to withdraw the recommendation without a vote. It was clear that the Southern Baptist Convention does not want to study this matter. They want to be faithful.

There are many other examples of faithfulness to which I could point, but this is just one example that demonstrates the desire of the SBC to remain conservative.

2. The SBC Wants to be Kind

The SBC does not just want to be conservative they also want to be kind. One of the clear realities that was repeatedly expressed in countless ways is that the SBC does not want truth without grace, nor conviction without kindness. This is a really good sign since Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and his Apostles demand that we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

It is possible to be mean and faithful. It is also possible to be faithless and kind. Both alternatives are wrong. The Bible demands faithfulness and kindness, and the SBC is showing that they want an obvious demonstration of these twin virtues.

3. The SBC Wants to be Safe

The big issue heading into the SBC this year was the recommendations of the Sex Abuse Task Force. These recommendations were a long time coming and were the focus of much attention heading into Anaheim. Though there was much concern about whether the SBC would approve those recommendations, all that concern was displaced.

When the vote came over 90% of messengers approved the recommendations. I talked to many Southern Baptists who wondered if the recommendations represented the absolute best way forward. They voted for the recommendations anyway because they know we need to do something to be sure our convention is the safest place in the world for the weakest among us.

My interpretation of the vote is that Southern Baptists want our churches to be safe regardless of the cost. As a man who would rather die than have someone harmed in my congregation, I am thankful for that attitude.

4. The SBC Wants to be Effective

We were constantly reminded at the convention that reaching people with the gospel is the reason we cooperate as a convention. The most encouraging times of the convention were when we were celebrating the growing number of international missionaries and the expanding congregations at home.

My wife and I each cried as we watched the silhouetted testimonies of the missionaries preparing to go overseas to dangerous parts of the world. Many others cried too.

I am a Southern Baptist and lead a Southern Baptist congregation because we want to reach the nations for Jesus. Kingdom growth is the heart of every Southern Baptist and must always be.

5. The SBC Wants to be Led

The election of Bart Barber to be president of the SBC is remarkable for at least two reasons.

First, Barber was elected because 60% of messengers believe he will be a conservative, kind, effective leader who will help our churches be safe places. What is even more remarkable is that he was not the kind of SBC pastor that typically gets elected for this post. Southern Baptists elect megachurch pastors with national platforms. Not this year. This year, the SBC elected a pastor from a small church in Texas because they cared more about principles than platforms. I don’t care who you are, you must marvel at that. The leader of America’s largest protestant denomination is pastoring a church just like the vast majority of congregations in the denomination. That is truly remarkable.

Second, this change represents something larger than the election of one man. We are seeing a massive change in the convention. The days of coming into the convention with an anointed leader are over. That is because the SBC is facing a leadership challenge. We really don’t know who the next generation of leaders are going to be, and so as we pray for Bart Barber, we must also pray for God to raise up a new generation of leaders to serve alongside him, under him, and after him. We need countless people to lead this convention into a new era of faithfulness, kindness, effectiveness, and safety.

None of us knows who these leaders will be, but God does. We can trust him that all will be well.

When I look at the Southern Baptist Convention after Anaheim, that is a sketch of what I see.

Where’s Dad? A Call for Men to Lead in the Home

| Trevor Komatsu |

Reclaiming a Biblical Vision for Dads

To say that our culture is confused about gender and gender roles would be the understatement of the century. Young girls are trained by the feminists to be aggressive in the workplace, while young men are domesticated and told to be gentle lambs who must never mansplain. This has produced a topsy-turvy situation where society’s ideal woman is a dominant leader, and the ideal man is passive, gentle, and always agreeable. While this vision is bad for society at large, it is especially damaging in the home. A home led by a domineering wife and a passive husband is a disordered home. If First Baptist Church is going to reach all of Jacksonville, our marriages and families must look remarkably different than the culture. Our homes must be places where dads lead. Homes led by strong, loving, convictional, and kind Christian men will be homes that shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:15). These kinds of homes will show a confused culture the beauty of God’s grand design.

Someone might say, “What about toxic masculinity? Are you saying that men should squash the opinions of their wives and that women should be doormats?” Absolutely not! Jesus doesn’t want that, and neither do I. Husbands are not allowed to be tyrants. Rather, they are called to a standard of love so unattainable that it will take nothing less than the power of God’s Spirit to achieve (Ephesians 5:25). Moreover, wives are not called to unconditional submission to their husbands. Only Jesus receives that kind of obedience. Wives are called to be helpers (Genesis 2:18), and helping includes providing constructive criticism and dialogue to leadership decisions that her husband makes. Helping also includes confronting sin that she sees in her husband (Ephesians 4:15). This is not toxic masculinity. This is simply husbands and wives living together according to God’s design. What I am advocating is that fathers step up to the plate and be what Jesus Christ calls them to be: leaders. I want to provide just two ways they can do this.

A Leader Who Shepherds His Kids

Fathers, do you see yourself as a pastor to your family? Because whether you realize it or not, you are. When it comes to shepherding in the home, there are two focuses. First, you must shepherd your kids. While both parents bear this responsibility, Paul singles out dads when he writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Just as you aspire to see your wife love Jesus, you must also aspire to raise your children up to fear the Lord and walk in his ways. Here are two practical ways to do this. First, write out a “discipleship goal” for your children. This can be a simple statement like, “I want my kids to turn from sin, trust in Jesus, and spend their lives advancing his kingdom.” Display this goal where you can see it regularly and every time you see it, turn that statement into a prayer. Second, cultivate the habit of doing family devotions together. This doesn’t need to be a long-drawn-out Bible study or mini-church service. Keep it simple. In our home, we read, pray, and sing. I read a small portion from the Bible (or a storybook Bible for kids), pray, and then sing a song from a hymn book. This simple practice teaches your kids that worshiping God is not something that happens exclusively in the confines of a church service. Rather, worship is something that permeates all of life. An older pastor once told me that the most important ministry in my life is the ministry to my family. My primary focus must be to raise up the warriors sitting around at the dinner table.

A Leader Who Shepherds His Wife

Second, you must shepherd your wife. Paul says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25). How does Jesus love his bride? By making it his goal to “sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). What is your great aspiration in life? These verses teach that one of the greatest aspirations of your life must be, “I want my wife to love Jesus.” Leading in the home means taking ownership of your wife’s spiritual growth.

Is she struggling in her walk with Jesus? Maybe she confesses to you that she gets angry at the kids and feels totally stuck. Develop a simple plan to help get her unstuck. Consider memorizing key verses with her that address anger (James 1:19-20; Proverbs 14:29). Is she discouraged? Figure out why this is the case and then brainstorm creative ways to encourage her. For example, perhaps she feels like all her time is spent caring for the kids and so doesn’t have meaningful friendships with other women. Volunteer to watch the kids so she can get coffee with one of her friends from church and receive encouragement. Being a leader means your great aspiration is to see your wife love Jesus and flourish as a Christian. So much so that you make real sacrifices to achieve this goal.

Showing the Beauty of God’s Design

Our culture is raging against God’s good design. And yet, this cultural darkness provides an opportunity for the Christian home to shine like never before. In a culture that equates male leadership in the home with misogyny and abuse, we must show the glory of husbands and fathers who lead with proactive shepherding and sacrificial love. We must show our culture the beauty and joy that radiates from homes where dad shows up to lead.

Five Sins Regarding Abuse

| Heath Lambert |

I should start by being clear that I am not saying there are precisely five—and only five—sins regarding the issue of abuse and that you will find those five sins catalogued here in an authoritative fashion. That is not my point.

My point is that we are living in a time when many in the church are dealing constantly with issues related to abuse. As we go through this season, it is crucial to make clear that when we are talking about abuse, we are talking about sin. This issue is about something that is morally repugnant in the eyes of God. And we are not only talking about sin—singular but sin—plural. There is more than one moral monster in view here.

Here I am going to talk about five sins that Christians must grapple with if we are ever to find our way out of this current darkness into the clear light of grace.

1. Abusing People

The first sin is, perhaps, the most obvious one. It is a clear sin for anyone to use their power to mistreat people made in God’s image. This reality has to do with the very heart of God, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5).

It is at odds with the character of God to harm weak people. That means that any Christian—not to mention any Christian leader—who engages in an act of abuse engages in blasphemy that misrepresents the character of God they claim to serve. There are many ways to engage in abusive mistreatment of people—verbal abuse, sexual abuse, wrongful termination, and character assassination—just to name a few. All of them are detestable, and all come with horrifying consequences.

2. Failure to Protect Against Abuse

Violence against the weak and needy is abhorrent to God, and so Christians have a much higher calling than merely not abusing people. We are also called to protect those who are potential victims of abuse, “Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4).

The call to protect the weak is a mandate for all of us in church leadership to employ the highest standards in protecting the children in our ministry. At First Baptist Church, this demand means that we engage in the careful screening of all staff and volunteers, including comprehensive background checks and interviews; that we establish clear policies on how we care for children and who can do that; that we carefully train all staff and volunteers on these policies; and that we rigorously enforce these policies.

We do this because it is a sin to fail to protect the weak and innocent people entrusted to our care.

3. Covering Up Abuse

Christians are called not only to avoid abuse and to protect people from abuse but to refuse to conceal abuse when they know it is happening. Proverbs 10:6 says, “The mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” These words of God make it a sin to encounter abuse and look the other way, blame the victim, help the abuser exit quietly, or else feel more compassion for guilty predators than the innocents they abused.

Christians are required to report all abuse to relevant authorities, which is exactly what we do with any reports of abuse we receive at First Baptist Church. It is wrong to fail to report abuse because it is wicked to conceal violence and give abusers the chance to hurt more people.

4. Failure to Care for Abused People

We live in a sinful world where abuse will happen, and God is going to send people our way who have been abused. Christians must be determined to care for these precious and struggling people. Psalm 147:3 says of God, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Christians are like God when we establish systems of care in our churches that help abuse victims find community, express their grief, understand their shame, and discover hope through the shed blood of Jesus. It is sinful godlessness that turns our backs on such people asking them to work out their own problems. It is something God would never do.

5. Being Embittered After Abuse

This one is different than the others. The other sins I’ve mentioned talk about the responsibility of the community surrounding abused persons. This sin talks about the responsibility of the abuse victim. Talking about the responsibilities of those who have suffered mistreatment is delicate and tender work. I need to slow down a bit in order to explain. Let me describe several realities.

First, this sin is every bit as biblical as the others I have mentioned. Ephesians 4:31-32 names the responsibilities for those who have been abused when it says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This passage of Scripture is in the Bible as much as any of the verses I’ve referenced, and the demand to let go of all bitterness applies as much to victims of abuse as it does to anyone else. We cannot be choosy when it comes to embracing the truth of God’s Word.

Second, Christians should not brandish this truth against abuse victims the way an attacker wields a machete. This is not a passage we quote at someone with whose struggle we are unfamiliar or that we express in our first encounter. There is a time to weep and a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Victims of abuse have experienced monstrous evil, and Christians must move carefully, slowly, and lovingly before applying hard truth.

Third, Christians need to apply this truth the way a surgeon applies a scalpel. We apply this sharp implement with great care, precision, and patience. But we must apply this truth, which is crucial for every victim of abuse.

Let me apply it here in very personal terms.

I have not made a secret of my experience of childhood abuse throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. I spent more than a decade of my life hating my mom because of her violent acts of aggression against me, my brother, and other instances of mistreatment against others in my family. My hatred of my mother felt well-placed, appropriate, and deserved.

But I grew in my relationship with Jesus. My understanding of divine forgiveness increased. I learned that nobody had ever sinned against me as much as I sinned against God. I learned that the grace of Jesus meant God was no longer angry at me and that I should not harbor anger towards others.

It took me a long time to develop that understanding. There were long seasons of struggle. The ability to look at my abuser with grace and love did not come easy. But it did come. And that is the point I wish to make. Today, over thirty years after my abuse ended, If I were as angry today as I was in those early years, there would be something wrong with me. Eventually, each of us who know what it is to be abused also must know what it is to experience the tender love of Jesus, turning us away from bitterness over our abuse and toward grace and forgiveness. If we do not move in this direction, we are guilty of sin before the Lord.

The Sins of Abuse and the Grace of Jesus

Those are five sins of abuse that Christians need to be aware of in these days. I went a little slower on that last one because of the tenderness of the topic. But I also wanted to take some time to explain the emphasis on grace and forgiveness, which is as much the hallmark of a Christian view of abuse as is the diagnosis of abuse as sin.

At the end of the day, Christians are not just the people who understand that abuse is sin. We are also the people that understand that God has made provision to address all sin, even abuse, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The reality empowers us to bring uniquely Christian clarity to abuse conversations.

We are the people that know that all abuse is more than just wrong—it is high treason against the God of heaven who makes people in his image.

We are also the people who know that there is grace from this King to forgive every abusive transgression and comfort every victim. We don’t need to sound bitter, shrill, or afraid. Instead, we can speak to this massive problem with hearts full of conviction, hope, and even joy. We do this because God took the abuse that Jesus suffered on the cross and used it to bring light and life to every person under heaven.

Taking Back the Rainbow: Christianity, Homosexuality, and Gay Pride Month

| Heath Lambert |

The Ironies of Gay Pride Month

Four strikingly sinister ironies define the secular celebration of gay pride month.

First, is the false advertising that says we are devoting merely a month to the celebration of homosexuality when, in truth, our culture demands the near-constant celebration of homosexuality every day and every month of every year.

Second, is waving the banner of “pride” over a lifestyle choice that is transparently sinful. God has the sovereign right to dictate the attitudes of our heart, and God’s own Word says that he opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Third, is the insistence from our sinful culture that anyone who opposes the infinite manifestations of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is on the “wrong side of history.” God has the exclusive right to determine the course of history, and he guarantees that any unrepentant homosexual will occupy a miserable eternity in a world of pain apart from him (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Finally, the LGBTQ+ movement has attempted to steal from God himself, one of the most significant demonstrations of redemptive love in the Bible. When most people in our culture see a rainbow, they do not think of God’s patient determination to extend salvation to a sinful humanity but instead recognize a symbol of destructive sexuality.

Do you see the irony?

Christians are living in days unprecedented since Sodom and Gomorrah celebrating what God condemns and condemning what God celebrates.

Our call in these upside-down days is to turn it all right-side up.

Gay Pride Month and Christian Responsibility

The Christian responsibility in a confused culture is not to whine, complain, rant, worry, or run. Our responsibility is to stand on the truth of the Word of God and on the grace of Jesus himself. We are to work so that all that has been corrupted is restored, to labor so that all that has been lost would be found, and to strive to clarify every instance of sexual confusion. This is exactly what Jesus has in mind when he calls us to be his witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:8).

We will be Jesus’ witnesses in these days when we show up in front of our culture the way Jesus did. The Bible says that Jesus came into this sinful world full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We must present ourselves to this sinful world in the same way.

Gay pride month reminds Christians that we must respond with grace, love, and kindness to every person trapped in the deadly blindness of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Jesus says people will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). Our call as Christians is to be the kindest people homosexuals have ever met, to be the very definition of grace to any lesbian we encounter, and to demonstrate to all people struggling with transgenderism that we love them more than they love their sin. Love like this changes the world. It has changed us. That same love will change our sexually confused culture as well.

Gay pride month also reminds Christians that we must respond to sexual sin with truth, clarity, and conviction. Some people think that grace means not engaging this issue. They think we should just be quiet and focus on other things. But this is not the way of Christ. When Jesus came, he was full of grace and truth. There is no way to be kind and gracious while refusing to tell people the truth that the way of sin is the way of death (Luke 13:5). The path of sexual immorality that our culture insists is so wonderful is actually a path to destruction.

Rebellion, Rainbows, and Gay Pride Month

Our culture calls this gay pride month, but Christians know there is no pride in celebrating what God condemns. We know the example of Christ in embodying grace and truth demands that we must call our culture to repentance on this issue with hearts full of love. We can have this love because we know we stand in need of the same grace as any other sinner.

In the last book of the Bible, the Apostle John is given a glorious glimpse into heaven. What he sees is breathtaking. He sees a vision of God on his throne, where he reigns as sovereign king. He sees Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, to pay the penalty for every sin of every person who would ever believe in him. He sees the heavenly host praising God and promising that Jesus will come again (Revelation 4:1-8).

In the midst of that vision, John sees that the glorious throne of God is surrounded by a rainbow (Revelation 4:3). That reminds us that the rainbow belongs to God, not a sinful sexual culture. God is so committed to the salvation of lost men and women that you can’t even gaze at his throne without seeing a shining symbol of redemption. God has invited you, and me, and every sinner to lay hold of his redemption that is found in Jesus alone.

As hard as the Christian mission is to engage this sexually corrupt culture, it is one that will be successful. God who created the rainbow and is, at this moment surrounded by one, will bring his people into a perfect and sinless world surrounded with glory, wonder, and rainbows.

The rainbow is God’s. He is going to take it back. The truth is, he really never lost it. It is our job to point a confused culture to the God who calls them to find sexual purity in Christ alone. It is our job to help them find the path of humility that leads away from pride and towards the right side of history surrounded by rainbows of redemption in a world where Christ is King.

Click here to watch a recent conversation with Heath Lambert on this topic.

God Has Been Merciful to Us: Three Reasons to be Encouraged by the Devastating SBC Report on Sexual Abuse

| Heath Lambert |

The SBC Report on Sexual Abuse

We have been waiting for months for the Report of the Independent Investigation to detail sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and the response to that abuse. That report was released yesterday afternoon; I read it with great interest and a broken heart. The report is full of abuse, pain, cover-up, and sin. Every Christian must mourn the shocking mistreatment that so many precious people received at the hands of those charged with their care.

The report is long and complex with many details, but at the risk of oversimplification, I want to communicate the report’s findings in one sentence. For years a group of leaders in the Southern Baptist Executive Committee resisted openness, transparency, and protection of sexual abuse victims out of a desire to protect the convention against legal liability.

This is a tragedy. For my entire adult life, I have been in some level of leadership in various Christian ministries. Legal liability is always an important issue, but it should never be prioritized over our commitment to faithfulness, especially when that faithfulness places hundreds and thousands of innocent people at risk. One great lesson of this report is that Christians must always put our love for people ahead of a desire to protect our ministries. This lesson is not new (Matthew 22:38-40).

As horrifying as the report is, I must tell you that the dominant emotion I had as I read it was gratitude and encouragement. As I read the various other responses circulating out there, I am aware that my response seems unusual. So, I want to share with you three reasons why I am so encouraged by such a devastating report and why I hope you will be too.

1. You should be encouraged by the exposure of the darkness of abuse.

The idea of exposing the darkness to light was God’s idea before it occurred to any group in the Southern Baptist Convention, “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:13).

For years, Southern Baptists have been asking for an open, honest accounting of abuse, and now we have it. We must be grateful and encouraged to possess this information.

To be absolutely clear, we are not thankful and encouraged by abuse. In the days ahead, I will be making clear how repulsively wicked sexual abuse is. It is at odds with everything Christian ministry is about. A single victim of abuse is overwhelmingly one too many. Even one cover-up is inexcusable. In fact, that is the point.

The problem is not the exposure of abuse. The problem is the abuse. In a world where these abuses are happening, the exposure of them is a good thing. God hates the darkness. He loves to expose the darkness to light. And now he has.

In this report, I am encouraged because I see the gracious hand of God exposing horrifying darkness that has been covered far too long.

God has been merciful to us.

2. You should be encouraged by the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is massive, with tens of thousands of churches and millions of people. One of the most noteworthy elements of the report was how a relatively small group of people worked to keep that massive convention in the dark. They resisted accountability, reporting, and transparency. They did it for decades. They were wrong.

They proved to be ineffective, however, in fighting the convention. Ultimately, thousands of Southern Baptists came together and took charge of the situation. They demanded openness and transparency, and they got it. Just as in the days of the conservative resurgence, the faithful masses came and wrestled control from the faithless few.

This is a fundamental good. It is a mark of health. It is the reason why Southern Baptists have been able to remain faithful when other denominations have stumbled. In a sinful world, people will sin and do awful things. From the bottom of my heart, I wish it were not so, but it is. In that terrible world where awful things happen in every organization, I am thankful for a convention that holds its leaders to account. The reckoning came, and it came at the insistence of Southern Baptists.

God has been merciful to us.

3. You should be encouraged by faithful leaders in the convention.

The report details abuse, mistreatment, and cover-up by several significant leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. That is as true as it is lamentable. We should pray for accountability for every instance of corruption.

But there was good news in the report too. The report identified many faithful leaders in the convention who refused to play by the rules of concealment and cover-up. Just two examples from the report are Al Mohler from Southern Seminary and J.D. Greear during his time as SBC president. Each of these men, in their own way, sought to serve Jesus and the convention by faithfully responding to abuse victims and demanding that others do so as well.

There are more faithful examples outside of the report throughout our convention. The Southern Baptist Convention is full of thousands of faithful churches demanding that we handle this crucial issue in a way that protects people and honors Jesus. These leaders have helped us get to this crucial point of transparency.

God has been merciful to us.

Don’t Misunderstand

I don’t want to be misunderstood. All is not well. The report chronicles devasting instances of abuse, negligence, cover-up, and mistreatment. It is worse than that. The report does not tell us about the countless victims who never came forward and the predators we do not yet know about. We should be sobered by all that we do not know. Our churches have a massive amount of work to do to ensure the protection of every innocent person.

As we do that work, it is clear that the real Southern Baptist Convention—the combined voice of thousands of churches—will work to correct its representatives in the convention apparatus. The sex abuse task force has called for a three-year period of review to determine what needs to change. I believe the churches that demanded the exposure of these sins will be equally committed to correcting what has been uncovered. We all must pray that this correction will happen with wisdom, care, and vigor.

I know those same churches will not wait for convention officials to clean up their act before they do the work of protecting people within their ministries. The church I am most familiar with in this regard is my own. It is a source of shame to me that my church was named in the report for abuse that was perpetrated on one of our precious former members. In the 30 years since that event, there has been a complete turnover in our leadership, we carefully screen and train all staff and volunteers, we have strict policies about protecting innocent people from abuse which are reviewed annually and carefully enforced, we report any instance of abuse to the authorities, and we have systems that care for those who have been abused. We are not waiting on the convention. We are loving, serving, and protecting victims now. I know there are thousands of churches just like us.

More than any of that, I trust the living Christ. Jesus is going to build his church (Matthew 16:18). He is going to love and protect his little ones (Matthew 18:6). He is going to ensure that on the other side of this, our churches are better, stronger, and safer. I trust him who died for all our sins to carry us through the exposure of these sins.

He has been merciful to us. He will be merciful still.

That makes me really encouraged.

Biblical Hospitality: Practices of Grace (Part 2)

| Austin Collins |

Practicing hospitality is a way to share God’s grace and bless others. But practicing hospitality requires just that – practice. If hospitality isn’t part of your thought patterns or family’s regular routines, then knowing where to start or how to do it might feel overwhelming.

Biblical hospitality presents two challenges to us. First, hospitality in the Bible is a command. It’s not optional. Almost every instance of the word “hospitality” in the New Testament is connected to an imperative (Cf. Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). Second, hospitality is active. Romans 12:13 says we are to “seek to show hospitality.” We can’t just idly sit around and wait for opportunities for hospitality to come upon us, though they might. We are to be looking out for occasions to open our homes and hearts to others.

It’s one thing to understand that hospitality is an active state of living we are commanded to carry out, but it’s an entirely different thing to practically obey and apply in our lives. With that in mind, I want to provide you with some real-world examples and advice on getting started on living a lifestyle of hospitality.

Attitudes of Your Heart

  • To practice hospitality, you must make time for it. If hospitality isn’t part of your natural family rhythms, stepping into it will take purposeful planning. To follow this biblical command, you might have to cut out other activities in your life or block out extra time for grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. But the joy of going deep into the lives of other Christians will far outweigh any opportunity cost we might be paying.
  • Not all entertaining is hospitality, and not all hospitality is simply entertaining. Hospitality is about caring for your guests, getting to know them, and pointing them to Jesus. You can do this over watching sports or playing board games together, but you could also simply share a meal, talk, and pray with them about an issue they’re facing.
  • Perhaps most important of all is to show hospitality without grumbling or complaining (1 Peter 4:9). Peter wouldn’t have felt the need to point this out if we didn’t have a sinful propensity in our hearts to gripe about others even in the middle of trying to care for them. When you commit to showing hospitality, you’ll encounter things that might tempt you to complain – someone tracked mud into the house, kids spilled juice on the carpet, your guests stayed a little longer than you’d planned. But God wants the attitudes of our hearts to reflect the openness of our homes.

Ambiance of Your Home

  • Relax, enjoy the time, and get to know your guest. Remember the words of Jesus as you are serving: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Martha was an incredible host, but she missed the most important thing – fellowship with her guest. Food and fun will come and go, but relationships with other Christians are eternal.
  • Stay off your phone! Resist the urge to show them the latest funny video that came across your feed. Don’t Google the year that movie came out. It’s just not as important as staying engaged in the conversation at hand. Opening the door to phones during table fellowship is the easiest way to shut the door to the heart.
  • Be clean, but it’s okay if your house feels “lived-in.” When we anticipate hosting someone, we do clean the house – dusting, vacuuming, wiping down the bathroom. But we don’t try to make our house something it’s not.

Actions You Can Take

  • Budget for hospitality each month. Know that it will cost you something and anticipate the expense. Shop the sales and the Buy-One-Get-One’s at the supermarket. Get a membership to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s to make bulk purchases on things you know you’ll need to host.
  • If you’re new to regularly hosting in your home, start slow. Just do something simple like pizza and chips & salsa. As great as food can be, your guests are there for fellowship.
  • Consider a repeated, staple meal that’s easy to make, like a crockpot lasagna. In the flurry of prepping your home for guests, having a meal that’s easy to cook will cut down on stress and help prevent mistakes. Or find a recipe that you can prep the night before and freeze overnight. When it’s time for guests to arrive, pop it into the oven!
  • One thing we’ve learned over the years of regularly hosting folks in our home is that it takes longer than you think to prep, so give yourself extra time to cook and tidy up.
  • Have something on hand for last minute. Stock your pantry and freezer with a few items that have long shelf lives – tea, frozen cookie dough, individually bagged snacks. That way, you’ll always be ready to host at a moment’s notice.
  • Think of the whole family. If you’ve got older kids, but plan on hosting families with younger kids, get out your kids’ old toys and books from the attic for the littles.

Wherever you are on the journey of growing in hospitality, I want to challenge you to take your next step in the next month. If you’ve not hosted another family in a long time (or perhaps ever), create some space in your calendar and invite someone over for dinner or even just coffee and dessert. If you’re a pro at hosting, help another family take their first steps into hospitality. No matter where you are, the grace we can share with others by practicing biblical hospitality is always worth it.

Biblical Hospitality: Avenues of Grace (Part 1)

| Austin Collins |

In this two-part blog, we’ll first look at what the Bible teaches about what hospitality looks like. The next installment will contain a list of practical helps and tips for engaging in real-life hospitality in your home.

Biblical Hospitality

It’s a scary word – hospitality. It’s a word that often strikes fear in the hearts of Christians. We’re busy, and our homes can be messy, and – oh no – our kids just drew 13 smiley faces on the wall with permanent marker. “Hospitality” conjures to mind elegant table settings, fanciful three-course dinners, and spotless homes with well-mannered children. But thankfully, that’s not what biblical hospitality has to look like. In a single verse, Paul provides for us a biblical definition of hospitality. In Romans 15:7, he says to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” There are three keys to this verse – a what, a how, and a why – that explain what biblical hospitality looks like.

What: We are called to welcome one another. Jesus Christ wants us to welcome everyone with open arms, smiling faces, and a desire to serve above and beyond. Biblical hospitality means opening up our hearts, our homes, and our church to others.

How: As Christ has welcomed you. The welcome that Christ gave us into the family of God cost us his life. Through his death on the cross, we were brought near to God. We, who are his disciples, should exemplify that sacrificial service in the way we go about welcoming others.

Why: For the glory of God. The reason why we want to warmly bring others into our homes and greet them with love is so that God might be worshiped and glorified. Lord willing, through conversations with us, our guests will hear the gospel, repent of their sins, and believe in the Lord Jesus. When this happens, God is glorified above all!

Hospitality isn’t always about having a Cordon Bleu-level dinner or a picture-perfect house. It can be, and the Lord has blessed some people with those things to share with others. But maybe for you, it’s grabbing pizza and some cans of soda on your way home from work and calling a family in your Sunday School class to come over, eat, and fellowship in the backyard while the kids run around. Hospitality is about a willingness to have open hearts and open doors because Christ does the same for you. With this in mind, I want to share four avenues of grace that biblical hospitality opens up for us. Will you commit to walking down one of them in the next month with your family?

An Avenue for Evangelism

There is nothing like hospitality to grant you a captive audience. Inviting your neighbors or coworkers into your home for dinner is an easy way to get to know them better, learn how to care for them, and eventually share the gospel with them as your relationship deepens. Something about the warmth around a dining room table helps people lower their guard and be more open to the things you share with them. As you get to know unbelievers around a meal in your home, you’ll discover different pathways to take in leading them to Jesus.

There are so many holidays that involve food and fellowship. At your next cookout or potluck for one of these holidays, challenge yourself to invite one of your unbelieving neighbors to come to eat and hang out. Hospitality is as simple as that! It creates the opportunity for you to talk about the gospel with them.

An Avenue for Discipleship

The early church modeled hospitality for us. Early on, churches often met in people’s homes, where they gathered to hear the Word taught, to pray together, and to grow in their fellowship with one another. And then, in Acts 2, we see the fruit of the combination of hospitality and discipleship: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). Do you see the direct result of discipleship taking place through hospitality? Salvation for more people! As Christians opened their homes for discipleship, God blessed their efforts, and the church grew!

Hospitality can look similar to this today. Instead of braving the hustle and bustle of a busy café to meet with someone and study the Bible, open up your home, sit together at the kitchen table or in the den, and drink homemade coffee out of your favorite mugs as you open up the Word and pray. Maybe watch a sermon together and discuss it afterward while you munch on chips and salsa.

An Avenue for Care

In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus is commending his sheep for showing genuine care to him during their lives, and yet the people are confused because they had never personally encountered Jesus in the flesh. Jesus reassured them that when they showed care to “the least of these,” they were glorifying him. Opening up our homes to the brokenhearted, the downcast, those in need of a place of refuge, the hungry and the thirsty – when we do this for Jesus’ people, we are doing this for Jesus’ sake. Hospitality means giving a warm embrace to the church member grieving a loss on your living room couch. Or reading Scripture with them at your dining room table and reminding them of the gospel. Though it might cost us something now, we can look forward to when Christ will restore anything we may have lost in our efforts to care for others: “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Matthew 25:34).

This past week some friends of ours found themselves without a working fridge and a kitchen under repair. We were already planning on having breakfast for dinner that night as a family, so we invited these friends over, threw a few more slices of bacon in the skillet, and rejoiced with them about how God was working wonders through a difficult season in their life.

An Avenue for Community

Showing hospitality provides us with one of the best ways to grow in our relationships with other Christians. In Philemon 1:12, Paul states that he is sending Onesimus “back to [Philemon], sending my very heart.” How many people can you say that same statement about? How many fellow church members would you say constitute the very core of who you are? When we invite people into our lives and our homes, we open up a setting of intimacy, comfort, and safety where we can truly get to know other Christians and grow in community with one another.

A simple way to cultivate community through hospitality is hosting playdates for kids. In our neighborhood, there is another Christian family who has a child around the same age as ours. At least once a month, my wife opens up our home to this mom and her son to come over. While the toddlers play, the moms talk about ministry, the Bible, and parenting. There’s no fancy tea or crumpets, but these two ladies have grown to love one another dearly in just a short time simply by letting one another into their homes and, through that, their lives.

A Seat at the Table

Hospitality begins and ends with Jesus Christ. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has brought believers into the family of God. But even more than that, God has shown us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7) through all he has given us. And at the same time, God’s generosity to us gives glory to him as the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). We are simply stewards of what he’s given to us. God has commanded us to share with others so that we might display the glory of Jesus to the world. God has given us more than we could ever need, so why should we be stingy with our homes, belongings, money, or time (Philippians 4:19)? So, brothers and sisters, show hospitality on earth now, looking forward to the heavenly hospitality we will receive from God at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9). Invite someone over, share a meal, and talk about Jesus with them – no matter who they are. Welcome them as Jesus welcomes you.

FEAST on the Bible

The Finitude of Feasts

For many of us, the celebration of Easter last month would not have been complete without a feast. Savory slices of prime rib and sweet servings of honey-baked hams filled our plates and our stomachs. Gravy-laden mashed potatoes and glazed carrots, and Easter salad rounded off our rejoicing. Elbow to elbow with our closest friends and loved ones, we experienced the joy of pleasing our palates and celebrating the glorious resurrection of our Lord.

But inevitably, the delight of a happy palate and a full stomach dwindles. The satisfaction is short-lived. In the end, we are left with a few good memories to relive and a few extra pounds to lose.

An Infinite Feast

Feasts are wonderful but finite. But what if there was a feast you could participate in every single day that would leave you with a fullness that never fails and a delight that never dwindles?

Such a feast might sound like fiction. But Jesus says that it exists and that it is available to you today:

But he answered, “It is written,

 “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

According to Jesus, life does not consist solely in what we eat. There is a greater and infinitely more satisfying feast that is available to you: the Word of God.

When we come to God’s Word, we come to a delicious meal that satisfies us, sustains us, and grows us in Christlikeness (Psalm 19:10). This is a feast that we can and should indulge in every single day of our lives.

Do you feast on God’s Word? Do you know how?

In this post, I want to commend to you a method for how to FEAST on God’s life-giving, life-transforming Word every day of your life.

FEAST on the Bible

The FEAST method shows us five things that we can do to savor God’s Word every time we read it:

Frame It

When you read a passage of Scripture, it is like you are looking at a painting set in a frame. In order to appreciate the painting, you have to appreciate the frame.

The frame that every Bible passage is set in is called the context. When you appreciate and understand the context of a Bible passage, you will better appreciate and understand the passage itself.

Action Step: Ask the following questions of the passage to better understand its context:

  • Who is the author of this passage? Who are they writing to? Why are they writing?
  • When and where did they write it? What was the culture like in this time and place?
  • Where does this passage show up in the Bible? Old Testament or New Testament?
  • What comes before and after this passage? Why did the author place this passage here in the book? How does it fit into the larger point the author is making or, the larger story the author is telling?

Often, we can answer these questions by simply reading our Bibles. For instance, we can turn to Romans 1 to find out who wrote it, who they are writing to, and why they wrote it. However, enlisting the help of a good Study Bible like the ESV Study Bible and a good Bible dictionary like the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary can go a long way in helping you understand the context of the passage you are studying.

Once you have framed the Bible passage you are studying, you are ready to take the next step:

Explore It

Taking time to thoroughly explore the passage you are studying will always result in new and deeper insights into God’s Word.

In this step, you are investigating the ingredients of the passage. You are exploring what it is made of. You are looking at the individual words and their meaning and how they relate to one another, and how they contribute to the author’s main argument. You are making a note of what jumps out to you as interesting or important. You are looking for connections to the person and work of Christ. You are prayerfully discerning the main point of the passage.

Action Step: Ask the following questions of the passage you are studying to aid your exploration:

  • What strikes me from this passage? What am I seeing that I haven’t seen before?
  • What words or phrases stand out to me as important or interesting?
  • What is the main argument or main point the author is making?
  • How does this passage connect to who Jesus is and what he has done?
  • What is this passage teaching me about God? About myself? About the world?

But Bible study does not end with exploring the passage. Because Bible study is not an end in itself, it leads to something greater. And that takes us to the next step:

Apply It

Bible study is not complete until you have been shaped by what you have studied. In fact, the Bible itself has hard words for those who do not take this step:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25).

If your engagement with God’s Word ends when you get up from your reading chair in the morning, then you are missing the point of studying the Bible! The goal of your Bible study isn’t ultimately sitting down and studying. The goal of your Bible study is getting up and walking.

Just like an athlete who spends time in the weight room to get ready for game day, so we spend time in Bible study so that we are ready and equipped to live the Christian life to the glory of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If an athlete never left the weight room to go to the game on game day, you would say they missed the point. Similarly, if we never take our Bible study from our reading chair and apply it to our daily lives, we have missed the point of Bible study.

The point of Bible study is life transformation. As we grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ through his Word, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another; we are changed to look more and more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). And that transformation must show up in our lives as we live as doers of God’s Word, as we live for the glory and honor of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives.

Action Step: Ask the following questions of the passage you are studying to become a doer of God’s Word:

  • What implications does this passage have for how I live my life?
  • What commands are there in this passage for me to obey? How and when will I obey them?
  • What needs to change in my actions, thoughts, or affections for me to live in obedience to this passage?
  • How might the implications of this passage change my plans today?

The next step introduces one of the most practical ways that you can make sure you bring our Bible study into your day with you:

Store It

One of the most effective ways to grow in godliness is to store up God’s Word in your heart and think about it all the time.

The blessed man of Psalm 1 testifies to this truth:

…his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night (v. 2)

As does the psalmist of Psalm 119:

I have stored up your word in my heart

that I might not sin against you (v. 11)

Action Step: Choose one verse or one truth from the passage you are studying to memorize and reflect on throughout the day.

You can do this by taking a few one-minute breaks throughout the day to recite the verse you memorized or by writing it on a note card, glancing at it every so often, and reflecting on it.

Another idea is to identify a specific truth from the passage you are studying that you can pray to God about throughout the day. Praying Scripture back to God is one of the most effective ways to ensure that you engage with God’s Word throughout the day and not just in your study.

Storing God’s Word in your heart through memorization, meditation, and prayer is one of the most practical ways to ensure that when you get up from your reading chair in the morning and begin walking throughout your day, your Bible study comes with you.

But this leads to a final way that we can live out God’s Word every day:

Tell It

God has placed a call on your life to share his Word with other believers and with unbelievers.

One of the most effective ways to prepare yourself to “stir up one another up to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) and to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15) is to allow your enjoyment of God’s delicious and all-satisfying Word to overflow into your real-life conversations.

You should always have a truth from God’s Word that you are ready to share when God gives you the opportunity.

Action Step: Choose one truth from the passage you are studying and one person with whom you would like to share it. Make a plan for how and when you will share it with them.

Getting Ready for a Greater Feast

Using this method, you will not only maximize your own personal enjoyment of and engagement with God’s Word, but you will also help others delight in and live out God’s Word along with you. You will begin to live as a full-orbed disciple of Jesus Christ – enjoying Jesus Christ in every area of your life, and helping others to do the same.

I am confident that as you FEAST on God’s Word, your soul will be satisfied, your joy will increase, and your life will be transformed into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But as you FEAST on God’s Word, consider this: you are just enjoying the appetizer. The feast of infinite joy you are tasting right now as you enjoy God’s Word is getting you ready for an even greater feast.

Jesus Christ is coming again, and when he comes again, we will participate in a feast with him (Revelation 19:7-10). And on that day, all the joy and satisfaction that we found in Jesus in his Word will explode into an infinitely greater joy as we see him face to face and enjoy his presence forever.

FEAST on God’s Word today with a joyful expectation of the infinitely greater feast you will experience on that day when you see Jesus face to face.

The Joy Set Before Mothers

| Sean Perron |

The sun comes up, and Jenny is at work. My wife rises early to make sure the children are fed, and she goes to sleep late to care for them. The work of cleaning the dishes, picking up toys, changing diapers, instructing hearts, tending to injuries, navigating sibling conflict, and running a home is constant.

Every day there is work to be done, and each day brings needs, wants, and demands. My wife is not alone. There are mothers across the world who are hard at work in their homes. It does not matter if the children are six weeks old or sixteen years old; each stage of parenting brings about challenges. The work of motherhood is continual, consistent, and challenging.

And it does not make sense to most people. The world does not understand the glory of motherhood.

This is because home is not the place where the spotlight shines. The home is not the place where you can climb a ladder to get promotions and claim a new status. History does not have its eyes on you, and the cultural ceiling is not being broken.

The world does not understand the value of the home because it doesn’t understand glory. The world is chasing after a selfish glory that fades and a spotlight that dims.

The home seems foolish to the world, just like the gospel seems foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The real glory of motherhood is in displaying the gospel every day.

When a mom cleans up her children after a bathroom accident, she can be like her Lord, who stooped down to wash his disciple’s dirty feet (John 13:1-20). Every time there is a sibling conflict, a mother can be blessed as a peacemaker because Christ has made peace with us. (Matthew 5:9)

When a mom wakes up to serve her home in the unseen shadows of the morning, she can follow in the footsteps of Christ, who served the world by arriving in the unseen shadows of Bethlehem.

When a mom receives no fanfare or trumpet blast for her work, she can be like Jesus, who did not receive them either on this earth.

Each time a mother skips a meal due to the chaotic rush of life or spends the day washing out kid-stained laundry, she can sacrifice knowing that her Savior paid the ultimate sacrifice for her to have joy.

This is the glory the world does not understand. The world does not understand the joy that was set before Jesus when he endured the cross.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

Jesus sacrificed his entire life because he knew real joy and lasting glory. He came to earth out of love for the Father and love for the world (John 3:16). Jesus endured sleepless nights, long days, grumpy disciples, and a grueling cross because he had a lasting joy set before him.

He now sits at the right hand of God, having redeemed a people for himself, and he is coming back again to restore the world to a new and better Eden.

Mothers who are misunderstood and unappreciated by the world can trust in Christ and draw upon his grace to face the challenges of tomorrow. Mothers who are weary, worn out, and doing a thankless job can be strengthened by Christ and his gospel.

There is a glory in motherhood that is irreplaceable. There is a lasting joy in motherhood that self-promoting people cannot obtain or understand. The glory and joy of motherhood is ultimately found in Jesus, who enables us to lose our lives in order to find them.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Do you see and celebrate the glory of motherhood which ultimately reflects the glory of God in Christ? As we celebrate mothers this year, who can you encourage with the joy of the gospel?

Why Do Baptists Baptize? (Part 2)

| Richard Lucas |

Baptists are thankful for our rich and deep heritage. But sometimes, even in Baptist churches, people can be confused as to why we baptize. In this post, I am describing three reasons that people often think are the reasons that Baptists baptize but are actually not.

1. Not Because Baptism Is Required for Salvation

 This is a vitally important clarification to make. Baptists obviously think that baptism is very important; it’s in our name, after all. However, we want to be crystal clear that we do not believe that baptism is required for salvation. Sadly, many even in Baptist churches are confused about this. I do not think it’s because they were directly taught it, but somehow they have picked up this doctrinal confusion. I have interacted with many children who have expressed a desire for baptism, and when I ask them why they want to be baptized, they respond, “to get saved.” Baptism is a command of Christ (Matthew 28:19) and the Apostles (Acts 2:38), but it is not required for salvation. Baptists, like all good Protestants, believe the Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone and not by works (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Some broadly “Christian” groups do believe that baptism is required for salvation (or is at least part of salvation). In reference to infants, Roman Catholics believe that baptism takes away original sin and begins the process of infusing saving grace. Lutherans believe in what is called baptismal regeneration. They believe that in the act of baptizing the infant, they are regenerated or made spiritually alive. Disciples of Christ, or the so-called Christian Church, practice adult baptism of believers, but they teach that it is necessary for salvation.

Despite the beliefs of some Christians, the Bible does not teach that baptism is required for salvation. For instance, think of Jesus’s words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43, “And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” It would have been good and right for this new disciple to get baptized if he lived long enough to do so. But even though he died right then on the cross, Jesus promised that he would receive eternal life after his true profession of saving faith. Here we see that baptism was not necessary for salvation. Or think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” If baptism was necessary for salvation, then Christ should have sent the Apostle Paul to baptize. But it wasn’t part of Paul’s mission because baptism is not required for salvation.

 2. Not Because We Are Baptists

 This reason might surprise some people. Let me explain. Every Christian group (except for the Salvation Army and the Quakers) believes in baptism. So every Christian group practices baptism in some form. Some groups baptize infants, such as Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and Methodists. As Baptists, we do not recognize their practice as true, biblical baptism because they have a different meaning and mode of baptism. Nevertheless, these groups believe they are obeying Christ’s command and practicing the ordinance of baptism.

Some might say, well, none of those groups baptize by immersion, which is true. But even practicing baptism by immersion is not unique to Baptists. The Mormons also practice baptism by immersion. Even the Eastern Orthodox baptize babies by immersion. So even baptizing by immersion is not what makes Baptists distinct. Many non-denominational churches, such as “Bible” churches and “Community” churches, also only practice the baptism of believers by immersion. But they still aren’t “Baptist” churches, not technically speaking. They have some of our Baptist distinctives, but not all of them. We do not baptize because we are Baptists, or at least our particular view of baptism is not unique to being a Baptist. Baptism of only believers and only by immersion is what the Bible teaches, and it’s what we practice, but other Christian groups also practice the same thing. So being a Baptist is not the reason why we baptize.

 3. Not Because Jesus Was Baptized

 This reason exposes another common misconception among Baptists. Baptists do not baptize because they are following the example of Jesus getting baptized. We do baptize because we are following the command of Jesus, but not his example, nor that of John the Baptist. John’s baptism was not Christian baptism but a Jewish baptism. It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins for Jews or Jewish converts (Mark 1:4). The Apostle Paul explained this difference in Acts 19:1-6 when he was helping some of John’s disciples understand why they did not have the Holy Spirit. Surely this was a unique time in salvation history, but it clearly highlights that there was a difference. Jesus underwent John’s baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” and as a representative of the nation of Israel (Matthew 3:15). We are baptized to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which had not yet happened at that point in salvation history. Christian baptism is also in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

Displaying the Gospel

These three reasons are not the reasons that Baptists baptize. Sometimes Baptists have been confused about these reasons themselves, but we have other reasons from the Bible for our practice of baptism, such as the reasons we looked at in the last post.

The center of our practice of baptism is to visibly display the gospel. We preach the gospel in our sermons, we sing the gospel in our songs, we read the gospel in our scriptures, we pray the gospel in our prayers, and we display the gospel in the ordinances of baptism and communion. May God grant us many opportunities to display the gospel in baptism because he is saving souls here in Jacksonville through our church.

Why Do Baptists Baptize? (Part 1)

| Richard Lucas |

Christ has given to his church two ordinances to be continually practiced by his people in the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In some cases, these ordinances have become traditions, rites, and ceremonial practices that we might have forgotten the reason why we do them.

In this first post, I will share three positive reasons to answer the question, why do Baptists baptize? For these three reasons, I want to discuss how baptism should be done, who should get baptized, and what baptism is. These will address the mode, subjects, and meaning of baptism for Baptists.

1. Because Baptism Means Immersion

This first reason gets at the mode of baptism; that is how we baptize. Why do we baptize the way that we baptize?

In the Gospels, we can look at the baptisms performed by John the Baptist to see how baptism was done. John’s baptism accurately demonstrates the mode of baptism. It might have had a different meaning and significance (more on that in the next post), but it still looked the same. So, we can look to these examples of baptism to describe how baptism should be done.

In Mark 1:5, the people “were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.” The baptism was not next to the Jordan River, alongside the Jordan River, or with water from the Jordan River; no, they went into the water to be baptized. And then a few verses later, after Jesus was baptized, “he came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). He had to go into the water to get baptized, and then when he was done, he came up out of the water. Jesus had to be fully immersed in the water to get baptized. We baptize by immersion because baptism means immersion. That’s why Baptists do not sprinkle water on someone’s head or pour water over them, but the disciple goes into the water to be fully immersed in order to be baptized.

Or consider John 3:23, which reads that “John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.” He did not go where there was a little pool of water to get a cup full of water. He went where there was much water because they had to go into the water in order to be fully immersed. Also, in Acts 8:36-39, when the Ethiopian Eunuch comes to saving faith and wants to be baptized, why did they have to wait until they came upon some water? Why not just take the cup of water in the chariot and sprinkle him or pour it over him and call it baptism? Because baptism means immersion, that is why “they both went down into the water” (v. 38), and both again “came up out of the water” (v. 39) after they were done baptizing. They had to wait until they found enough water to be immersed.

In addition to these examples in the Gospels and Acts, we also have the reality that baptism symbolizes immersion. Colossians 2:12 reads, “Having been buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” The reason we immerse people in baptism is that it maintains the symbolism of what baptism represents. It shows our unity with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection. We go down into the water, just like Jesus went down into the grave in his death. And we come up out of the water, just like Jesus came up out of the grave in his resurrection. This symbolism is what we are attempting to represent when we display the gospel in baptism.

Some Christians who also practice believers’ baptism by immersion also practice the mode of baptism a little differently. Some baptize face forward into the water or just sit down into the water. But the reason we lay someone backwards in baptism is because it pictures burial, which is how someone is laid in the grave. Other groups triple dunk during baptism because of the three persons of the Trinity. But the Great Commission instructs us to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are three persons but one God. That is why we just dip disciples one time in the water.

Baptists baptize the way we do for good reasons. Baptism by immersion follows the example in the New Testament, and it also displays the rich symbolism of the gospel by picturing our union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

2. Because Baptism is the Sign of the New Covenant

This second reason gets at the subject of baptism; that is who we baptize. Why do we baptize only believers and not also their infants? Why do other Christians baptize their babies and Baptists do not?

Different Christian groups baptize their babies for various reasons, but one of the most common reasons (at least among Presbyterians) has to do with how you understand the Old and New Covenants. In the Old Testament, all the male children brought into the Old Covenant in Israel were circumcised. This rite showed that they were members of Israel; they were members of that covenant community. Circumcision was the visible sign that they were members of Old Covenant Israel. Many Christians who baptize their babies think they are doing the same thing in the New Covenant. They believe it works the same way now as it did in the Old Covenant. They believe you become a member of the church, instead of Israel, by performing this ceremony on babies. In the Old Covenant, this rite was circumcision on just males, and in the New Covenant, this rite is baptism by sprinkling or pouring water over boys and girls. The physical rite had to be updated to include both sexes. They believe that baptism has replaced circumcision, but it functions the same way as an entry rite into membership in the covenant community. In the Old Covenant, that was membership in the nation of Israel, and in the New Covenant, that is membership into the church.

The problem with this understanding of baptism (besides the fact that babies do not profess faith before they join the church) is that this is not how the New Covenant works. The Old Covenant and the New Covenant do not work the same way. The church is not the same as the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the pivotal passage that contrasts the Old and New Covenants. This prophesied New Covenant is “not like the [Old] Covenant” because the Old Covenant can be broken (v. 32). The Old Covenant was given through Moses, but the New Covenant is from Jesus. The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone, which were easily broken (consider how fast the Golden Calf incident happened after the giving of the law in Exodus 32). But the New Covenant will be written on the hearts of God’s people, and he will put his law within them so that it cannot be lost or broken (v. 33). Lastly, in the New Covenant, everyone will “know the Lord,” meaning they will all be believers because God “will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (v. 34).

In the Old Covenant, the babies did not have to profess faith to join the covenant community. They were circumcised at eight days old. And then they grow up and are commanded to obey the Lord and offer sacrifices, but in many cases, they do not even believe in God! They have not professed saving faith. They are in the nation of Israel, they are members of the Old Covenant, but they are not actually saved. So, the nation of Israel was filled with members who were not true believers (Hebrews 3:16-19). In the Old Covenant, they had to tell their neighbor to “know the Lord,” but not in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34). In the New Covenant, everyone knows the Lord because you can’t even enter into the New Covenant until you profess faith in Christ…which babies can’t do!

Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, which works differently than circumcision as the sign of the Old Covenant. Only those who profess saving faith in Jesus and receive the promised forgiveness he offers in the New Covenant should receive the sign of the New Covenant. That’s why Baptists only baptize professing believers, not infants.

3. Because Baptism is the Public Profession of Faith

This third and final reason for why Baptists baptize gets to the meaning of baptism. What is baptism? Baptists baptize because baptism is the public profession of faith.

After the Apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people asked how they should respond to the gospel message. Peter tells them that they should “repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Baptism was not commanded to do as a work to earn salvation, but as how they should publicly profess their faith in Christ. Baptism is a symbol, a picture of the gospel. It symbolizes Christ’s work and our cleansing through uniting us to his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). In baptism, we are confessing that we have embraced this gospel message and want to be publicly identified with Christ and his people.

Why Do We Do the Things That We Do?

We must not forget why we are Baptists and why we baptize. We don’t just baptize out of tradition. We aren’t confused to think that it saves us. No, baptism hasn’t lost its meaning. We baptize believers only and by immersion because it is what Christ commanded his disciples to do. It’s the sign that we are members of the New Covenant, and it’s how we profess our faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that the church would see the baptism waters flowing often because that would mean that God is saving more people here in Jacksonville and bringing them to our church. Let’s rejoice together with every new profession of faith in baptism and remember why we do it.

In the next post, we will explore three reasons that are not the reasons that Baptists baptize.

Celebrating Your Resurrection This Easter

| Heath Lambert |

Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 

Celebrating Easter

Every year at Easter, Christians celebrate the historical, literal, physical, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was really dead, and he really came back to life. He is alive now and reigning in heaven, and we are awaiting his historical, literal, physical, and bodily return to earth to reclaim his bride.

The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns, every person who has believed in him will be transformed and will receive a glorious and perfect resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). There is another resurrection that Christians experience, however. It is the resurrection the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 6:4. This resurrection is one every Christian knows right now at this very moment.

Our Resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection at Easter produces a real and tangible benefit for Christians in their lives. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ frees Christians from the power of sin. Being freed from the power of sin does not mean that Christians are freed from the total presence of sin. A world without any sin describes our existence in the next life, not this one. In this life, however, Jesus has made it possible for his people to live in meaningful victory over sin. Sin is not our master any longer; Jesus is. This means that Christians are no longer trapped in a life of sin but are empowered by Jesus to live lives of increasing holiness.

You Can Change

The physical resurrection in Jesus’ life leads to a spiritual resurrection in your life. This Easter, you are not trapped by sin’s requirement to yell at your spouse, nurse the grudge with your coworker, continue that sinful relationship, share the latest gossipy detail, despair over finances, manipulate your girlfriend, or cultivate bitterness. Jesus has set you free from sin’s requirement. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead unleashes power in your life to be gentle, gracious, pure, loving, trusting, honest, and kind.

This Easter, you really can be a different, better, more holy person. You just cannot do it in your strength. The resurrected Christ whose life we celebrate at this time of the year changes everything about you. He sets you free from sin.

This Easter, be sure to remember and celebrate not just the resurrection of Jesus but the resurrection that Jesus accomplishes in your life.

Death Hath Confronted Us

| Ernie Baker |

In the last week, I have had two significant conversations about death. A friend suddenly lost his wife from Covid as he was in the hospital recovering from his own case. As we visited, we discussed the truths of 1 Corinthians 15. We cried. We reminisced. We talked about the importance of family, and we hugged. Most importantly I prayed for my friend as he grieved and appealed to Yahweh to comfort him. We thanked the Lord for the hope we have for eternity.

Then came one of the most difficult conversations of my life. A friend was dying of cancer and asked to speak with me. In the past, I have been with people when they passed into eternity (and right after) but rarely have I talked with people who knew time on the earthly side was very limited. We cried. I helped him and his wife write some thoughts for his children. We prayed but again we turned to Scripture. You guessed it—1 Corinthians 15. As of the publication of this article, he will probably be in the presence of Jesus and the saints.

In my 41 years of ministry, while common in world history, death has never been this prevalent. Illness and death have confronted us and often we have been powerless. Of course, there have been times of startling reality like the Virginia Tech massacre, or 9/11, but those were sudden spikes on our death radar. These were quick reminders that things are not right but soon we forgot and returned to “normal.” With Covid, we are two years into a constant reminder. I’m sure there are readers that have lost loved ones—and I grieve with you.

Covid has shown Americans (and the world) that we are not in charge. Just as tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes remind humans of our weakness, Covid has been a reminder of our frailty.

Biblical compassion should be saying to us that we need to put to death our timidity and tell our neighbors the hope that is found in the gospel by becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 is a key passage of hope for today.

The timeless truths of the resurrection chapter give volumes of hope during these troubled times and need to be spoken to a nervous world.

Four Truths from 1 Corinthians 15

We shall change (verses 50-51). If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and have acknowledged Him as Lord by turning from yourself and sin and asked for forgiveness your body will be changed. As Paul says, “the perishable will put on the imperishable.” In other words, our frail, sick, disease-prone bodies will be no more. John Newton said it well as he was dying, “I am leaving the land of the dying to go to the land of the living.” Hallelujah!

We are eternal people (verses 52-53). This is not the end! Paul says that we shall put on immortality. There will be no more constraints of being earth and time-bound. Therefore, let your gaze breakthrough to eternity when you are feeling the pressures of this life; the present circumstances look bleak, but the future is incredibly bright for followers of the Lord. You will have to fight with your soul to do so, but it is worth the fight.

The sting of death has been removed (verses 55-57). Sin has a horrible sting called death (Romans 6:23) but since sin has been defeated and Christ arose the sting has been obliterated for the Lord’s followers. We no longer need to fear death (Hebrews 2:14-15). As one scholar termed it, there’s been a death to death in the death of Christ. Speak truth to yourself that death has been swallowed up in victory and absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

We can be steadfast (verse 58). Paul ends this crucial chapter for the days in which we find ourselves by saying, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” We as believers can be confident amid a culture in crisis. How? These are living principles and therefore, when we choose to believe them, they unleash their power within us, in our minds, and in our souls, which reverberates into our attitudes and, ultimately, our lifestyles (see also Ephesians 1:18-23 and 3:20-21).

A Final Challenge

Our country (and the world) is living in fear and is on edge. This has always been true but is amplified now. This is a teachable moment in world history. Here at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, we recognize this is our historic moment to speak God’s truth into a needy, fear-filled world. May the love of Christ constrain us to overcome our timidity and boldly speak the beautiful message of hope to a dying world (2 Corinthians 5:14). Love is more powerful than fear, so pray for love for your neighbors to overcome your fear of sharing the gospel (1 John 4:18). Ultimately, you must settle the issue in your soul of whether or not you are so convinced that this is the truth the world needs to hear that you are willing to put to death your fear. Will you join me in telling others?

Praying Without Ceasing

| Scott Connell |

Most Christians know that 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we are supposed to “pray without ceasing.” But how are we supposed to start a prayer that never ends? Don’t we have to live life in a way that requires us to say “amen,” then get up and go do the stuff we have been praying about?

Recently I have begun to think more seriously about what it means to lead a life of ceaseless prayer. While I believe some aspects of this kind of life will always be “under construction,” I also have begun to delight in how this pursuit can change everything about how we live—in the most beautiful ways!

I remember as a child watching the old Batman series with Adam West. Commissioner Gordon had this special hotline to Batman on a pedestal under a glass cover in his office. It was called the Batphone, and it had no rotary dial on it (which all phones had at that time in the 60s and 70s). But when the commissioner picked it up, it rang directly to the Batcave, and Batman was always there to pick it up (sometimes it was Alfred, but the same result always occurred). Help would be on the way immediately.

We most often look at prayer as a hotline to God. And in many ways, it is. We pick up the “phone” when we are in trouble, and there is the God of the Universe on the other end of the line. This fact still amazes me!

Then we hang it up with an “amen” when we are ready to “get back to it.” While I believe that devoted times of focused prayer are necessary throughout the day, I also have come to delight in the reality that God never “hangs up” his end of the line.

Maybe I don’t have to either.

God is omnipresent. He is everywhere in the same measure all the time. Jesus promised that he would “never leave us,” wherever we go—even “to the ends of the earth.” The Spirit indwells us permanently, and therefore we have the presence of God with us all the time.

So why do we act as if the prayer phone is still under a glass cover back in the office? God never hangs up his end of the line. Why do we hang up our side of the conversation?

What if we start trying to speak to God in every situation of every day? Not out loud all the time, but sometimes. Most often, it could be a whisper or even a conversation with him in our hearts and minds.

What if we challenge ourselves each day to keep this conversation going throughout every circumstance? We begin by opening our eyes in the morning, thanking God for the new day, and praising him. We continue to speak with him throughout our morning devotion and time getting ready for the day. We talk to him about what we have to do that day and where we have to go.

We pray at each meal, and we continue to speak with him as we drive, encounter people, take up new tasks, and go through every aspect of our day. When we have a conversation with someone, we also talk to God silently, asking how he wants us to respond to this person. When we walk into a restaurant, we ask God where he wants us to sit. When we get in the car, we ask him how he wants us to use that time. When we find ourselves waiting, we use the time to “wait on God.”

What if we continue this ongoing conversation until we lay our heads on the pillow at night? There we could recount how he was with us and helped us through every part of our day. Then we could fall asleep while talking to him, knowing that he would continue to stay awake with us. And when we wake up in the middle of the night (which some of us are prone to do quite often), we continue the conversation we started with him earlier.

What if we start doing this today? Perhaps we are not very good at it, and we keep forgetting to talk to God as often as we want. But we speak to him more than we usually do. Then we try again tomorrow, and we talk to him a little more.

What if we kept doing this every day, a little more each day? I bet this would lead us to talk to God so much that we begin to connect these times of praying like connecting dots in a picture. If we could do this every day and get a little better at it each day, we might just become a ceaseless pray-er. We might change everything about ourselves and those around us. We might change the world!

Knowing God More!

| Scott Connell |

We used to sing the following words of a worship song written by Steve Green many years ago:

Oh, I want to know you more

Deep within my soul, I want to know you

Oh, I want to know you…

During the heyday of the worship renewal movement, words like this seemed fresh and intimate when they arrived on the scene. They described a deep desire that lay beneath the surface of one’s life. But for those paying close attention, this type of language demonstrated a depth of desire that could easily be neglected, if not a complete lie. It is discouraging to be capable of singing such wonderful sentiments with our mouths that are not true of our heart’s actual desire.

The Bible indicates there are two types of knowledge of God. There is a head knowledge (James 2:19 – even the demons believe the facts) and a heart relationship (Philippians 3:10–“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection”). This is the difference between knowing facts about him in your head and knowing him with your heart (having a relationship). You might have heard it said that it is the difference of 12” (the distance between your heart and your head). The second one is the one that leads to life.

It is possible to go through your entire adult life with just head knowledge of God while never really having a heart relationship with God (heart knowledge). This reality saddens me as I think about all the people that have sat in churches or attended Bible studies to collect information about God but never “knew” the One they were learning about.

Jesus prayed in the garden on the night that he was betrayed, that his children might know God and know the One he had sent—Christ himself! The word know speaks to an intimate relationship. It speaks to desire. Jesus said that this relational knowledge was the essence of eternal life (John 17:3). I am not aware of a single verse that says so much about the purpose of our lives in such a small space. The whole purpose of this life is to establish and pursue a relationship with the living God. That is the singular purpose of eternity and, therefore, the singular purpose of this brief, earthly life. So, everything I do ought to contribute to this ultimate priority.

What are you doing to know him more? Do you ache deep within your soul to know him more? Reading the Bible is critical, but that is a means to an end. The purpose of reading is to know the heart and mind of the Author. Praying is vital, but that is also a means to an end. The purpose of prayer is to develop a relationship with the Hearer and Answerer of our prayers. Attending church is critical, but again, that is a means to an end. One of the primary purposes of attending church is to gather with others who want to know him more, deep within our souls!

Seeking to know him more requires a determination to look beyond the words of our public and private worship life and see the God who provides those words. When we receive a letter from someone who loves us, we don’t cherish the letter because of its paper and ink. We don’t reflect upon the words because they form well-constructed sentences and a beautiful sentiment. We see the letter as an opportunity to delight in its sender. We look beyond the letter aching for its source. We want to be with him. That is how we begin to know him more.

Desire!

 

SBC Survival Guide | Part 5: Hope

| Heath Lambert |

The previous posts in this SBC Survival Series on abuse, the ERLC, the Baptist Faith and Message, and race might all seem a little discouraging. Emphasizing all we must overcome might seem overwhelming. It is true that we have much to overcome in the serious problems we are facing as a convention. The problems are not overwhelming, however.

Our Hope in Times of Hardship

You begin to see that the problems are not overwhelming when you notice a common thread in each of the issues I addressed.

Overcoming our division on the issue of abuse requires setting aside our efforts at personal kingdom-building to focus on preaching Jesus to abused people. Division regarding politics can only be overcome as we focus on Jesus more than partisan political bickering. We must preserve our commitment to Jesus by fighting to uphold the faith once for all delivered to the saints in the Baptist Faith and Message. Regarding race, we must embrace the fact that the work of Jesus alone is the solution to our racial divisions.

The common thread, in case you didn’t notice it, is Jesus.

In these serious and threatening days, we can only afford to focus on Jesus. We must preach the grace of Jesus from the word of Jesus in the power of Jesus to the people of Jesus so that the glory of Jesus can expand. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will not survive if we must accommodate every demand from every person in the convention.

This requires agreement on all our part’s not to try to make the SBC about all of our preferences. We have to show up ready to fight for the truth of Jesus as it is articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message, or we should not show up. If I am looking for the SBC to be everything I want it to be, and if you are asking for it to be everything you want, then we are asking too much of it.

The convention was never meant to bear such demanding weight. The beauty of the structure of the convention is that it lets me take all my personal religious preferences and work them out in the privacy of my own heart, home, and church. You get to do the same. At the convention, we are all cooperating together to focus on Jesus, the most important thing.

When we focus on Jesus that leads to more reason for hope.

Our Hope in the Work of Jesus

The Great Commission comprises Jesus’ marching orders to the church. We are to take the gospel into all the world, baptizing people, and discipling them in the faith (Matthew 28:19-20). The commission begins with a promise from Jesus that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). This is a guarantee from Jesus that when we undertake his commission, his very own power and authority goes with us.

The work of Jesus on behalf of his church did not stop when the cultural tide began to change. Jesus is still saving people. Jesus is still conforming people to his image. Jesus is still empowering the preaching of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is still active, and the Kingdom is still growing.

That means we can do this.

The reason we can do this is not because we’re Southern Baptists, but because Jesus is still alive. When we show up in Anaheim—or any other city—prayed up, with our eyes on Jesus, and determined to make much of Him, the Holy Spirit will work in and through our efforts to exalt Jesus and make him famous.

Jesus Christ will turn these crises for good. Jesus can take a convention that is distracted and divided and make us focused and united. Jesus can take a convention that is going through some painful moments of stumbling and renew our strength. Jesus can lift us up on eagle’s wings.

Our power as a convention has never been in our numbers, the morality of our leaders, or in our faltering efforts at winsomeness. Our strength has always been in the good news of Jesus. The current crisis is about demonstrating the truthfulness of this reality. Jesus will accomplish a great work in our day, in our churches, and yes, in our convention. You watch and see. It is going to be incredible.

When we come together in the strength of Jesus, he will demonstrate his great power through us.

I am eager to see what Jesus does in the months and years ahead to overwhelm us with his power. It will be incredible.

I am excited because I know that, through the power of Jesus, we really can do this.

SBC Survival Guide | Part 4: Race

| Heath Lambert |

Divisions Over Race

Division over the issue of race is one of the greatest threats to unity in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This breaks my heart.

Some of that heartbreak goes back to something I learned from my mom in childhood.

Before my mother became a Christian, she would never have been confused with a virtuous woman, but with all her faults she was never a racist. My mom won scorn and lost friends when she invited an African American woman to join her and several other women at a party in our home in Kentucky. Several of the women were embarrassed, some of them left, and all of them talked about it. My mom knew it would happen and did not care. She loved her friend and thought the fault was with the women who were wrongly offended.

That example always meant a lot to me. It taught me a lesson as a little boy that when it comes to dealing with matters of race, we need, simply and straightforwardly, to be committed to standing on the principle of loving all people well. That is Jesus’ law of love (John 13:34-35). A commitment to loving all people well will be painful whenever it brings consequences from people who do not share this commitment. Even with these challenges, the law of love makes the path forward on the issue of race much easier than I sometimes think we are tempted to make it.

If the SBC is going to survive, we will only do so—and we only deserve to do so—when we are a convention who loves others well. This is a principle that is as true for race relations as it is for any other type of relationship.

Imagine that our cooperation on the issue of race is like dwelling together in a vast, beautiful, and open meadow protected by four strong walls. As long as we stay within those walls, we will enjoy love, trust, and joy in our relationships regardless of the color of our skin, our ethnicity, or our country of origin. But there are enemies on the other side of each of those four walls, and when we allow our enemies to penetrate any one of them, our cooperation will be characterized by hatred, distrust, and frustration.

Four Principles for Racial Harmony

Let me explain the four principles that comprise the protective barriers to our cooperation regarding the issue of race.

Principle #1: We Must be a Loving Convention that Is Not Racist

The American Heritage Dictionary says racism is, “The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.” Racism is a terrible sin that fails to realize that God has made all people in his image with equal dignity and worth (Genesis 1:27). There is no room for this sin in any church or in any denomination.

It has been observed by many that the SBC was birthed in racism. This terrible reality is to our everlasting shame and disgrace. Our commitment to Christ requires us to admit that this is a serious and mournful problem. But our commitment to Christ also demands we admit that it is not an insurmountable problem. The reason it is not insurmountable has nothing to do with ourselves and our sin. It has to do with Jesus. The most significant reason the SBC exists is to proclaim that Jesus brings forgiveness to all who trust in him. The grace of Jesus changes people, and his grace changes denominations too.

The grace of Jesus has brought meaningful change to the SBC. We are far from perfect, but we are not what we were. By the grace of Jesus, a denomination founded in racism is now fundamentally opposed to racism. This fundamental opposition is clearly expressed in our confessional document, the Baptist Faith and Message which demands in Article XV that, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism.” Even more than this, since the 1940s, numerous resolutions have been passed by the SBC expressing repentance over the sin of racism and demanding ever-increasing efforts at racial reconciliation. In addition to this, the SBC has elected African Americans to the highest posts in denominational life. This is a clear picture of a denomination that is living out a turn from its past sins.

The SBC must persevere in these gains and maintain our faithfulness on issues of race. We must see to it that the strong wall which forbids racism is not breached by anyone who would demean any person or group made in the image of God.

Principle #2: We Must Be a Loving Convention that Is Committed to Listening, Learning, and Ongoing Change

The fact that formal documents, official statements, and crucial leadership define the SBC as a denomination completely opposed to racism does not mean that we are completely free of the sin of racism in each person at every church, or in every corner of denominational life. Our steadfast commitment to oppose racism does not mean that some have not experienced painful instances of racial hatred. When these terrible things happen, it is right that those who have been the victims of racism be able to express the sinful mistreatment they received and the pain they experience because of it.

When we hear those stories of racial mistreatment, the law of love requires us to listen, to learn, to correct what we can, and to help those who have been mistreated move forward with grace. Indeed, it is our very commitment to avoid being a convention defined by racism that compels us to listen to such stories and grow from them. This work is called Christian care. It is called pastoral ministry. People who have experienced the pain of racism are not a threat to us or our denomination. Ministering to them in their pain is the reason we entered Christian ministry. Helping them in their lives and correcting the source of any problems they experience will strengthen our denomination.

As we live in the glorious meadow of a multiracial denomination, we are not threatened by those who have experienced the pain of racism. We are threatened by cruel voices who would keep us from hearing and learning from people who have experienced such pain.

We must not allow such cruel voices to breach the second wall and corrupt the glorious meadow of denominational life.

Principle #3: We Must Be a Loving Convention that Is Not Woke

A person is woke when they believe that all white people are guilty of the sin of “whiteness” by virtue of their being white. To say it another way, to be woke is to believe that all white people are guilty of the sin of racism regardless of who they are, where they were brought up, and whether or not they are aware of their racism. Those who are woke teach that the problem of racism which exists in every white person, and in every corner of our society can only be solved as those guilty of it confess their sin, engage in unending efforts to learn about and repair the damage of their sin, and, ultimately, seek to address the problem with political and economic solutions.

The problem with woke thinking is that it is built on a false doctrine of human sinfulness, and it teaches a false gospel. In woke thinking, sin is that of being white. You are guilty by virtue of who you are, where you were born, and what you look like. This is very different than the biblical understanding of sin as any transgression of the law of God. In woke thinking the way this problem is fixed is through an unending train of confession, learning, and penance, that never ultimately solves the problem. This is the opposite of the true good news in Scripture that teaches all of your actual sins—not your purported ones—are fully and finally forgiven through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Those of us in the SBC need to know that woke thinking is a very bad approach to racial reconciliation because it never leads to reconciliation, but only to more accusing, more guilt, more animosity, and more division. This is not what Jesus came to bring. The path forward through the sin of racism is a full confession of our sin (Principle #1), the full confidence that Jesus forgives us of our sin and empowers us to move forward, and a commitment to listening and making progress when we fall short of that noble goal (Principle #2).

Our convention will fail at reconciliation and will fail at preaching the gospel if we allow this third wall to be breached.

Principle #4: We Must Be a Loving Convention that Is Not Unrealistic

Much of the conversation about race in evangelical circles has been naïve and unrealistic.

Let me explain what I mean.

When we talk about race, Christians have done a wonderful job of explaining that we must do better at reaching different races and ethnicities. We have rightly urged that we must have churches that look more like our culture. We have exhorted our fellow Christians to work for churches on earth that will reflect the church in heaven (Revelation 7:9). I am profoundly grateful for these efforts.

In the midst of those important and helpful appeals, however, we have sometimes failed to acknowledge the obvious. That obvious observation is that Christian congregations in rural Vermont are going to look different than those in downtown Philadelphia. A church plant in Miami’s South Beach will have a vastly different racial demographic than one in Pikeville, KY. No minister has done anything wrong when the faces of the people in his church look like the faces in his local community even if that means there is less racial diversity than in other places. In such a situation, no one should make judgments about the church’s commitment to racial reconciliation but must understand the reality of demographics.

Until Jesus comes back there will be countless realities of geography, mission strategy, and personal preference that play a part in where people worship and why specific congregations look the way they look. That is good, and no cause for complaint.

Christians should not allow guilt and a spirit of suspicion to breach this fourth wall of denominational harmony, placing burdens on faithful people and congregations that are too heavy to bear. We can love each other well when different congregations have equal commitments to diversity while maintaining different demographic profiles.

Real Racial Harmony

I really believe that these four walls will contribute to racial harmony. Furthermore, I do not believe they are that hard, even though practical applications may be challenging. Even more than that, I think this is where most Southern Baptists are. We will be a more united denomination when we all agree to fight against racism, to listen to and learn from those who have experienced racism, to fight against woke thinking as a false alternative to racial reconciliation, and trust that all of us are passionate about the same things even when various ministry locations make our congregations all look a little different.

Should Christians Date Non-Christians?

| Sean Perron |

All the right factors seem to be in place-cute charm, dreamy looks, social suave, a pleasant appeal, and even conservative convictions. The only thing missing is… Jesus.

Perhaps you have thought something like: “They are so close to the truth, and they love so many good things the Bible supports! Surely they would be compelled to follow Christ fully if they were enticed by a godly companion!”

As tempting as it might be to date a nice unbeliever, I am not convinced this is the way to go about evangelizing. I do not think the way to share Christ is through candle-lit dinners and gushy love notes. The way of the great commission is not “flirt to convert.” I believe there is a better way to display the love of Christ and protect your soul.

True Love Is Soul Deep

What do you find romantically attractive in someone who is not a believer? It would be unbiblical and frankly ridiculous if I were to say that all unbelievers are repulsive. Every human is made in the image of God and bears his beautiful thumbprint. Unbelievers can be kind, generous, endearing, and attractive. This is not the issue. The issue is: what is true love? If Scripture is true that God is love, then how can someone truly understand love apart from knowing Christ intimately (1 John 4:8)?

Take a good look at them. What makes them tick? What consumes them? Is it a red-hot love for Christ and his Scripture? Do the pages of the Bible leap out to them with joy and delight? Are they moved to tears by the mercy and wonder of God?

Do you catch them washing the feet of those who can never repay them this side of heaven? Do you find them praying for you and have you seen God answering their prayers? Are they willing to be laughed at for the sake of the cross? Are they willing to stand for the oppressed even when it is not popular? Has the glory of God set their heart ablaze with a passion to see Christ reign over every human heart?

True love is soul deep. You want the kind of love that still stirs at old wrinkles. You want to clasp hands in the nursing home with a committed believer who has lived vigorously for the glory of God. An unbeliever does not have what it takes to keep cultivating long-term attraction to their wrinkles. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a man or woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30).

Romance Is Not Offensive  

Flirting to convert ultimately fails because it is not offensive enough. The Apostle Paul says the cross is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The cross is gruesome because it calls the world to forsake all and treasure God first and foremost. The cross requires repentance on our part and this is offensive to our selfish desires.

Holding hands is not hideous. Red roses are not repulsive. Whispering “sweet nothings” is not offensive.

Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. It is the opposite of evangelism. It says, “I value you more than I value what Christ says”. It brings confusion where there should be a clear call to repentance. I am not saying that God cannot use romance to bring about the salvation of a soul. Our God is in the heavens, and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). But for every person who is saved through an intentional dating relationship, it is in spite of it and not because of it.

Evangelistic dating is dangerous because it can exalt the gift over the Giver. Who wouldn’t want to convert in order to marry the person they are crazy about? Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to Jesus in order for their significant other to say “yes” to them?

God doesn’t want to be a carrot on a stick. He wants people to come and die at his feet in order to find life (Luke 14:26).

What Should You Do If You Are in a Relationship with an Unbeliever?

I highly recommend seeking advice from your local church on how to best end the relationship. The call of the hour is to speak the truth in love to the person you are dating (Ephesians 4:15). The call of repentance must be clear, and you must not be the prize if they turn from sin. You will need to spend time explaining the gospel and pointing out the deep chasm of worldviews between the two of you. They need to know how different you think on the most important issues in life and why it is a deal-breaker. Ending a relationship does not mean ending a friendship, but it does mean ending all romance. It will serve them best to point them to Christ instead of continuing to kindle feelings for each other.

Who knows? This obedience to God may be the means Christ uses to revolutionize their life for the gospel. If so, praise God and don’t immediately move back into the romantic relationship. Growth requires time and baby trees need more than one night to bear fruit. Regardless, God will honor your obedience for his glory and your good.

This blog is taken from a portion of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating by Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon.

This is part 6 of a blog series on Recovering Purity Culture.

Sean Perron is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years of Marriage.

SBC Survival Guide | Part 3: The Baptist Faith and Message

| Heath Lambert |

Unity and Truth

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is as divided now as it has been at any point since the conservative resurgence. That resurgence began in the 1970s, long enough ago that we can no longer take for granted that it is understood by the youngest in denominational life. The conservative resurgence began in response to division in the SBC, and that division was over theology.

On one side of the division were the liberals (called moderates) who proved to be the minority in Southern Baptist life but had taken over leadership of various institutions in the SBC. On the other side of the division were the conservatives, a majority of those in the convention, who were unwilling to allow the convention to slide into liberalism and death.

Conservatives knew that if the SBC was going to endure, it must be united. They further knew that if they were to achieve unity, it would have to be around the truth.

This is a biblical idea. God’s Word commands God’s people to contend for God’s truth, “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). There is only one deposit of truth that God has given to his people, and that is the work of his people to contend for that truth. The command to contend for the truth assumes the reality of an ever-present threat against the truth. Every generation faces a threat of compromised truth, and so every generation must be prepared to protect that truth.

The division that Southern Baptists are experiencing right now is a division that can only be corrected by a reaffirmation of truth.

Which Truth?

Once you admit that it is the job of Christians to contend for the truth, you must ask a very important question: which truth? The Bible is full of thousands of teachings that Christians believe, teach, question, and debate. How are Christians to know which truths we must contend for, and which truths we will not?

Answering this question is tricky.

Obviously, every faithful Christian wants to contend for every truth in the Bible. When you love the truth, you want a maximum of it. But not all truths in the Bible are as central to the faith as all the others. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is obviously of “first importance” and is something for which Christians must always contend (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  The baptism of the dead, however, is a teaching that is up for serious debate (1 Corinthians 15:29). It is unwise to demand unity around one understanding of this mysterious reference in the Bible. And so, even in just one chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15, Christians must make decisions about which truths they will prioritize.

This is where the importance of confessions of faith comes in. A confession of faith is a document that tells Christians which truths they will contend for out of all the possible truths in the Bible. Confessions of faith describe the hills on which Christians will die. When a group of Christians come together and adopt a confessional document – that document is crucial to their unity because it explains which truths they will come together to cherish, believe, teach, and defend.

That confessional document for Southern Baptists is the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). First drafted in 1925 and most recently revised in 2000, that document describes the truths which unite Southern Baptists. It lists the truths we have agreed together to defend.

The reason Southern Baptists are having a tough time right now is that we lack unity about which truths are central, and which are not. If we are going to be a united convention, we need to regain clarity about the basis of our unity, and we need to regain it quickly.

When to Contend

It is helpful to think of the BFM as a boundary marker. In the same way, geographical lines form boundaries around nations, confessional lines form boundaries around the truth. When there is a disagreement within the boundaries established by the BFM, Baptists know that it is time to defend the truth.

Let me mention one controversial example. For a very long time, Christians have disagreed about gender roles within the church and family. Controversy abounds on this topic because the Bible’s teachings on women and men sound hopelessly antiquated in a modern age.

What is crucial to understand is that the issue of gender roles is not supposed to be controversial within the SBC. Our convention has already spoken to this issue. One place that mentions this is Article VI, which says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The teaching on the exclusivity of male pastoral leadership has become a debate in the SBC in recent years. This is unfortunate. Being a Southern Baptist means you reject that women can be pastors. Of course, that leaves many other positions that women may fill in church leadership, and there is room for disagreement on those matters since they are not explicitly stated. But the pastoral question is settled law. If you believe differently, you should embrace your convictions, adopt a gracious spirit, and do your ministry outside of the bounds of the SBC. You could also change your view and serve happily within the convention. What you should not do is try to be sneaky or rebellious and behave in opposition to our confessional document.

When faithful Southern Baptists encounter others trying to be sneaky or rebellious by behaving and teaching in a way that contradicts the BFM, we are required to defend the truth. A violation of the BFM is a violation of the truth within the boundaries of our confessional document, and it must not go unchecked.

The SBC will never be united until we have an agreement on the issues within the boundaries of the BFM.

When to Acquiesce

Southern Baptists do not need to fight about everything and ultimately cannot fight about everything. That is the other side of the issue of boundary lines created by the BFM. When issues come up outside the boundaries established by the confessional document we can discuss, debate, and even disagree. But we do not have to fight. We do not need to raise those issues to the level of convention-wide conflict.

The part of contending for the faith that I mentioned above has to do with knowing when to fight. What I am talking about now is knowing when to avoid fighting.

Unity takes self-control. To have unity we must discipline ourselves to avoid getting worked up about things outside the boundaries created by our confession. This is hard, and I know it. I have things I care a lot about that the BFM never mentions. I know you do too. But cooperation requires knowing where we must agree to disagree, and where it is impossible to do that.

Wisdom about when to disagree raises the crucial and sensitive issues confronting the convention right now, which I have been addressing in this series. What about the issue of abuse and politics that I raised previously, and the issue of race that I will address later? How do we handle those issues when they come up? I will save the issue of race for my post next week but will talk about the others right now.

Southern Baptists are engaged in an important debate about how to respond to abuse and abuse allegations within our churches. How do we handle this as confessional people committed to fighting for truth within the bounds of the BFM, and agreeing to disagree about areas outside of our confession? Let me answer in two ways.

First, we need to acknowledge that abuse is in the category of ethics and has to do with how we behave. It is crucial that Southern Baptists keep a close watch on our lives so that our personal and corporate ethics reflect the righteousness that is taught in the Bible. If a pastor is a liar or steals from his church, his congregation will not trust him, will not listen to him, and the truths he believes and teaches will become worthless to them. In the same way, we must demand ethical behavior from our leaders, so that our efforts at teaching the truths we believe are not undermined. In this way, Southern Baptists should be determined to expose abuse and its mishandling to preserve our witness for Jesus to victims and those concerned about them. The project to uncover abuse and protect victims would be crucial for us even if the issue was not mentioned in the BFM.

But the issue of abuse is mentioned in the BFM, and that is the second point. In Article XV, the BFM demands that “Christians should oppose . . . all forms of sexual immorality,” and that we should, “Work to provide for . . . the abused.” This means that the current effort to learn from abuse victims and to make any necessary changes is required by our BFM. We would be in violation of our confessional document to overlook this crucial matter.

What about how Southern Baptists should think through the crucial and controversial matter of political disagreements. As I argued in my previous post, I think there is enough complexity in the political world right now for those of us in the SBC to agree that we will not choose one person to speak for all Southern Baptists at this point. If, however, we are going to choose such a person, then I argued that, because of the complexity of the issues and the diversity of opinions, they needed to have a pastor’s heart. I also argued that they needed to be a theological conservative as defined by their allegiance to the BFM and that they should be a political conservative.

My convictional reason for arguing for a political conservative is that I know no political liberal or moderate who could faithfully represent Southern Baptists defending the BFM in the public square. We can go to the BFM for just one example. Article XV demands that Christians oppose homosexuality and further says Baptists must, “Speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” Until someone finds a political liberal who is opposing the LGBTQ+ agenda and defending human life from the point of conception, I am going to say that a political conservative is required by the BFM.

Regardless of the issues, our unity must be formed around the truth, and for Southern Baptists, that truth is contained and summarized in the BFM.

Southern Baptists must redouble our commitment to contending for the faith and to embracing the BFM. That means we are committed to agreeing with and contending for the BFM, and that we are also committed to agreeing to disagree on matters where it is silent. It is only in this way that we can unite to reach our common goal of taking the gospel to the nations.

Christians and Cohabiting Couples

| Sean Perron |

Christians can respond to cohabiting couples in all the wrong ways. Some Christians endorse living together. Some treat it as the unpardonable sin. Others avoid cohabiting couples like the plague because they do not know what to say.

How should Christians respond (or not respond!) to couples living together?

It is true that marriage is a Christian institution.

It was designed by God to declare the good news of Jesus Christ to the world (Ephesians 5:22-33). A husband is supposed to lay down his life in sacrificial service for his bride-just as Jesus did. A wife is supposed to submit to her husband in the same way the church submits to Christ. It is a beautiful representation of the gospel.

Therefore, cohabitation is an unchristian handshake.

It grates against the good design of God at every level. It undermines a lifetime commitment and replaces it with instability. It removes sacrifice and establishes self-serving terms of agreement. It deteriorates submission and breeds rebellion. It distorts sexual intimacy and fuels sexual immorality.

There are more ways in which cohabitation replaces the good news of Jesus with the bad news of secularism. All these reasons and more are why Christians often do not know what to do with cohabiting couples.

Here are three biblical principles for a proper response to cohabitation.

1. Compassion Not Commendation

There are many cohabiting couples who attend church. This is a great thing and we should expect it. It is a re-occurring reality for me as a pastor to have someone tell me they are visiting our church and then let me know they are living together.

When someone says they are living together with their boyfriend or girlfriend, a Christian’s heart should swell with compassion. Christ was full of tenderheartedness and longed to shepherd people towards God (Matthew 9:36). A cohabitating couple needs the compassion of a shepherd who wants to move sheep away from danger.

Shepherds care for their sheep by leading them to green pastures. Shepherds love sheep by walking them out of a dark and deadly valley to bring them to still waters. True compassion leads people to God.

True compassion will never endorse sin, but it will help people leave sin. Compassion is helpful. Commendation is harmful.

This means the first place to start with cohabiting couples is not necessarily how their actions undermine the institution of marriage. The place to start is the gospel.

Unless God softens their heart and pricks their conscience, no argument about the value of marriage will be ultimately effective.

When people tell you they are living together, compassionately explore their relationship with Christ and share the good news of Jesus with them. In sharing about the forgiveness of sins, the issue of repentance will come up and then you can address the issue of cohabitation.

2. Clarity Not Condemnation

Cohabiting couples need clarity from Christians. We are the salt and light of the world which requires us to expose the deeds of the darkness (Ephesians 5:12-21). There is a way to expose the darkness that is full of condemnation and there is a way to expose the darkness that is full of charity.

God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). Certainly, this means that we should not try to condemn the world. It is not our job to convict and condemn. It is our job to bring clarity of Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to work.

How can you help bring clarity to a couple living together?

Not all couples live together for the same reasons. Identifying the reason for cohabitation is important.

Some people do not know that it is wrong to live together. All their friends do it. Their parents did it. There are people who have never heard the biblical teaching that it is sinful. After the gospel is shared, sometimes all it takes is opening up the Scriptures and explaining God’s plan for marriage.

Finances could be another factor in why a couple is living together. Perhaps they believe it is financially beneficial. Perhaps they are fearful of unifying their bank accounts and getting a mortgage together. Perhaps they are terrified of commitment.

Loneliness could be another reason for cohabitation. A person might not have any friends or have trouble making new friends, so cohabitation is the easy way to experience some level of security that is obtainable.

Sexual benefits are often a reason for couples to live together. It can start with just spending the night once or twice and then it can develop into something that is a convenient pleasure or byproduct of proximity.

It could also be that only one person is driving the cohabitation. Maybe the man is pushing for it or perhaps the woman is hanging on waiting for a commitment.

Regardless of the reasons, knowing the couple is important. Knowing the reasons and circumstances can help you speak clarity into the situation. You can learn about their needs, fears, lusts, and longings in order to provide solutions in Christ.

It is our job as Christians to help others detangle from the trap of deceitful sin which they have made their dwelling (Galatians 6:1-3).

3. Blessings Not Burdens

Christians are called not just to have compassion and clarity, but to provide actual care.

It is our responsibility to help facilitate practical change. We should not be hearers or speakers only, but doers of the word (James 1:22-24).

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they would not help people change. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4).

Christians must bless cohabitating couples with care, not just burden them with demands.

For example, if you discover finances are a significant factor for a couple, how can you help them financially if they are willing to repent? Can you help provide housing with another church member if they are willing to move out? Can you offer rides if they only have one vehicle? If they are lonely, can you have them over for meals to give them space and time away?

Once you identify the reasons for their cohabitation, you can provide tangible care that is meaningful and helps them bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).

Conclusion

Christians are people who love God and love others. Cohabiting couples must feel like church is a safe place to come learn the ways of God and find help to repent. We can provide a far better life than the cohabiting life. We can lead people away from the bad news of shallow commitments and cheap pleasures, and instead move them towards the beautiful, good news that satisfies.

This is part 5 of a blog series on Recovering Purity Culture.

Sean Perron is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years of Marriage.

A Christian Response to the Ukraine Invasion

| Heath Lambert |

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Since last week the world has held its breath as Vladimir Putin engaged in a reckless, corrupt, shocking, and terrifying invasion of Ukraine. Everyone is waiting with bated breath to see where this all goes. The reality is that nobody knows. Now that the invasion has begun, not even President Putin knows how this will end.

As I have been watching the news and trying to think through a faithful, biblical response, I have been transfixed by the way several striking images are illustrating the headlines. I want to point to three images from three news stories that help identify three faithful Christian responses to this tragedy.

Response 1: Heartbreak

The first image is absolutely horrifying. It is a picture of a nameless and defenseless woman that was released after the invasion began. Her face is covered with wounds and her eyes are filled with doubt and fear.

This heartbreaking picture reminds us of the real human toll that the headlines report. It points us to the first way that Christians must respond, and that is with utter heartbreak. The Bible demands that we weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

The invasion of Ukraine is a colossal human tragedy, and no Christian can let wealth, continents, or oceans create an emotional distance that keeps our hearts from breaking. Countless innocent lives will be lost and destroyed because of this act of moral evil, and Christians must weep over that fact.

Response 2: Resolve

The second image is even more bracing than the first. It is the image of an elderly woman squinting down the barrel of an automatic weapon. You can see the hand of a Ukrainian soldier helping to steady the weapon, apparently training her to use deadly force against Russian invaders. This picture was released after the Ukrainian government called on citizens to defend their country and began distributing weapons to help them do this. In one way this picture is as horrifying as the first, since no elderly woman should ever need to take up arms to protect her home.

On the other side of the horror, however, is the encouragement of a woman who is unwilling to take an invasion lying down. If a foreign invader comes for her home, they may get it, but only after they encounter the business end of a machine gun.

This image reminds us of the requirement to be resolved. Ecclesiastes 3:8 states that there is a time for war. Christians are often more comfortable talking about the other part of that verse addressing the necessary time for peace, but when 150,000 Russian troops are kicking in your door it’s time to fight. It is crucial that the innocents in this fight match the resolve of the assailants.

Not everyone’s resolve will look like the armed woman in the picture. Some people will need to fight, others will send aid, some Christians will need to bring refugees into their homes. We can all pray. We can also encourage our leaders to do the right thing and stand with these desperate people in their time of urgent need. I know there are not easy answers in a conflict like this, but everyone should remember that history is never kind to aggressors or to those who tolerate their aggression.

We must all be resolved to stand with Ukraine in any way we can.

Response 3: Confidence

The final picture is of a group of men praying in Kharkiv, Ukraine around the time the invasion began. I mentioned prayer, above, regarding our resolve to fight. But here I mention prayer regarding our confidence in God. We can be confident that God is going to do a good work in this wicked moment. The nations may rage but they cannot stop the purpose of God to build the Church of Jesus Christ.

2,000 years ago, Jesus made a promise to build his church (Matthew 16:18). It is a promise he has never broken. He is not about to start breaking it today.

I mentioned earlier that I have no idea how this thing will end. I really mean it. When this thing is over, I don’t know if there will be a Ukraine, a Russia, a Poland, a NATO, or even a Europe. But I know there will be a church. Jesus has always been building it. He is building it now. In easy times and challenging ones, the Word of God is expanding, the people of God are growing, and the Son of God is gaining fame and honor.

In the midst of heartbreak and resolve, the work of Jesus to build his church gives us confidence even when the world is at war.

If you want a tangible way to donate to a faithful ministry serving Ukraine, click here

Health and Hope: An Update on My Medical Journey

| Heath Lambert |

On Friday, February 25, I took the latest step in the long journey I have been on regarding my health. Because so many have reached out about how I am doing, I wanted to share an update with you.

Here is the update.

Background

In 2017, I began experiencing concerning spasms on the right side of my body. For a brief period, the doctors suspected something terrible like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a tumor, but quickly ruled these problems out. Eventually, they discovered that the problem was a dislocated cluster of blood vessels in my brain that was putting pressure on one of my cranial nerves.

Once the problem was discovered we began a lengthy season of discovering how to treat it. We met with numerous neurosurgeons and tried several different medical interventions to seek to reduce or eliminate the spasms. When it was clear that other solutions were not helping, all my doctors ultimately recommended brain surgery.

The surgery required drilling a small hole in the back of my skull, entering my brain, relocating the displaced blood vessels, and wrapping the damaged nerve with Teflon to protect it from any further damage. The surgery, in September of 2020, was intense. It required several days of recovery in the intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic and weeks of recuperation at home after that.

At first, the surgery seemed like a complete success. I was excited that 100% of my symptoms resolved. After a few months, however, my symptoms had not only returned but were actually worse. I was experiencing more extreme spasms across a wider area than I had before surgery. My doctors reluctantly made the decision to do a second surgery called a revision.

After that second surgery in May of 2021, some of the more extreme symptoms I had experienced went away, but I have not had a single day without spasms. Nerves are slow to heal, and the doctors were hopeful that given enough time I would fully recover. But my symptoms remain, and the reality is that I am forced to conclude that the surgeries which were supposed to help me, and which work in 95% of patients with my problem, have not been successful.

Where I Am Now

Realizing the situation, I went back to Mayo Clinic to hear from the neurology and neurosurgery teams about what is going on, and what the path forward for me is. They gave me bad news and good news.

The bad news is that my incredible team of doctors are no longer talking about solving this problem. For reasons that they are not able to explain, I am one of the very few patients that have been resistant to every treatment for this problem. It appears that this will be a problem that I have to live with for the rest of my life. Of course, the Lord can and may heal me at any time, but my human doctors are out of options to fully resolve this problem.

The good news is that, while they cannot fully remove the problem, there are options that can help to manage it and minimize some of the symptoms that I’m having. We have three really encouraging options that we can pursue. We are going to start with the least aggressive medicinal option and graduate to more aggressive options depending on how I respond.

I am excited to see if these options will work, though my expectations are tempered by the fact that every intervention we have tried for five years has been unsuccessful.

I will be honest with you. I am disappointed by the results of all these attempts at resolution. It is beyond discouraging that I have had two grueling operations on my brain without much significant improvement. That’s just the truth.

But as I observe my own heart, I also want you to know that I am far more encouraged than I am discouraged. No matter how I look at this situation, I can’t help finding more reasons for gratitude than for frustration.

The Bible says that we are to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Let me give you five quick reasons why I am so thankful.

Five Reasons I Am Grateful Right Now

  1. I am grateful for my health. It might seem ironic to be grateful for my health in the midst of a health struggle, but I really am thankful. Let me explain. During my recoveries from surgery, the incredible nurses in the intensive care unit would come into my room, unplug all the wires and tubes, and take me on short walks. On those walks, I would look into the rooms of the other patients, and every single person I saw was in worse shape than me. My problem is frustrating, but I can live with it. In the years since my diagnosis with this problem, I have lost many friends to more serious maladies. Viewed in that light, I am thankful. The Lord has been kind to me.

 

  1. I am grateful for my healthcare. Over the last several years I have met with some of the world’s smartest people, have had the most sophisticated medical evaluations possible, and have received care at the most elite medical centers in the world. My medical care has been incredible, and I have the bills to prove it! I am amazed at all the knowledge we possess, and all the care that is possible. Even though all this has not led to a cure in my case, I am still grateful for all I have received. The Lord has been kind to me.

 

  1. I am grateful for the relief of other problems. The last five years have been the hardest of my life. The fact of the matter is that my health ordeal has not come close to being the hardest problem I have faced. You might not believe the unprecedented ministry problems I have faced, and the personal pain I have endured. As bad as it has been, the Lord has delivered me from it. Let’s get coffee sometime, and I’ll tell you all about it. I could have far worse problems than what is going on in my brain. The Lord has been kind to me.

 

  1. I am grateful for my relationships. Nothing proves love like adversity. In the difficulty of this problem, I have discovered the love and care of thousands of people. The most faithful of them all has been Lauren. She has been with me every step of the way. She has supported me, cared for me, encouraged me. She fed me when I couldn’t feed myself, got me to the bathroom when I couldn’t go on my own, and everything in between. No one has ever loved me like she has. My precious children, Carson, Chloe, and Connor are the three best kids any dad ever had. They have helped me, been patient with me, prayed for me, and even made fun of me. In addition to that, I have had the unflinching support of the very best church in the entire world, First Baptist Church. Those wonderful people have loved and supported us with gifts, prayers, childcare, food, and encouragement like nothing we have ever experienced. Friends from all over the world have written notes, called, and prayed. People I have never met have expressed care. I have been overwhelmed with love. The Lord has been kind to me.

 

  1. I am grateful for my ministry. One of the great frustrations of my spasms is that it causes the right side of my face to contort and squint. It looks super awkward. Some people have wondered if I’m upset with them, or about to spit. This is very discouraging for a guy whose job is to communicate. I spend my days talking to individuals and groups small and large. I have often been concerned that my spasms will distract from the saving message of Jesus I am called to preach. With all my heart I don’t want anything about me to distract from the work the Lord has given me to do. Well, after five years of searching, I now know that there is not one thing in the whole world I can do about it. Rather than be frustrated, I am going to trust the Lord. After struggling with his own thorn in the flesh, the Apostle Paul said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). So allow me to apologize in advance, right here, for all the funny faces I now know I am going to make throughout the rest of my ministry. I’ll add this one to the long list of weaknesses I already bring to my ministry and ask Jesus to use them all for his glory. The Lord has been kind to me, and I know he will continue to be.

SBC Survival Guide | Part 2: The ERLC

| Heath Lambert |

Christians, Politics, and Division

Politics is tough for Christians.

On a good day, it can be surprisingly challenging for Christians to know how to apply biblical truth to political issues. For example, there is no doubt about the biblical commands for generosity (Luke 3:11). But how does this command to generosity impact our political engagement? Some Christians apply this by enthusiastically participating in the government-funded welfare state. Others apply it by objecting to that welfare state so that their resources can be preserved from the government and freed up for private generosity in their church and other ministries.

My point is not that there is no right answer to that dilemma, but that this is just one political issue where Christians have regularly disagreed.

Christian political disagreements began to be accentuated in 2016 with the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Do you remember the dilemma that the Trump candidacy presented to Christians back then? I do.

I was pastoring and preaching through it all and regularly talked to Christians who were painfully torn. On the one hand, the people in my church were encouraged that Trump was running as an obvious political conservative. On the other hand, my folks were also really concerned about Trump’s rhetoric and sinful lifestyle.

I preached several times that year about the importance of Christian faithfulness at the ballot box, and after every sermon, I talked to two separate groups of Christians. The first group was composed of faithful brothers and sisters who felt they could not vote for Trump because they were concerned about his sinful lifestyle choices. The second group was composed of faithful brothers and sisters who, despite Trump’s sinful lifestyle choices, felt they must vote for him because not voting for him would work to ensure that Hilary Clinton would become president.

Both groups were making a calculation. The first group was calculating that it was best to stand on the principle of character and trust God about who was elected. The second group was calculating that it was best to do whatever we could to ensure faithfulness in the public square, and trust God with a man’s character. In their calculations, both groups meant well.

It was a great demonstration of how faithful Christians who intend the best can often struggle with the application of their principles. And it is the kind of difficult challenge that I think Christians are going to see more of in the future, not less.

The ERLC

That brings us to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

For decades the ERLC has been an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention charged with helping Southern Baptists to think through political and ethical issues, and representing our interests in places like Washington D.C.

At this point, we are at a crossroads with the ERLC. Many Southern Baptists are divided about what the future of that entity should look like as the ERLC board searches for a new leader. The decision that the ERLC makes about its new leader will not be a neutral one. The decision will either add further division to a denomination already in tumult, or it will be a decision that can strengthen our unity in these crucial days.

I offer my thoughts on the future of the ERLC as a pastor and lifelong Southern Baptist who wants the future of the SBC to be stronger, more effective, more united, and growing in our Christian faithfulness and witness.

I see two options moving forward.

The First Option

Southern Baptists could eliminate the ERLC. We could, with due appreciation for all the good work they have done in the past and with profound gratitude for the many wonderful employees that have served and continue to serve, say that the entity is no longer necessary to the mission of the SBC.

We could say that, right now, Southern Baptists need to get first things first. And the very first thing must be our faithful cooperation to take the gospel to the nations. Anything that distracts us from that is dangerous and unnecessary. Taking the option of eliminating the ERLC would thus be an exercise in putting the gospel first.

I want to be clear that what I am talking about here is something very different than “defunding the ERLC.” Calls to defund are reactionary and have been issued in a situational and temporary way. I am not talking about that. I am suggesting that it may be in the best interests of Southern Baptists to consider that just because something has been helpful in the past does not mean that it is necessary going forward. Eliminating the ERLC would mean that Southern Baptists would make a careful and deliberate determination that the ERLC is no longer necessary.

Eliminating the ERLC would not mean that anyone believes the SBC should have no voice on the crucial issues of politics, ethics, and religious liberty. In fact, the SBC already has these voices. We have brilliant seminary presidents, an army of ethics professors, and countless godly, insightful, and respected pastors speaking to these issues. Southern Baptists have the freedom to listen to and follow these incredible leaders as they see fit.

Eliminating the ERLC would not eliminate our political voice. Such a decision would express that, at this point in our convention, it is unnecessary, unwise, and counterproductive to select one person that would speak for all Southern Baptists on these issues.

The Second Option

Eliminating the ERLC is unlikely. It would take a massive amount of will to eliminate an entire entity, and it is unlikely that such will would ever originate from the board of the ERLC. What is more likely is that Southern Baptists will be presented with the person the board believes is the best possible option to guide us into the future.

In that event, I think three realities must characterize that man. First, he must be a theological conservative who believes the Baptist Faith and Message and will champion it to the convention and the culture. Second, he must be a political conservative. I’ll save most of what I could say here for another time and simply observe that there is no united path forward for a political moderate as head of the ERLC. Finally, any leader of the ERLC must have a pastor’s heart.

That last one is really important. We need a leader who has bold convictions and a tender spirit. We need someone who can speak about the most controversial issues of the day in a way that unites rather than divides and heals rather than wounds. The divisive nature of politics in our day requires that Southern Baptists have a leader who can lead with the tender boldness of a shepherd, rather than the toxic boldness of a warrior.

If we are going to keep the ERLC, a man like the one I just described is the only person who will have a shot at helping us move forward. I will be honest and admit that I do not envy this man. He will have a heavy burden, but many of us would do our best to support him in his work of faithfulness.

This one is a massive area of tumult in our convention. I am praying for it like few other issues in Southern Baptist life. I hope we can all pray together, trusting God to do a great work that will strengthen our convention in the days ahead.

How Do You Watch a Movie Like a Christian?

| Spencer Harmon |

Netflix. Hulu. Disney+. Paramount+. Amazon Prime. HBO Max.

Encanto. Boba Fett. Redeeming Love. Ted Lasso. Squid Game. Spiderman.

Should Christians be entertained by these platforms, movies, and shows? Is it possible to consume the latest movies or binge-worthy shows and glorify God? How?

From the ultra-conservative who only watches movies recommended by their pastor, to the movie connoisseur who somehow finds “the gospel” even in the most explicit content, the entertainment we consume often creates blurry lines for Christians.

How can we bring biblical clarity and biblical purity to bear on our entertainment choices?

Here are six principles to help you fight for purity:

1. Research

You should never feel victimized by sin in your entertainment choices. In our day, there are several resources available to you to aid in making a decision about what you watch.

First, a simple glance at the rating of a movie can save you a lot of heartache. If the movie is rated for sexual content and nudity, don’t watch. Is this legalism? No. It’s fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and it will help you see God (Matthew 5:8). Yet, some movies demand more careful thought.  At this point, I always find it helpful to check a movie review site.  You can find sites that offer a Christian perspective or just the facts.  Either way, you should never walk out of the theater feeling taken advantage of – the resources are available. Take and use (Proverbs 4:6-7)!

2. Turn It Off

Sometimes, because of neglect or some other outlying circumstance, you will find yourself watching something that goes downhill.  If what you watch is causing you to sin, you should turn it off.

When you do this, it does several things.

First, it tells the truth. When you turn off a sex scene, you are telling the truth about marriage, sex, covenant love, and purity.  When you turn off uncalled for, excessive, and cruel, gore and violence, you are telling the truth about courage, honor, dignity, and human worth.

Second, it provokes conversation.  Why did you turn it off?  Why do you care so much about what you watch that it would cause you to walk out of a movie theater?

Third, and most importantly, it protects your soul.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the things we do and say (Ephesians 4:30). We should be striving to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).  Sometimes, obedience means saying “excuse me,” sidestepping out of the aisle, and waiting in the lobby of the theater.

3. Engage

No matter what you are watching, you should watch it like a Christian. There are glorious amounts of truth to be gleaned in movies and shows, but also horrendous amounts of deceit to be rejected as well.  Ask yourself good questions while you watch:

What are the makers of this film trying to teach me? How do the relationships, circumstances, and actions of the characters relate to how the Bible presents life? Can I be grateful for what I am watching?

Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are those who, “…have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Movies present wonderful opportunities to exercise moral discernment. Don’t watch passively, but actively – like a Christian!

4. Engage Together 

Let movies and shows that you see with friends lead to good discussion.  It is good at times to take a few moments to gawk at incredible special effects in movies, but if that is all you ever talk about you are missing out on a world of fellowship. Talk about things you agreed and disagreed with, not just things you liked and disliked about what you watched.

Let what you watch spur you on into greater depth. Movies can lead to conversations about war, marriage, love, hate, relationships, divorce, death, eternity, God, politics, and a million other important life issues.  Engage in these discussions.

5. Beware of Infiltration

There is nothing like a steady diet of Hollywood to corrupt your view on beauty, truth, and goodness.

The world presents a definition of beauty marked by coke-bottle figures and perfectly sculpted men, but God says that charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but the fear of the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). Bitterness and revenge are often presented by the world as therapeutic and good, but God says that we must forgive and show grace (Ephesians 4:32).

All too easily, Hollywood begins informing your values instead of Scripture. It rouses your feelings before faith, your passions before principles. Beware and renew your mind. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

6. Beware of Saturation

There is always something new to watch. And each new thing promises to be the very best thing that you must see. You don’t want to miss out, do you?

Remember that you are called to seek the Lord’s presence (Psalm 105:4), and enjoy his free grace, not gorge on movies. Sure, enjoy a movie with friends. Watch your favorite show with your spouse. However, don’t become so saturated with the newest and latest that the only means of “fellowship” you know is happening in front of movies instead of in real conversation about real life things.

The goal of movies, your favorite shows, or other entertainment is the same for every part of our lives: to glorify God and enjoy him. This glorifying of God happens in the small circumstances: the thoughtful response, the restrained tongue, and even the intentional viewing of movies and shows.

May God make it your aim to please him and enjoy him–even in front of a screen.

This is part 4 of a blog series on Recovering Purity Culture.

Spencer Harmon is the Nocatee Campus Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is Co-Author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating. 

SBC Survival Guide | Part 1: Abuse

| Heath Lambert |

A Convention in Trouble

The Southern Baptist Convention is in more trouble than we have seen in a long time. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of our convention is at stake. Southern Baptists have always been able to resolve their problems, and I have confidence that we can again, but this urgent moment is going to require the very best of each one of us.

A great deal depends on how we address several issues in Anaheim this June. I have already addressed the importance of leadership. In the weeks ahead, I am going to address several other problems that Baptists must begin to solve as we prepare to meet in Southern California this summer.

One of the most significant issues is abuse.

A Sad History of Abuse Scandals

The Roman Catholic scandal of priest abuses was breaking when I was getting my start as a pastor. That means that my entire adult life has been lived in the shadow of scandal regarding sex abuse in ministry. Unfortunately, that scandal was not to be the last. The stench of sexual abuse was revealed to be a massive problem in the Southern Baptist Convention when the Houston Chronicle reported on hundreds of cases of abuse in a story in 2019.

The abuses that have taken place in the SBC are not all the same. Some leaders were guilty of abusive acts, others sought to cover up such abuses, still, others failed to respond to victims with wisdom and care. The combination of sin and ministry malpractice created a shockwave of skepticism and determined resolve on the part of many to address the situation.

Personally, I am thankful that these instances of abuse, cover-up, and incompetence have been exposed. Christians must be the very best at protecting the weak and creating a culture of care. When this is not true of us, we must confront the evidence, identify the problems, and we must change.

Unfortunately, I do not know many people who would say that Southern Baptists have done a very good job in this process. There has been too much effort to conceal, too much lack of wisdom at exposure, too many job losses, and too much fighting.

It is this fighting spirit that is of the greatest concern to me. The conflict demonstrates that we are not united. Different and competing agendas lead to all the other fights we are seeing. This competition is going to lead to a disaster this summer when the sexual abuse task force releases its report. No finding of theirs will be helpful if the messengers who receive it are unable to work together in response.

If our convention is going to get to the other side of this difficulty in one piece, we must find a way to achieve unity. That attempt at unity is where I want to focus here.

Four Different Groups

I think it is helpful to identify four different groups in the current scandal on abuse. It is notoriously difficult to identify divisions, as there are always multiple ways to slice any pie. Yet understanding these groups does much to help us understand the lay of the land.

Group #1

The first group of people are leaders in the SBC who view the current abuse crisis as a threat to their power. They have held the reigns of denominational leadership for decades in some cases. Their concern is that this crisis will relocate power away from them. They are guilty of abuse themselves, mishandling abuse, or protecting their friends who abused others. Their guilt and interest in power means their goal in this crisis is to cover, stonewall, and, ultimately, to move along without much change.

Group #2

The second group of people are leaders in the SBC who view the current abuse crisis as an opportunity to improve the convention. These leaders, regardless of the location and length of their tenure, know that the SBC needs to grow in its ability to offer wise care. They are heartbroken over the mistreatment experienced by any victim and want to work for meaningful and lasting change. They know that the only way our witness can be preserved is with heartfelt repentance. They view this crisis as an opportunity to discover the truth of what happened, fix the problems, and do everything possible to ensure it never happens again.

Group #3

The third group is largely composed of people existing outside denominational leadership who are victims and victim advocates. They have first-hand experience with the pain of abuse and the agony of cover-ups. They know that religious people can sometimes be the most ignorant in responding to abuse. They have no interest in the politics of denominational life, but only want to ensure that weak people are protected. They are in this fight seeking that protection and they will not quit until it is provided.

Group #4

The fourth group of people are also outsiders to denominational leadership. Many in this group are victims and victim advocates, but their agenda is selfish and sinister in comparison to Group 3. These people are motivated by the opportunity this crisis affords to promote themselves. They use the crisis and even their own stories of pain for the purpose of gaining a larger platform for themselves. Along the way, many of them are happy to be involved in the demise of a denomination. In fact, being involved in the destruction of America’s largest Protestant denomination would give them a boost and contribute to their self-promotion. They are not concerned about reform within the denomination but use calls for reform as the opportunity to boost their platform.

One of the most striking things to me is not the existence of these separate groups, but that the lines of division between them have seemed to be in exactly the wrong places. Far too many people understand the dividing line to exist between Group 2 and Group 3. If this is where we draw the line, then the division is between the insiders and the outsiders. This division places everyone in the current leadership of the SBC at odds with anyone outside of the leadership.

Placing the line here is unproductive and untrue. As a matter of fact, the denominational insiders in Group 1 are working to oppose not just outsider abuse advocates, but those of us who have devoted our lives to the SBC and who want to achieve reform. Outsiders in Group 4 have undermined good faith efforts from within the denomination to address this crisis.

Who Is In and Who is Out?

The cold, hard fact is that Groups 1 and 4 have no natural allies in the current conflict. Group 1 wants to sustain the SBC as-is to preserve their power and reputation. Group 4 would be willing to see the SBC go up in flames to promote their power and reputation. The members of both groups are selfish. They will make selfish alliances for a season that are useful in their pursuit of power, but these will be made in bad faith and will be temporary. Ultimately both groups are bad for the convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is too important to be the instrument of anyone’s self-promotion. If the convention is to survive, it cannot be in support of anyone’s ego. If our convention is about providing a platform for people who want a name for themselves, then we do not deserve to exist any longer. If we go in the direction of Groups 1 and 4, we will not exist for long.

The two allies in this fight are Groups 2 and 3. Our commitment to the convention, desire to help victimized people, and resolve to change constitute a true path forward in this crisis. We know we must hear and learn from the stories of abuse. We know we can never go back to the way things were, and we must reject any leadership that would seek to have us do so. We also know that the convention’s leadership is not created equal and attacks on everyone with influence is the quickest way to ensure that the convention moves forward with corrupt leadership committed to the status quo.

Finding Each Other

Those of us in Groups 2 and 3 need to find each other between now and June.

How can we do this? How can the outsiders know the insiders in Group 1 from the ones in Group 2? The answer is found in the seriousness of abuse and the importance of accountability. Those people in Group 2 know how important abuse is and, therefore, know how important it is to have meaningful accountability on this matter. The insiders in Group 1 have a dangerous tendency to minimize abuse and, therefore, think accountability is unnecessary. If you’re in Group 3 and you’re looking for friends in SBC leadership, look for those whose hearts break over the sin of abuse and who are opposed to cover-ups.

What about the other side of the coin? How can the insiders who want reform tell the difference between outsiders in Group 3 and the ones in Group 4? The answer is found in integrity. Abuse advocates with integrity will see this as an opportunity to protect victims of abuse, not an opportunity to advance their own fame or to steer convention theology in a liberal direction. If you’re in Group 2 and you’re looking for an ally in the world of abuse advocacy, look for someone who wants to create a convention that is safe for the weak, not one who is scheming to create a new convention in their own image.

After those of us in Groups 2 and 3 find each other, we need to work together to call to repentance those in Groups 1 and 4. We need to work together to see that the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are safe places for the weak and vulnerable. This is the only way our denomination can move forward preaching Christ with credibility.

Forward Together

We really can do this. The Southern Baptist Convention can change. It can be better than it was. It can be the very best convention of churches in the world at protecting victims and responding to abuse. More than that, we must be the best.

But this is going to take a lot of grace and it is going to take a lot of unity. That unity is going to require those of us who really want to see the SBC improve to know who we are fighting with and who we are fighting against.

May God help us.

 

 

 

Romance Novels and the Bible

| Sean Perron |

Some of the best-selling books on the market are romance novels. Year after year this genre continues to be successful.  As with anything, there is a spectrum. Some of the “love” stories aim at middle and high school students who are experimenting with romance for the first time. Other stories target a more adult audience and keep both men and women coming back for more.

There is also a spectrum as it relates to sexual content and delivery. The range is vast with Emma on one end of the continuum and Fifty Shades of Grey on the other. Some romance novels are pure, reserved, and lovely while others are impure, erotic, and sinful.

This is not only true for the secular world, but it is also true for the Christian world. There is a market for “Christian romance novels” and the spectrum of sexual content is similar.

I know this firsthand. Having grown up in the church my entire life, I have received hundreds of book recommendations in my Christian life.

While in youth group, I was introduced to historical Christian fiction and was personally interested in it. I dove in and became captivated by the writing that could “fill in” the details that the Bible does not have and give me a more tangible picture (so I thought) of the Scripture.

But as I read more and more, the content of many recommended books became darker and darker.

I eventually tried to justify what I was reading with the knowledge that the people who were recommending the books to me were solid believers. I tried to justify what I was consuming because I was told (and believed) the goal was redemptive.

But I was led astray. I had to learn the hard lesson that a book does not get a pass from God just because it has won a “Christian award.”

The world of Christian romance novels is a seductive one. It draws you in with incredible storytelling and powerful scenes that can be impressed into your mind for a lifetime. And it keeps you coming back for more and more.

I was led astray because the scenes I was reading had more in common with the shameful dark deeds of Ephesians 5:12 than the beautiful light of Christ.

Ephesians 5:6–14

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

             “Awake, O sleeper,

                        and arise from the dead,

            and Christ will shine on you.”

I found myself being told about how God can redeem a rape… and yet the rape was now fixed in my mind more than the truth about how God could redeem it. I found myself longing to know about the next sexual encounter, and what details would be shared, more than I was longing to know about God and how he could save me from my sexual sin.

I was told by my Christian friends and mentors that it was okay to keep reading about the shameful acts that take place in the darkness. All the while God was telling me that I should discern what is pleasing to the Lord and take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, let alone relish in the details of them.

Sexual Content in Scripture

As I expressed concerns to my fellow Christians, things began to get uncomfortable. The responses were defensive and awkward. The question eventually came, “Why is the Bible okay to read but Christian romance novels are not?”

Christian romance novels would be wonderful to read if they were written like the Bible.

The Bible is full of stories about sexual issues and sexual encounters. But every time the Bible describes a sexual encounter it is holy, pure, and good for you to read. Even the most graphic sexual content (such as texts found in Genesis, Judges, Ezekiel, and Song of Solomon) is written in a way that does not seduce the reader into sin.

It is a glorious and constructive gift to be able to read the book of Hosea.

It is a dishonoring and destructive experience to bring someone into Gomer’s steamy bedsheets and describe the ways men ravished her.

These Christian romance novels let you experience the arousal of others through words and live out their experiences vicariously.

It is different than Song of Solomon. Song of Solomon leaves you with thanksgiving and dwelling on what is pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise.

The Bible does not arouse you to sin. It stirs you up to love and good deeds.

The Sexual Means Do Not Justify the Redemptive End

What if the point of the novel is to demonstrate redemption, forgiveness, and the gospel in a powerful way?

This is a serious argument that needs consideration. The stated goal of many Christian romance novels is to teach redemption through a memorable and powerful medium.

I am not discounting that God cannot use Christian Romance novels for his glory. God certainly has done this! I praise the Lord for any good work of redemption he has done through any novel. Perhaps many of you reading this have been brought closer to the Lord through reading a novel that would fall into the category I’m describing, and it awakened your relationship with God afresh. I am not trying to take away anything good that God has done in anyone’s life.

However, that does not mean it is good, right, best, or holy. God can use seductive novels despite of themselves, not because of themselves. God used the evil prophet Balaam to proclaim his excellencies and have people worship the true God. God has used false preachers who should never have been pastors who preach the gospel and save many lives. God has used countless wicked and sinful things for his glory, and he will continue to do this until he returns.

But the end never justifies the means. Because something good can emerge from something sinful doesn’t make the sinful less wicked.

Salacious sexual encounters are not meant to be described no matter how redeeming the message turns out to be at the end of the novel.

What if I told you there was a better way to experience the power of God’s love?

The good news is there is. There is a way to draw close to God that exposes the darkness rather than delighting in it. You can draw near to God in his word, and he will draw near to you. You can ask him to cleanse your hands and purify your heart and he will do it (James 4:8).

You can experience the river of his delights without having to slog through a river of filth. Jesus already took all our filth upon himself. God has given us his only Son so that we might be forgiven of all our sins and be made right with him.

And finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, read these things (Philippians 4:8–9).

This is part 3 of a blog series on Recovering Purity Culture.

Sean Perron is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years of Marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

This Isn’t Going Away: Homosexuality, Counseling, and God’s Enduring Word

| Heath Lambert |

The Sexual Revolution

Almost everyone I knew thought homosexuality was wrong when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. Of course, we all knew some who identified as homosexual, but I knew no one who either boasted about it or was mistreated because of it. The majority who thought it was wrong had an unspoken agreement to live and let live with those who disagreed.

Today, my kids are growing up in a culture with the opposite mindset. Homosexuality, as well as the other expressions of LGBTQ+, are not hidden, and are not just accepted, but are celebrated. Today kids feel pressure to engage in fawning acceptance of the lifestyle, and to experiment with it themselves. Anyone, whether a child at school or an adult in the workplace, is strongly and coercively discouraged from expressing any kind of disapproval for homosexuality.

This opposite experience of homosexuality from my childhood to my adulthood is what I mean when I refer to the sexual revolution. We are living in a different sexual universe and breathing an entirely separate variety of moral air. Some people celebrate that revolution. Others mourn it. But there is no denying that the sexual world we are all living in has changed very dramatically and very quickly.

That sexual revolution is also not complete.

Homosexuality and Counseling Children

For years there has been a great debate about the ethics of counseling minors who struggle with sexual problems like homosexuality and gender dysphoria. This debate is itself an expression of the sexual revolution. Even though the harmful effects of homosexuality and transgenderism are well known, popular culture decries any effort to discourage minors from embracing that lifestyle. This discouragement is seen in the way such counseling efforts are understood to be unethical by the secular elites.

This discouragement is also seen in efforts by various governments to outlaw such counseling.

One fresh and egregious example of this is the pending ordinance in West Lafayette, Indiana. The ordinance bans efforts to counsel children away from homosexual temptation. We have seen these efforts before, but the ordinance in West Lafayette not only bans the practice for licensed counselors, but for unlicensed ones, for pastors, and could even include parents.

This proposed ordinance is an incredibly aggressive act. It would mean that if a 16-year-old boy in West Lafayette was struggling with unwanted homosexual desires, and went to his pastor for help, his pastor would not be able to talk about biblical truth or pray with him without receiving a $1000 fine per day of such activity.

This is the latest installment of the sexual revolution, and it is horrifying, and the vote to approve it is tonight.

So Much is At Stake

This ordinance is something that everyone should oppose because it places all of us at risk.

If an ordinance like this can pass, there will be terrible consequences for everyone regardless of sexual expression or faith commitment. Just consider how an ordinance like this limits the freedom of every human being in our country.

This debate is about the freedom of every individual, parent, and faith community to choose their own values. The debate is also about whether those same individuals, parents, and faith communities are able freely to discuss those values.

An ordinance like this can only work if the government agency charged with enforcement inserts itself into our cherished values and private conversations. This ordinance invites the government’s listening ear and coercive arm into your conversations after church, your pastor’s office, your table at the coffee shop, and your child’s bedroom.

I will put my cards on the table. I think homosexuality, like all sexual sin, is a terrible moral evil. I have seen this sin destroy lives and families many times over. I have seen people struggle against it for years and, by God’s grace, win, but never without scars. I am horrified that any parent would fail to be concerned about a child struggling with something so destructive. I would plead with them to get help for their precious child.

As strongly as I believe that I could never imagine using the coercive power of the government to compel those parents to agree with me, to change their beliefs, and to only have the kinds of conversations that are approved by me.

What a terrible idea!

I don’t care who you are, you do not want this, even if you might think you do. The reason this is such a bad idea is because once you open the door to government enforcement of conversations like this, it’s going to be very hard to close. You might have the votes to enforce your preferred conversations today, but what happens after the next election when someone else is in charge? If you don’t want this kind of interference in your conversations tomorrow, then you better not try to interfere in others’ conversations today.

This really isn’t about what we believe about sex, but about whether our society will be one of freedom or one of oppression. An ordinance like this places all of us at risk, even the people who proposed it.

What Is Not at Stake

As serious as the stakes are in this crucial issue, the most important things are not up for grabs.

No ordinance in West Lafayette can change what the Bible says about homosexuality. Regardless of any vote from any city council God’s Word will still insist that sex is only for one man and one woman in marriage. The Scriptures will continue to insist that every other sexual expression is wrong. That reality is not going away.

Because God’s Word will not change by the vote of a city council, then the convictions of Christians will not change. We will keep believing the Bible and teaching our kids about it. We will continue to go to churches with pastors who stand in the pulpit and preach the truth, and who talk about it in their offices and in our living rooms. That reality isn’t going away either.

We Christians won’t be deterred by fines. Some churches will raise millions of dollars from faithful Christians to pay them. Other Christians, on principle, will refuse to pay, will go to jail if necessary, and will consider themselves blessed by God for the privilege of suffering for him. We will campaign to get reckless representatives booted from office, and responsible ones installed. We will fight in every courtroom in America from the district courts to the Supreme Court. We will never accept this. That is another reality that is not going away.

And just as we embrace the teaching of Jesus that marriage is between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:4-6), we will also embrace his teaching to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). With all our hearts we will oppose terrible laws while loving the people who propose them. If that is you, then we Christians will pray for you, we will help you take out your trash, bring you dinner when you’re sick, and try to grab lunch with you after a judge tosses out your unconstitutional law.

We will invite you into our churches and welcome you into our gatherings. We can handle it if you disagree with our convictions. Can you handle it if we disagree with yours? Or will you use the blunt instrument of legislation to pound people into silence who hold convictions that are as old as the ages?

We didn’t ask a city council for permission to preach the truth, and so we will be undeterred if one tries to take it away. Regardless of any legislation, ordinance, or ruling, we will tell you the truth that Jesus sets you free from all your sin when you trust in him. We will tell you that truth because we love you, and we want you to share the same joy in him that we have. We will tell you that truth even if you pass a law telling us we can’t.

That reality is not going away either. And no vote in West Lafayette, Indiana can change it.

Seven Good Reasons to Save Sex for Marriage

| Sean Perron |

It is common practice for dating couples to sleep together long before they even mention the possibility of a wedding. To many people, sex before marriage is a normal part of life and is as common as exchanging phone numbers.

I would like to convince you of what you already know to be true in your heart–sex is only meant for marriage. Having sex with someone is a big deal and should not be common. It should not be the appetizer before marriage. Rather, it should be the culmination of romance that is a beautiful exchange of true love.

Regardless of your sexual past or history, below are seven reasons why you should commit to reserving sex for marriage.

1. Abstinence never fails.

Abstinence is the most effective birth control and the best protection from sexually transmitted diseases. This is unquestionably true.

2. Saving sex creates invaluable intimacy.

Intimacy is a coveted gift. We all long to be known and to know. It is without question that sex is the most intimate action two people can engage in. The Bible describes this intimacy as “one flesh.” It is designed to be precious, deep, and creates memories that are to be treasured for a lifetime.

Saving sex for marriage increases the value of sex. Sex before marriage cheapens and wastes what is valuable. Rocks are not valuable because they are common. Diamonds are valuable because they are uncommon. If someone has sex with multiple people over the course of multiple relationships, the most intimate act a human can experience becomes watered-down and its value depreciated. Why should your precious lifegiving water be scattered abroad into dirty streets (Proverbs 5:16-17)? What is intimate about sex if it does not come with actual commitment and sacrifice?

3. Saving sex shows real commitment.

Saving sex demonstrates legitimate love to your future spouse. If you sleep around before marriage (even if it is just with them), then there is no reason that you will not do that during marriage. The unavoidable reality is that someone else will come along who is more attractive than you and has a better personality.

True love really does wait. Sex before marriage destroys trust. Sexual activity before marriage is the opposite of love (Ephesians 5:2-3). Someone who engages in sexual activity before marriage says, “I don’t have self-control. I don’t really love you more than others. When passion arises, I will act on it.” Saving sex takes discipline (Proverbs 5:12, 23). It requires someone to put their emotional and bodily desires to death and instead have patience.

But who can be this self-controlled? Who can obtain this high standard of true love? Only those who have the Holy Spirit who produces love and self-control in hearts (Galatians 5:22-23).

4. Sexual sin is enslaving.

Engaging in sexual activity before marriage is a trap. It promises pleasure and then leaves destruction (John 8:44). Sexual sin becomes enslaving because lust is never quenched. Lust longs for what it does not have, and it never finds happiness. It always craves more.

When a couple engages in sexual sin, they are walking down a path of painful memories, broken hearts, inner turmoil, and a distant relationship with God. Saving sex for marriage, when it is done to honor God and obey him, leads to peace, life, and a clear conscience.

5. Sex needs to know its place.

Your life is complete without sex.

Read that again. You can have a fulfilled life without sex. Truly.

This goes against everything our culture is screaming. The reason our culture is screaming that sex is crucial to your identity is because they must scream it to make it sound true. But you don’t need sex to live the good life. Jesus lived the most humanly fulfilled life and he never once engaged in sexual activity. Sex is not your master and expressing it will never complete you. Sex is a terrible god.

6. The sexually immoral do not understand life or the life to come.

Those who engage in sexual activity are worshiping something other than God and will be eternally punished. What I have just said is true regardless of who you are or who you claim to be.

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them (Ephesians 5:5-7).

Why is this the case? Because the ultimate issue is not about when or whether you have sex. The ultimate issue is about your heart and who is the Lord of your life.

Are you the lord of your life? If so, you will never be fulfilled and cannot save yourself. But if Christ is the Lord of your life, all of that can be different.

7. Saving sex maximizes your joy.

It is the historic and undeniable teaching of Scripture that sex was created for our good and God’s glory. God created the world and designed it to work a certain way. God’s way is the good life. The good life happens when we follow God’s loving law. His law is not burdensome for those who have new hearts (Matthew 11:29; 1 John 5:3)! Godly sex is the best sex.

In the most sexual book of the Bible, God is celebrating his created gift of sex within marriage and then tells us multiple times to not awaken love before its time (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). To awaken love before its time (to engage in sexual activity before marriage) is to miss out on the good gifts God gives and instead suffer the consequences of sin. The pleasures of God are far superior to the fleeting pleasures of sin (Psalm 16:11). But it takes faith to see this, not just the sight of an attractive person or the rush of intense feelings (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Every person has the law of God written on their conscience. We all know the fundamentals of what is right and wrong in the world. When we sin sexually, we know that we are engaging in the forbidden fruit that we should have waited on. Guilty sex pales in comparison to godly sex.

The only way to cover up a guilty conscience on our own is to sin more. The more we sin, the more seared our conscience becomes and the number we feel. This spiral of guilt and hardening of the conscience leads to a dark and lonely prison.

The way to experience freedom is to have the truth set us free (John 8:32-36). Once we embrace the truth, turn away from our sin, and trust in Jesus alone to forgive us, that is when we experience the joy of a clear conscience that no one can take from us. The gift of sex can only be fully enjoyed when it is done God’s way.

There are more reasons to save sex for marriage than just these seven. Yet it is my prayer that these reasons help you deepen your love for God and others. The good life can only be found in our good God.

I have met untold numbers of couples who have regretted sexual activity before marriage, but I have never met a single person who regretted waiting. True love waits and by God’s grace, you can start today.

 

This is part 2 of a blog series on Recovering Purity Culture.

Sean Perron is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years of Marriage.

Recovering Purity Culture

| Spencer Harmon |

We need to recover purity culture.

We read I Kissed Dating Goodbye in high school. As many will remember, Joshua Harris sought to dismantle what he identified as a culture of casual dating in the church. Many were helped by this book (including us!).

A movement began, marked by purity banquets, purity rings, and commitments made by thousands of teenagers to save sexual intimacy for marriage.

Purity culture was born.

But for many, that culture crushed them. Many have recently reported that as this movement integrated into their communities, churches, and families, it was more suffocating than freeing. As they failed to keep the expectations of purity culture, they were isolated from their communities, keeping their sexual sin in the dark. Even Joshua Harris, the man at the center of this movement, has rejected his book–and recently, even his faith.

Now, if that is what purity culture produced, why would we want to recover that?

Because purity is biblical and beautiful and freeing.

My generation has reacted against an unbiblical concept of purity–marked by extra-biblical rules, shame, and condemnation. But we fear that we are abandoning the biblical vision of sexual purity that is precious in God’s sight and is meant to mark the lives of believers.

The church must recover the purity culture.

Over the next six weeks, we want to give you a case for a biblical purity culture, not marked by extra-biblical rules, but not abandoning Scripture’s clear teaching on purity, sex, modesty, marriage, and media. We want to examine what the Bible actually says, trusting that it will set us free (John 8:31-32).  We believe that the result will be a culture of purity that glorifies Christ and is marked by grace.

But what would that culture look like?

Purity Culture Marked by the Grace of Jesus

The purity culture of the church has already been created. It happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. “Come now,” God says to his people, “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Every church is full of dirty people who Jesus had to clean off with his blood.

This means purity culture does not begin when people in the church get their act together sexually. It starts when people confess their sexual sins to Jesus and he cleanses them with his redeeming and powerful blood (1 John 1:9).

When Jesus’ grace at the cross fuels our purity culture it cultivates humility among the church as we remember Jesus’ grace in our own lives and invite others to experience that same grace.

And as that happens–purity grows.

Purity Culture Marked by Growth in Jesus

When Jesus cleanses us from sin, he takes residence and ownership of everything about us–including our bodies. We are called “temples” of his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and a “bride” in covenant with him (Ephesians 5:25-27). So, we are not simply forgiven for our impurity, we are given a new heart that longs for purity.

When we begin to see ourselves this way, it creates a purity culture in the church. As a ministry mentor of mine used to say, it makes the church a “safe place for confession, but never a safe place for sin”.

Because we belong to Jesus, we want to grow in listening to what Jesus says in the Bible about sexual purity. We receive his warnings about sexual sin (Matthew 5:27-30, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8) as a roadmap to great joy and life from our good Shepherd.

Do you see how hopeful this is?

Imagine a purity culture where those enslaved to sexual sin can freely share their struggles without fear of shame and receive real help to grow and change. This is the purity culture that Scripture calls us to embody.

Purity Culture Marked by the Glory of Jesus

The most common critique of purity culture in the church is that it is marked by restrictions, legalism, and maintaining a “look” of purity. It is about externals. You need to suppress what you really want, to maintain the look for all the church people.

But this is not what Jesus does when he creates a purity culture in a church.

When Jesus creates a purity culture, he sets people free to enjoy their freedom from sin (Galatians 5:1). He describes growth in the Christian life as moving from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). In fact, purity culture is meant to be a culture motivated by the experience of pleasures (Psalm 16:11), not the abandoning of it. This is about seeing God’s glory.

Purity culture in the church pursues sexual purity because it’s motivated by the breathtaking beauty of Jesus Christ. It’s hungry for deeper pleasures than sexual sin. It’s motivated by enjoying true freedom.

Purity culture marked by the glory of Jesus is marked less by what you are avoiding, and more by what you are getting in Jesus Christ.

Recover and Recommit

“Purity culture” is not an invitation to shallow religiosity to please people. No, it’s an invitation to the thrill of walking closely with Jesus Christ–the fountain of life. It’s an invitation for sexual sinners to experience the grace of Jesus Christ, who not only forgives us of our sin, but also trains us to renounce it (Titus 2:11-14). It is a call to experience grace.

If that is biblical purity culture, then we think we should recover it.

 

Spencer Harmon is the Nocatee Campus Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is Co-Author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating. 

Is It Time to Leave the Southern Baptist Convention?

| Heath Lambert |

Today I want to return to talking about the Southern Baptist Convention.

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida is easily one of the most significant churches in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since I have not been at First Baptist long enough to take any credit whatsoever for that greatness, there is no personal boast in that observation. It is just the expression of a simple fact. First Baptist was once one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, has given millions of dollars to the cooperative program, hosted a conservative alternative to the SBC annual meeting when the convention was more liberal, supplied a president of the convention from among our former pastors, and—until I got here—has always boasted of having senior pastors who were the best leaders and finest preachers that Southern Baptists have to offer.

First Baptist Church has a rich history of investment in the Southern Baptist Convention.

When Is it Time to Go?

That is why I have been alarmed at the expressions of concern I have received since last June about whether our church will remain in the SBC. The expressions of concern come in a steady trickle of email encouragements, “Pastor, when you say it is time to leave the SBC, we will be right behind you,” and in the weekly conversations with people who come up after church and ask, “How much longer do you think until we leave the convention?”

These statements are coming from garden-variety church members that I would not even have imagined are paying attention to the SBC. But they are paying attention, and they are ready to walk out the door.

I understand why.

I became a Christian in a Southern Baptist church when I was in high school in the 1990s. I have been paying attention to the SBC for almost all that time, and I have never seen this convention in as much turmoil as it is right now. Disagreements about race, politics, sexual abuse, and even the qualifications for president of the convention are all threatening to tear us apart. I do not know a single Southern Baptist who is unconcerned. Every person in my church who has brought it up to me is concerned, and they are wondering if it is time to leave.

My answer is not yet.

Of course, the time may come to leave. There may come a day when the Southern Baptist Convention is a lost cause, and our resources will be better invested elsewhere. But that day is not today.

Cooperation is Messy, But Worth It

The main reason I believe that is because of the remarkable opportunity for cooperation that Southern Baptists still have. Just one example of that is our financial cooperation. Every year First Baptist Church contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Southern Baptist Convention. Our money joins up with the churches that give hundreds of dollars, and churches that give thousands of dollars, and the ones that give millions of dollars, and together we generate hundreds of millions of dollars toward the spread of the gospel all over the globe. That cooperation is producing the greatest force for world evangelization that the world has ever known.

That cooperative force is worth fighting for. If the day ever comes when Southern Baptists cannot figure out how to stay together, it will come at an unspeakable loss for the cause of the gospel in America and throughout the entire earth. We need to do everything we can to keep this from happening.

I am hopeful that the Southern Baptist Convention is not abandoning its decades-long faithfulness. I remain encouraged that Southern Baptists are in a season of thinking things through and figuring things out. We are in a long, complicated, and—at times—painful denominational conversation. But Southern Baptists have done this repeatedly over the years, and I have grown to trust that they usually come out on the right side of things.

Staying at the Table

All of us who want to see Southern Baptists grow in faithfulness must stay at the table. We must ensure that our voices are heard and ultimately prevail in all the messy complications of this denominational process. The convention is set up so that churches like First Baptist ultimately get to decide what kind of convention we have.

So I am going to Anaheim in June with a full delegation of men and women from First Baptist who will be determined to see our convention extend its faithfulness into the future. I am praying for many other faithful churches to do the same. Together, I remain confident in the future of this great convention. If that ever changes then, with a broken heart, I will say so openly. But that day is not today, and I am praying we never see it.

Light in Dark Places

| Heath Lambert |

I am sure you have noticed by now that it seems like nobody knows how to talk to each other anymore.

Everyone is angry all the time about everything. The way we all talk to one another has sunk so low that it is hard to imagine how terrible it could be to hit rock bottom. Social media highlights this ugly mess.

Social media gives everyone a microphone—no group hires you, no committees exert oversight, and no editor can push back. Social media also gives everyone an immediate microphone—you don’t have to think, pray, or receive counsel about what you will write, but you can immediately proclaim your thoughts, regardless of your emotional state. Social media also gives you an immediate microphone to the whole world—a private disagreement between two people or a local problem in one area, immediately involves everyone in the whole world. Most issues are simply not big enough to carry this kind of weight.

Jesus makes clear that whether we speak, tweet, or post, we do it all out of the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34-35). There is nothing wrong with social media, the internet, or any other technology. But the loud, wide, and immediate microphone of the internet reveals the darkness of human hearts that would rather gossip than stay silent, lie instead of telling the truth, destroy rather than build up, and vent anger more than show love.

It is really, really bad out there. Our culture is collapsing under the weight of all this. The victims of it are already innumerable and are increasing.

The Horns of a Dilemma?

I was talking with a pastor at our church the other day who said something like, “It seems like everyone is either loud and angry, or cowardly and silent.” Now there are exceptions to this—I know it, he knows it, and you know it too. But the exceptions are too few.

The point is that the dominant voices all seem to be the loud and angry ones. Many look at that mess and decide they do not want to play ball, and so they choose to stay silent.

But silence is a bad option as well. We are facing too many important issues in the world and the church to retreat into a cone of silence unconcerned about all the issues out there. The issues out there are coming to each one of us. We must find a way to discuss controversial issues in a way that is life-giving.

Kindness, Candor, and the Character of God

 The great question is what it means to speak faithfully in our day. Obviously, a great part of our current problem is that few Christians agree on what this faithfulness should look like. But we will be greatly helped if we take the cues for our faithfulness from God himself. The character of God teaches us a great deal about how we can be faithful in times like these.

On a recent read through Psalms, I noticed a splendid reality about God’s character. More than a dozen times, God’s loving character is inextricably linked to God’s commitment to the truth: “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth” (Psalm 25:10; 40:10, 11; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 69:13; 85:10; 86:15; 89:14; 108:4; 115:1; 117:2; 138:2).

We are like God when we wed an unrelenting commitment to love well with a resolute commitment to tell the truth. Both are important.

An authentically Christian approach to discussing difficult issues requires us to be like God himself as we reflect his lovingkindness and truth: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). We must provide a response to everything going on out there. But that response must be gracious.

Storming the Gates of Hell with Truth and Love

I am convinced that Christians have a clear path forward in our witness to the culture that steers a gracious course between silence and hostility.

That path forward is the one that reflects God’s own character and speaks the truth in love. Love without truth is called emotionalism. Truth without love is called harshness. These days, you could be excused for believing that the absence of both love and truth is called social media. All of these are faithless and none of them are like God.

Jesus says that his sheep listen to his voice and follow him (John 10:27). Our goal for the First Thoughts blog is to have a voice that is informed by the character of The Great Shepherd and is defined by the sort of kindness and candor that grows from our conviction about the character of God.

We will have a commitment in this space to address the most complicated and controversial issues that are out there. We will not shy away from the tough issues. But we will not respond to tough issues with a tough spirit. We will be gentle, kind, gracious, and relentlessly committed to defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

In doing this, we hope to reflect the gracious and faithful character of God himself. And in doing that, we are excited about how God will grow faith and expand his church.

My Endorsement for SBC President

| Heath Lambert |

The Way Leadership Works

When God does a great work, he raises up a great leader. This is an obvious fact of Scripture. When God delivered his people from Egypt, he raised up Moses. When God wanted to rebuild his temple and Jerusalem, he raised up Ezra and Nehemiah. When God wanted to preach salvation to the Gentiles, he raised up Paul. Examples could be multiplied with David, Gideon, Elijah, Peter, John, and Jesus himself.

What is true in Scripture is also true in Church history. Whenever God has given revival, he has given an Edwards, a Whitfield, a Wesley, a Spurgeon, or a Graham.

A rule of redemptive history is that when God’s people are floundering, they are absent a leader.

And Southern Baptists are floundering.

A Leadership Problem

One of the reasons Southern Baptists have been able to cooperate across a massive convention is because of faithful leadership. There have always been respected leaders who held the confidence of Baptists. These leaders have been able to rally Southern Baptists to support the cause of faithfulness throughout many trying times.

In these particular times, Southern Baptists are splintering in countless directions amid a buzz saw of problems because there isn’t a leader who has been able to unite the various groups and captivate the heart of our denomination.

We need to fix this problem quickly, and we have a chance to do it at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting this June. The SBC president has a remarkable ability either to bring focus and unity or to distract and divide. Southern Baptists must find a president that can bring focus and unity in these distracting and divisive times.

I think most Southern Baptists understand this. That is why you are going to start seeing a lot of maneuvering and a lot of announcements coming very soon about who is going to stand for election as president, and who we should all support.

We will all be watching this together.

Before all that starts, I want to provide the description of the man who will get my vote for SBC president in Anaheim.

Five Key Qualifications for President

I am voting for a godly man. The New Testament is clear that leaders in Christ’s church are imperfect people who are, nevertheless, characterized by godliness (1 Timothy 3:1-7). This requirement is far too crucial to take for granted. A godly man can focus on ministry and help the rest of us focus on ministry. When a leader is not walking in godliness, we will focus on him and his sin instead of focusing on the work. A godly leader keeps our eyes on Jesus. We can afford no distractions from that at any point, much less now.

I am voting for a man who has integrity as a preacher of the Word. The Apostle Paul commands, “In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7-8). Since the conservative resurgence, the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention have always been known as faithful and anointed preachers. There is no way to lead a convention of churches and preachers without being respected as a preacher.

I am voting for a man who is neither racist nor woke. Racism and wokeness are both hateful distortions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have a president who will spurn the hatred of racism and the hatred that accuses everyone of racism. An open and obvious rejection of each of these ungodly extremes is the only way to stay faithful to the Christ who brought unity in his atonement (Ephesians 2:11-22) and get about the urgent work of preaching that atonement to every nation, people, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9).

I am voting for a man who is defined by transparent integrity. If Southern Baptists were clear about anything at the annual meeting in Nashville, it is that they have no time for any conspiratorial cover ups. They want to walk in the light and expose the darkness to light. This desire is good and biblical. We can only figure out how to engage in responsible transparency when we have a leader who is himself transparent with nothing to conceal, and no interest in concealing relevant information from our convention.

I am voting for a man who will put first things first. I am not looking for an SBC president that I agree with on everything. I am looking for a president who knows that Southern Baptists have united for the purpose of taking the gospel to the nations, and who knows that the basis of that unity is in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We do not need to fight about everything because it is not necessary to agree on everything. We only need to be united around the most important things. I am voting for a man who can help us keep our eye on the ball.

I am endorsing as president any man who meets all five of these qualifications.

Will the Next President Please Stand Up?

Honestly, these qualifications are not complicated, and should not be controversial.

We are a massive convention with thousands of churches, and millions of people. This leader is out there. All Southern Baptists need to do is find him, and vote for him.

Three Initiatives from First Baptist in 2022

| Sean Perron |

The mission of First Baptist is to reach all of Jacksonville with all of Jesus for all of life. This vision is big and bold. It is a wide vision that includes everything in life – all of life. Whether it is washing dishes, selling property, sharing the gospel, voting, or approaching death, we want to bring every part of our lives under submission to the Lordship of Jesus. All of life includes doing everything in life to the praise of God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 1:12).

Each week at First Baptist, we seek to accomplish this mission through the preaching and singing of God’s word. We teach the Bible every week in our Sunday School Classes and Life Groups. We are delivering biblical content to our church with the goal of transforming lives. Yet there is only so much that we can cover each week when we gather.

We want to address topics and deliver content that we cannot cover in the normal rhythms of the church calendar. If we are pursuing Jesus for all of life, we have a lot of life to address.

We have seen and felt the need to be more ambitious than ever for the gospel. This has led us to launching three new initiatives in 2022.

Starting this week, we are creating a blog that features writings from the pastors at First Baptist. This blog is called First Thoughts and a new post will be released every Monday.

What does God think about the various details of our lives? What should we think about current events? We will answer these relevant questions each week. We want to think biblically and not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2). As the old hymn, “Be Thou My Vision” beautifully sings, God is our best thought, and he should be our first thought.

We want your first thoughts each day to be God-saturated instead of self-saturated. The first thoughts that come into our minds about an issue in life are typically negative and ungodly. We want to tackle that head on. We want the high king of heaven to sit on the throne of our mind and direct all our thoughts.

This weekly blog will cover topics that range from personal spiritual growth to politics and the state of everything in between. You can read the blog here on our website or visit www.firstthoughts.com for easy access.

In addition to this blog, our church is also producing two new podcasts in 2022. The first is a podcast called First Preaching. It will highlight expository sermons from Sunday mornings at First Baptist. It will walk you from start to finish through books of the Bible. The goal is to provide new and old sermons in an easily accessible and consistent format. You can start this week listening to Love and Glory: A Sermon Series Through the Entire Bible with our Senior Pastor Heath Lambert. An episode will release every Monday and go through books of the Bible verse by verse.

The second podcast is a weekly podcast called Marked by Grace hosted by Pastor Heath. He will be connecting the grace of Christ to all of life. The goal is the same as the First Thoughts blog, but the content will be unique and in a different medium. The podcast will be available each Monday in time for your weekly commute. The topics will be obviously relevant and imminently practical.

We have a big and bold goal as a church and these three new methods of communication are one part of our mission. It is our prayer that this content helps you know Christ deeper and further equip you to reach all of Jacksonville. We invite you to read, listen, and share this content every week, so Christ might have our first thoughts and be first in our hearts.