Archives For Commentary

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

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.

the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ and a nail on the Holy Cross

April is typically a dismal month, often dark and rainy, snaps of the cold still hanging on.

Easter is a bit like April, offering something dark and something bright. Our Good Fridays fill us with mourning and lament, a fresh reminder of the evil that Satan brought to bear on the world 2,000 years ago. Imagine the agony of the disciples who had experienced both the triumphant words of Jesus’ new kingdom and the stunning arrest and crucifixion of their long-promised Messiah.

And, yet, those same disciples — scared, fearful, scattered — gathered in a room and on a mountain top and saw, improbably, their same Messiah. He was apparently alive. They touched Him. They ate fish with Him. They saw His footsteps in the sand. A new day was indeed coming. The kingdom He promised was here.

We live in both a Good Friday world and an Easter world. Our God isn’t dead, but the vestiges of death still hang over the cosmos.

But, like April, there would be both darkness and light in this new era of the church. They’d preach a message of repentance and hope, of a kingdom here and yet not fully here. They’d endure persecution and scorn but could look through the raindrops of peril and see the bright rays of heaven.

This is what the church has been doing ever since. We live in both a Good Friday world and an Easter world. Our God isn’t dead, but the vestiges of death still hang over the cosmos. Sickness, disease, famine still strike. Evils of racism, poverty, and violence turn image-bearers of God against each other. Is there hope? people wonder aloud. And every Easter, we turn our eyes toward a naked figure on a cross and an empty hole in a middle-Eastern hillside.

We say on Easter that there is another story about the world. A story that both encompasses the deep grief of a twisted world and the deep longing of hearts that yearn for a new world to come. That new world is both here in the people God is calling to Himself in Christ, and it’s coming in the fully consummated kingdom to come.

So as Christians, we look past the sorrow and pain of the present world because we know that, in Christ, a better world is both here and is to come. We mourn death on Good Friday and celebrate the death of death on Easter. We point a confusing world to a better story than the one they’re telling themselves.

Every raindrop of sorrow, every storm of evil, every flood of disappointment is only a temporary experience. One day the skies will open and the heavens will flood the earth with the joy of the Lord.

Daniel Darling is the vice president for communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in HomeLife, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

silhouette of cross

I was completely blindsided after being called into a meeting at my church with another woman in leadership who had been upset with me for months. But sadly, I had no idea until she told me in our meeting that morning.

Months earlier, someone told her I didn’t agree with her leadership style. But that wasn’t what I’d said in a team meeting with several other leaders. Our women’s ministry director had asked my opinion about leadership training, and I shared my thoughts, but nothing I said was directed at her.

We both volunteered countless hours in ministry, pouring our hearts and lives into women in our church. All the while, we were on the same team, and I assumed we fully supported one another. But now the trust we had built for years was unraveling.

Driving home, my spirit felt crushed. It felt like I just didn’t have it in me to keep pouring out with the risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood again. I wasn’t strong enough or resilient enough. And I was exhausted from the hurt I felt and hurt I had caused.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation.

That afternoon, I sat in my home office in tears. Laying my head down on my desk, I told God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.

After telling Him all the reasons why it was time for me to quit, a truth buried deep in my heart rose to the surface: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

With my eyes closed, I pictured Jesus crucified. Arms stretched wide and willing. Willing to give His life no matter what it cost Him. Willing to be misunderstood, misrepresented, questioned, rejected, betrayed, and hurt beyond comprehension.

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought about Jesus on the cross. And I sensed Him asking me to die to my fears and let Him live His life and grace through me. My eyes still closed and dripping with emotion, I saw the scene of Golgotha with Jesus nailed in cruciform. But this time, there was a shadow of the cross behind Him, and I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to lie down on the floor in the shadow of the cross.

I had never had this kind of encounter with God, but I sensed it was His way of showing me how to die to my fears. How to live crucified with Christ and find strength in His resurrection power, exchanging my brokenness for His humility and strength.

Lying in the shadow of the cross, I rested and waited for strength to get up again. Strength to stand at the crossroad and decide. Would I walk away from God’s calling on my life or allow Jesus to live His life through me? Would I protect myself from getting hurt again or live by faith in the One who died for me?

Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others.

On our own we aren’t enough. Not strong enough, resilient enough, or humble enough. But Christ in us is more than enough.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to get us out of hell and into heaven. He died on the cross to get Himself out of heaven and into us! That is resurrection life — and the very place we get our enough. When we’ve been crucified with Christ, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live, we can choose to live by faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation. It was far from easy, but I can look back and say it was good because God was in it, and over time our friendship was restored.

Relationships are hard. Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others. Jesus knew it would be because He faced the same temptation to walk away. Yet, He stayed the course and He stayed on the cross.

This Easter, let’s remember Jesus’ willingness to give up His life for us, knowing He would rise again and, therefore, we could, too. Let’s receive the resurrection power Christ offers as we open our hearts wide to Him and the life He wants to live through us. Let’s allow Him to be our enough, for indeed He is.

Renee Swope is the best-selling author of “A Confident Heart” and a contributing author of the (in)courage blog and “Craving Connection,” a new release from B&H Publishing. This article first appeared in HomeLife, a publication of LifeWay. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

BETHLEHEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 6, 2015: The modern fresco of Palm Sun

The modern fresco of Palm Sunday in Syrian orthodox church by artist K. Veniadis (1987).

The crowd is often wrong. Popular opinion frequently misses the truth. And unfortunately, it seems that unrighteousness is usually trending.

From the earliest days of human history that has been so. The crowd was wrong in the days of Noah, as it was in the gathering at Babel. Godliness was often forsaken in the days of the prophets, and the dominant culture was usually wrong in the days of the early church.

But the crowds that gathered as Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday got it gloriously right.

The crowds that gathered in the city just days later would call for the murder of Jesus. Many political and religious leaders would exult in the His crucifixion. But on that first Palm Sunday the gathered people welcomed the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Let’s note three ways the crowd got it right on that first Palm Sunday as we consider our response to Jesus on this Palm Sunday.

The crowd was right to give honor

The people got word that Jesus was entering the city and they immediately stepped forward to honor Him. He entered on a borrowed donkey which both fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and spoke to humility. People rushed to cushion each step by placing palm branches and even their own cloaks on the ground before Him.

We rightly honor Jesus by our care for the things of God. When we care more about the glory of the Lord than our own comfort, we honor Him. When we sacrifice our time and energy and possessions, we honor Him. When we look for ways to bless His work, we honor Him.

I pray you will honor the Lord with your life this Palm Sunday and Easter season. Honor Him by loving the things that matter. Honor Him with your sacrifice for the things that count. Honor Him with a bent knee and a giving heart. On Palm Sunday we remember all that Jesus is and all that He has done. And we honor that memory and that mission as we gather with the crowd.

The crowd was right to worship

The people began a spontaneous worship service as Jesus passed by on the first Palm Sunday. They sang out snatches of the Psalms. Their cries of “Hosanna” — a word of praise from the Hebrew word for “salvation” — rang out above the noise. They sensed the working of God to save mankind from sin and could not contain songs of loudest praise.

I hope you will worship the Lord joyfully this Palm Sunday and Easter season. He is worthy of all your praise. By His death, we can find life. By His work, we can find meaning and purpose in the work of our lives. By His resurrection, we have power over death and the grave. We have ample reason to praise our Messiah, Savior and Lord.

When you gather for worship on Sunday, remember who Jesus is and what He has done. And praise Him from the depth of your heart. Jesus told the skeptical Pharisees who hated this praise that the rocks would cry out if the people didn’t. We have a reason to sing and a reason to shout and Palm Sunday reminds us of this privilege. Let no stone be needed to take your place in worship. Praise His name fully and powerfully.

The crowd was right to proclaim

Matthew’s Gospel tells us the city was shaken by the crowd’s praise. People asked who it was that passed by. The crowd proclaimed, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!” (Matthew 21:11).

We gather in worship on Palm Sunday and the Easter season to proclaim the message of Jesus. We proclaim the Gospel message that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, that He died to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was buried but that He rose from the dead on the third day. We proclaim Christ as our Savior and as our King. We proclaim that He is the only hope for the world. We proclaim that He will return one day to claim His own and that those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him will live for eternity with Him in heaven. This is our proclamation in song and sermon and life.

The crowd got it right on that first Palm Sunday. Let’s gather this week with other believers and all those who will hear and, together, honor and worship and proclaim the name of Jesus. There will be no need for stones to take our place.

— Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church O’Fallon and first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in Baptist Press.