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The Briefing

W.V. Bible class faces legal challenge
For decades Mercer County’s public schools have offered a weekly Bible class during the school day — 30 minutes at the elementary level and 45 minutes in middle school. The program is not mandatory, but almost every child in the district attends. And there is widespread support for the classes: Parents and community members help raise nearly $500,000 a year to pay for the Bible in the Schools program. Now, two county residents with school-age children argue in a lawsuit that the program violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the West Virginia constitution.

Baptist Baylor picks first female president
Linda Livingstone succeeds Baylor University’s first non-Baptist president, Kenneth Starr, who was fired last year over the Texas institution’s bungled response to ongoing reports of rape on campus. Livingstone, a former faculty member of Baylor and Pepperdine University, leaves her position as business school dean at George Washington University to become the Waco school’s first female president in its 172-year history.

Porn deemed public health crisis in 5 states
At least five states have officially declared pornography a public health crisis or harmful to the public, and at least one other is considering a similar measure, according to bill updates filed on state legislature websites.

Saudi Arabia elected to UN women’s rights commission
Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The addition of the Gulf nation was first flagged by UN Watch, a nongovernmental body that monitors the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women’s executive director slammed the election. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer said.

‘John 3:16’ NFL suicide mystery
It wasn’t a suicide note that former NFL star Aaron Hernandez left in his prison cell when he reportedly hanged himself. Instead, the Massachusetts corrections officers who discovered his body Wednesday morning saw “John 3:16” written across Hernandez’s forehead in red ink. A Bible in the cell lay open to the same verse.

Sources: Washington Post, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Hill, STL Today

Exterior of Modern Church with Large Cross

A bill in the Illinois Senate that would have required pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children, one colleague asked. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Sen. Melinda Bush of Lake County withdrew the bill last week, after objections from pastors on First Amendment grounds: If the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with a list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

– Eric Reed

Pray Praying Hope Help Spirituality Religion Concept

How to help students ask—and answer—big questions about the future

Jeff Reep works to help students make the right decisions for their futures, even if the process takes a while.

“It’s always better to get it right than to get it fast,” the director of career services tells students at Cedarville University, a Christian school in Ohio. Indeed, many collegians report not getting it right on their first attempt. Reep points to a statistic from leadership expert Tim Elmore that found 40% of college graduates wish they had chosen a different major.

It’s easy to see how it happens to so many people, Reep said. Well-meaning people at church or in the community start asking a student in high school where they’re planning to go to college and what they’ve chosen as a major. The response—business, education, etc.—often isn’t based on how God is leading, or how the student is wired. Instead, it becomes something that’s easy to repeat. All of a sudden, Reep said, the student is a junior in college who’s never really struggled with what they’ll do with their degree once they’ve earned it.

Am I really surrendered to God? Is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him?

That trajectory puts students on the fast track to joining the majority of Americans who aren’t happy in their work, Reep said. The number of satisfied workers inproved slightly over the last decade, according to the Conference Board’s annual job satisfaction survey. Still, just over half of the population say they don’t like their job.

“So many times, people look at a lifestyle and don’t consider a life work,” Reep said. A young person might aspire to live in a certain neighborhood or achieve a certain level of prestige, for example, but they don’t consider what kind of work is actually required of a particular vocation.

At Cedarville, Reep’s team helps students in three basic areas: exploration, which includes counseling about careers, internships, and majors; navigational skills, or developing resumés, cover letters, and other tools needed in a job search; and networking opportunities with faculty and employers who can help them as they investigate their options. Everything Reep’s team does is designed to help students answer big questions: Who am I? And where does God want me to be?

When he talks with students, Reep tells them he knows what God wants them to do, which is a pretty major assertion that he doesn’t take lightly. But there are three things he says he feels sure the Lord is calling them to do as they think about the future. The three steps can be helpful to pastors and church leaders as they help students in their congregations navigate the same issues:

1. Pray about it. And pray specifically, Reep advises. Ask God to put people on your mind who you should talk to about a potential career direction. Who can help you as you’re thinking through these things, or who can refer you to someone else who can help?

2. Ask for advice. Proverbs 11:14 says there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Reep urges students to heed Scripture’s encouragement to seek out wise advisors. And not just for job or internship opportunities. People are honored when you ask for career advice based on their experience, he said. And they may be able to point students to opportunities they haven’t yet considered.

3. Delight yourself in the Lord. The counsel of Psalm 37:4 is especially comforting for students seeking God’s will for their future. If a student can say they’re delighting in the Lord, that he’s their treasure, their satisfaction, and their identity, Reep said, then the next question is: What do you desire to do?

“If there is something that you desire to do, put it out there,” he advises. “And then start moving toward it.” And stay open to how God might continue to shape that desire.

The differences between “vocation” and “career” and “calling” can be confusing for students trying to make sense of their options. But Reep says every Christian is in full-time ministry. “Whether it is [as] a pharmacist or at a state university or on the mission field. And God is the one that provides for each of those people.” Calling goes back to “am I really, totally surrendered to him, am I a living sacrifice for him, is my treasure, satisfaction, and identity in him,” Reep said. “Then, out of that, what I do is my service, my calling.”

-Meredith Flynn

The Briefing

Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids. Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval. But others who have long followed Trump are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.

Study: Evangelicals left churches over Trump
A number of Christians left their churches following last November’s election won by President Trump, including 10% of evangelicals who reported leaving their houses of worship before last December, a new study has found. The study found those most likely to leave their churches were Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who opposed Trump and believed their church leaders strongly supported the billionaire real estate mogul.

Sounding the alarm on transgender regret
Robert Wenman was four years into being a “full-time” transgender woman in Ontario, Canada, when a police officer asked him: “You got all your legal rights by now. Why don’t you just enjoy life as a woman?” The question left the then-LGBT activist stuttering: Here he was, training a group of law enforcers on transgender rights, yet he couldn’t answer a basic question: Why? Why was he still campaigning, still fighting?

‘Bible Answer Man’ converts to Orthodoxy
On Palm Sunday, Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC. The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as the Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.

Anticipation growing for SBC Phoenix 2017
Apparent interest in the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming annual meeting has necessitated an increase in hotel room availability for attendees the second consecutive year. The SBC Executive Committee has reserved an additional 500 rooms for the 2017 meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The previously reserved block of rooms was fully booked as early as March.

Sources: Politico, The Christian Post, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press

Surrendered life

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He pastored the Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for nearly three decades, and by the end of his ministry he was one of the most influential ministers on earth. But before Lloyd-Jones was a great preacher, he was an accomplished physician. After earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder, caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England.

In considering God’s call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones wrestled with his “physician’s dilemma”—giving up medicine to pursue preaching. Ultimately, it was a war of desire, and his desire for ministry won out:

“We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin! I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is all right, he is all right to the end; but a man with a healthy body and distressed soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face eternity in Hell.”

From his book, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen offers insight on ministry, calling, and Christian education.

Are you willing to surrender?
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was a common phrase in evangelical churches. It was certainly common in my childhood church. Most every sermon ended with an invitation to surrender to ministry. This immediately followed our pastor’s appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.

Like Moses at the burning bush, you can persist in your excuses, or surrender to the call of God on your life.

As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land for an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.

In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible: gospel ministry.

In other words, if by surrendering to ministry we mean engaging in an undesirable work, then jettison that phrase now. But if we mean surrendering to minister as unto the Lord and self-consciously choosing to forgo other life opportunities, conveniences, and ambitions, then surrendering to ministry is a good, healthy phrase. In fact, I am convinced “surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.

What surrender entails
Surrendering to ministry rightly establishes the pastor’s motivation. After all, the pastor’s incentive should not be material gain, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).

To surrender to preach the ministry is to be so gripped by God’s call, and so moved for His glory, that one shares Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jer. 20:9).

The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors, including the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spirituality vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the man rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and His glory.

Additionally, surrendering to ministry includes a determination to follow God’s call wherever it may lead. This may include a willingness to leave family and friends, go to a distant place, and undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God. Practically speaking, you can know if you are limiting God’s call if you’ve already placed—perhaps even unconsciously—limits on where you are willing to serve Christ.

A willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers, too. God typically calls more to a people than a place. If God calls you to minister to a church in a challenging area, are you willing to go?

Don’t settle for the path of least resistance or the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

Surrendering to ministry also means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.” The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air, gauging the wind. His voice is given to preaching the Word, not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.

Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away difficult texts and dodging confrontational verses. From the earliest days of ministry you’ll have to guard your heart from pleasing anyone other than the Lord. Fearing combative personalities, overreacting to legitimate criticism, or stubbornly desiring man’s approval can all compromise your message and disorient you from paramount loyalty: loyalty to the One who called you—God Himself.

Two stories of surrender
The Bible offers no better case study of surrendering to ministry than the Old Testament prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and preach repentance so the people there might be saved. It’s crystal clear that God was concerned about the why, where, and what of Jonah’s message.

Tragically, Jonah resisted God’s call in spectacular fashion. When God called Jonah, he was in Israel. God instructed him to go to Nineveh, which was about 550 miles east of Jerusalem in what is now modern-day Iraq, but Jonah did the exact opposite. He struck out for Tarshish, located in modern-day Spain, some 2,000 miles in the opposite direction!

Why did Jonah resist God’s call to preach repentance to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites. The last thing Jonah wanted was to see the Ninevites repent and escape God’s impending judgement. In fact, Jonah actually confessed that he fled to Tarshish because he knew God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s ministers are not spiritual free agents. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs who strike out on our own and minister in accordance with our own desires. As Jonah’s sin was running from God’s appointed place of ministry, a more common twenty-first-century sin might be running to a preferred place of ministry.

On the contrary, aspire to be like John Piper, who went to Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980 despite a small, aging congregation in dilapidated facilities located in a transitional neighborhood. He sensed God’s call, followed it, and has been used by God like few others in our generation.

A number of years ago I faced a similarly challenging decision. A church reached out to me about helping them through a season of challenge and transition. I felt God’s leading to serve the church, but several friends sought to dissuade me. I vividly recall one friend telling me, “Stay away. That church will ruin your resume. It’s a troubled congregation in a troubled part of town. Billy Graham couldn’t grow that church. You’ll have plenty of great opportunities in the years ahead. Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best for you.”

Though well intended, that counsel was altogether unhelpful and disorienting. For a while it confused me, until I remembered that God’s will for my life is God’s best for my life. By enlarging my circle of wise counselors, reflecting on the church’s needs, and my wife and I seeking the Lord and gaining His peace, it became clear that God was indeed calling us to that church.

The bottom line is, if you had a million lives to live you could not improve upon the life God has called you to live and the ministry to which He has called you. Don’t settle for second best by choosing the path of least resistance or the ministry that promises the best payout. Seek God’s will and surrender to it.

These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems a vestige of the previous generation of church life. This is more than unfortunate; it is unhealthy, and the church is the big loser.

Surrendering to ministry means you’re willing to go to anyone, anywhere, anytime. But don’t be confused; as you surrender you will enter more fully into God’s joy and blessing. A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry.

– Reprinted by permission

Open empty tomb. Watercolor painting

The day of Jesus’ resurrection has always been an orienting point for Christians. From the beginning, it was the day for their weekly gatherings. Later it became a pivotal day in the annual Christian calendar.

Prior to Easter each year, we reflect on Jesus’ perfect submission — from His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness to His ultimate act of obedience on the cross. We examine our own devotion and deal intentionally with the temptations and distractions that keep us from full obedience.

Then, on Easter, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection pivots us from contemplating the humility of the suffering Lamb to celebrating the power of the risen Lamb; from identifying with the crucified Servant to exalting the victorious Savior.

This shift is rooted in the events that occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with the question posed to the women who went to His tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

It is true that the question had something to do with their location at the tomb. Luke reports, however, that the women had “inclined their faces to the ground” and that this posture prompted the messengers’ question. Why? Because early Christians knew they lived in a world governed by the words of Genesis 3:19: “You will eat food by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust.” The women’s posture that morning was entirely reasonable in light of these words. Each and every body laid in a tomb would return to the ground, the dust.

A change had occurred that morning, however, that the women’s posture did not reflect. Jesus’ resurrection had brought about a new posture. The women should not be inclined toward the ground looking for Jesus but standing and facing Him as their risen Lord.

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

Forty days prior to Easter, some Christians have ash placed on their foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They are reminded of the brevity of life and the urgency of present obedience.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

If you have been to a funeral this past year, you don’t need an ashen symbol to remind you of the brevity of life or that death still grips creation. As you inclined your face toward the body that was to be placed in the ground, you were confronted with the fact that this is not how God created that person. The eulogies testified to the fact that there is no one in the world who spoke, sang, laughed or loved like the one whose body lay in the casket.

It is at just this point where the women’s lesson is vital for us because the Easter posture is a posture of hope. Death results in the body returning to the ground — for now. Sorrow and grief are real — for now. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, however, we can stand and face our future with hope. The apostle Paul says it this way: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Are you struggling to face your future? Maybe you have experienced a great tragedy in your life: the death of a friend or family member, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Maybe the loss of someone or something that has provided security has shaken your confidence in the future: the betrayal of a close friend or spouse, the loss of a job. Maybe anxiety is just your persistent struggle; you struggle to face the future even in the absence of crises.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

Allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to give you the confidence to face your future. With His resurrection in mind, stand up and face your future with hope.

Christopher Graham is assistant professor of theology at Criswell College and its program director for the master of divinity degree and master of arts in theological and biblical studies. This article is adapted from the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Hero

All of my life, I have looked for heroes whom I could love, respect, and follow. There is an old photo of me as a small boy with my brother, standing in the backyard with towels pinned around our necks. We were trying to be like Superman, ready to fight against the bad guys and fight for justice. He was probably the first hero we had as children.

During my teenage years, I played the guitar and wrote songs, so my heroes became famous musicians who displayed their lyric artistry in recordings and concerts. When I entered the ministry, I turned to those pastors and authors whose words had profoundly shaped me. They became my heroes to admire and emulate. Later, when I became a classroom teacher, I loved to read stories about the great teachers and their influence on students.

It seems that no matter what stage of life I was in, I was constantly looking for and looking up to heroes.

I know I am not alone in my search for heroes. It’s something we all do throughout our lives. But what is more intriguing is that no one ever instructs us on the need to find and emulate heroes. In addition, no one ever explains to us the characteristics our heroes should have. We seem to be wired to look for men and women whose lives display something good, beautiful, and noble — something that tastes of glory. Think about the heroes you have admired, and you will see something of those same qualities.

Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost.

But there is something else even more intriguing. We have all engaged in something that can best be described as hero worship. It’s not just that we love, honor, and respect our heroes. We do something to them akin to worship, putting them on a pedestal and expecting things from them that they cannot possibly give. The disappointment that comes is inevitable, yet we keep hoping for heroes to come and save the day, whether it’s the new church pastor, the new government official, or the new company boss. Our search for and disappointment with our heroes can generate enormous confusion. I know it has for me.

The Bible shines a unique and penetrating light on this confusion. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, CSB). The idea of falling short is that we are missing something and are now destitute and lacking. What are we missing? The glory of God. We were meant to bathe in that glory and then radiate it out as His image-bearers, but in turning away from Him, we lost the glory and now live in sin and shame. Yet, the longing for glory never leaves us, so when we sense a glimmer of that glory in someone else, however faintly, the draw is magnetic.

Without deliberation or hesitation, we immediately know that this is what humans were meant to be like, what we, in fact, were meant to be like. Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost. But the Bible’s story of glory doesn’t end there.

He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

Enter Jesus. John states that he saw the glory of Jesus, the glory of being God’s unique Son, the glory that took on flesh and came to dwell among us. (See John 1:14.) And how did that glory dwell among us? As the hero we have all longed for. Everything Jesus did was heroic.

He spoke the truth, even when it made Him enemies.

He did good works wherever He went, healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, and preaching a message of hope. He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

And in the end, Jesus gave His life away for the sake of the entire world. He chose to take our place by bearing our sin and shame so that we could be set free. He did everything we ask of a hero and so much more. He is not only the King of kings and Lord of lords, but truly the Hero of heroes.

What should our response be to the Savior of our soul? Our misdirected hero worship should rightly reside and remain on Him. He is the great Hero we have all been looking for, the One who perfectly lived in the Father’s glory and radiated it out to all. Our hearts long to find someone to respect, honor, adore, and love. Because of Christ’s defeat over death and sin, we can now place that longing on Him and never again be disappointed. Yet, in the end, He will do something even more marvelous, something with eternal significance: He will turn us into creatures filled with glory like Himself. We will one day feel again the glory we tragically lost — the glory that will move us to our purest worship of Jesus, our Great Hero.

Bill Delvaux, author of Landmarks (B&H) and Divided (Thomas Nelson), leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and spiritual director. This article first appeared in Mature Living, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.