Preparing for a Financial Emergency

chicklet-currencyToday is the first day of classes for the spring semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is my twenty-third convocation and the start of my twelfth year at SWBTS. For the last few years I have taught Family and Church Financial Stewardship each spring semester. This class has quickly become one of my favorites because I get to see the lives of my students impacted almost every week. This is not my typical seminary class. There is no research paper. I use a number of guest speakers. The newspaper is one of my textbooks. However, it is probably the most practical course I teach.

One of the assignments I require for Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a quick review of a couple news articles each week that address financial issues. This requires my students to stay up to date on the news beyond yesterday’s basketball scores or any recent developments at the White House. I want them to be aware of the financial side of the news. We even talk about some of these articles on a regular basis.

In order to practice what I preach, I just came across an article from CNN Money this morning that states most Americans would be unable to cover an emergency expense of $1,000. Kathryn Vasel reports, “Only 39% of Americans say they would be able to pay for a $1,000 unplanned expense, according to new report from Bankrate.”

The article goes on to report how often American households have these emergency expenses. Vasel writes, “Unexpected bills aren’t uncommon. More than one-third of households had a major unplanned expense last year, the survey showed, with half of those costing at least $2,500.” Unfortunately, the typical American household is unprepared for such an expense and places it on the credit card. Such an approach only complicates matters because high interest rates on credit cards mean you pay even more for this unexpected expense.

The article suggests a few practical tips for building your savings in order to cover an emergency expense.

  1. Set aside money to save before you start spending your paycheck.
  2. Start the habit of saving early in life.
  3. Separate your emergency fund from the money you spend in your checking account.
  4. Find a good savings account.

Seminary students are not immune to these same problems.We joke around the seminary that students are as poor as Job’s turkey (I’m not sure how poor Job’s trukey was, but after the events of Job 1-2, it must have been rough). I surmise that the figure is actually worse among seminary students regarding their ability to cover a $1,000 expense in an emergency. And then students begin a cycle of debt that can cripple their future ministries.

My goal in the stewardship class is to give students hope for their financial future and tools to help them be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to them. This is not a class about getting rich. It is a class about serving God with our financial resources. God owns it all anyway, so we are simply managers of his resources.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
Psalm 24:1

Family and Church Financial Stewardship

Stewardship Class PromoEven though I have spent most of my academic career teaching courses on ethics, one of my favorite courses that I teach is actually in the realm of stewardship. STWLD 3603: Family and Church Financial Stewardship is a fun class to teach because I get to see my students implement the concepts they are learning on a weekly basis.

As you can tell by the title, the course covers two major areas of financial stewardship–the family and the church. In the first half of the class, we consider what the Bible says about financial stewardship and how to apply those truths to our lives. We also handle some of the unique components of financial management for ministers including housing allowance and ministerial taxes.

The most practical assignment for this section of the class is the family budget analysis. Students are required to track every expense for two months, categorize those expenses, and then analyze their expenses. This is the first step to building a workable budget. Many of my students have never tracked and analyzed their expenses, so this is the first time they get a clear picture of how they use their money. Students are regularly surprised by what they find and begin making changes immediately.

When we transition to the part of the class on church financial stewardship, the focus is on how to build a church budget and how to protect the church’s money. New seminary graduates often do not have the luxury of going to churches with multiple staff members where someone takes care of the finances. In most cases, the new pastor also has responsibility of managing the budget with the assistance of a volunteer committee. For that reason, it is imperative that they learn how to budget for the church.

In addition, protecting the church’s money is also a crucial element. I once heard a friend of mine who is a church administrator say, “If you serve at a church that collects money, someone is trying to steal it.” The longer I have been around churches, the more I realize he is correct. Whether it is someone taking coins out of the soda machine or a staff member embezzling millions of dollars, the reality is that our churches’ money is vulnerable. Therefore, we need policies in place to help protect money and promote integrity in the handling of money.

As you can see, this class covers a wide range of topics related to financial stewardship. My students are also thankful that they do not have to listen to just me for the semester. This semester’s guests include John Cortines, co-author of God and Money (one of our textbooks), Stephen Osborne, senior relationship manager at Guidestone Financial Resources, and David Hain, executive pastor at Birchman Baptist Church.

I encourage as many students as possible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take this class. The class is offered on Tuesday/Thursday at 1:00-2:15 this semester. I also just received approval to offer it in our flexible access format so that students can take it without being on campus. If you are interested in the class, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

Cakes and Conscience

300px-supreme_court_front_dusk*This post originally appeared on the Land Center blog at https://thelandcenter.org/cakes-and-conscience/.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on December 5 in the highest profile case of this term. Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is an important First Amendment case with significant implications for both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery in the Denver area. In 2012 Phillips was asked to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins to celebrate their same-sex wedding ceremony. Phillips refused to bake the cake, and he was subsequently found in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination statute. Amy Howe reports, “The Colorado agencies responsible for enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws ruled that Phillips’ refusal to provide the custom cake violated those laws and that he had ‘no free speech right’ to turn down Craig and Mullins’ request. They told Phillips that, if he decided to create cakes for opposite-sex weddings, he would also have to create them for same-sex weddings.”[1]

Based on his convictions as a Christian, Phillips believes that only a man and a woman can enter into marriage. Therefore, he refuses to design wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. Phillips also refuses to design cakes to celebrate Halloween, divorce, or any message he considers to be lewd.

What is at stake in this case? There are a few points of particular interest to free speech and conscience protections involved in this case.

First, can the government compel speech? When we think of free speech, we generally think about the prohibition against government restricting speech. In this case, Jack Phillips wants to restrict his own artistic expression, which he argues is a form of speech, but the state of Colorado is attempting to compel him to make artistic expression that violates his conscience. Compulsion of speech is a direct violation of the First Amendment. The question is whether artistic expression through custom-designed wedding cakes is protected speech.

Second, does religious freedom extend beyond the walls of a place of worship? Phillips argues that he has the right to express his religious convictions through the bakery that he owns. He closes the store on Sundays, and he refuses to bake items celebrating various activities that violate his religious convictions. There has been a trend in recent years to see religious freedom only in the context of formal worship; however, religious freedom has not always been interpreted in such a way. Phillips claims that his religious freedom extends beyond the church and into the public square where he operates his business. The decision in this case has the potential to set a significant precedent for how freedom of religion and freedom of conscience will be applied for generations.

Third, does protection against “dignitary harm” supersede other constitutional rights? In his amicus brief for this case, Sherif Girgis defines dignitary harm as “the harm of being told (even by polite refusals) that decisions central to your identity are wrong.”[2] Andrew Walker notes, “The rise of ‘dignitary harm’ arguments aims to achieve desired legal outcomes on the basis of a perceived slight or personal offense.”[3] In essence, dignitary harm arguments are built on the idea that a person has the right not to be offended. If one is offended he can then sue the person who offended him. The responsibility is then upon the prospective offender not to offend even though there is no way for him to know for certain whether or not what he might do or say could offend someone else. Recent cases, especially related to same-sex marriage, have raised the profile of dignitary harm. The most substantial problem with this line of argumentation is that the opinions of the majority tend to be protected and the minority is most likely to commit dignitary harm. In contrast, most of the rights protected in the First Amendment are designed to protect the minority opinion from discrimination, not the reverse. The Court would be right to see Phillips as the one whose opinions and decisions should be protected.

What can we expect as the outcome of this case? It is difficult to say. Numerous reports suggest that the majority of justices are leaning toward support of Jack Phillips, but Howe warns us that “making predictions based on oral arguments is always dangerous.” In the coming months we should hear a decision from the Court, and it will likely prove to be the most significant religious liberty decision in generations.

[1] Amy Howe, “Argument analysis: Conservative majority leaning toward ruling for Colorado baker (UPDATED),” SCOTUSblog, December 5, 2017.

[2] Sherif Girgis, “Brief of Amicus Curiae Sherif Girgis Supporting Petitioners,” Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 2.

[3] Andrew T. Walker, “Into the looking glass: Why the impact of Masterpiece Cakeshop at the Supreme Court matters,” ERLC.com, December 5, 2017.

Five Tips for Thriving after Seminary

rotundaIt’s the most wonderful time of the year—unless you’re a student. Let’s be honest, most students are in survival mode at this point of the semester. There are tests to be taken, papers to be written, and assignments to be submitted. This time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be one of the most stressful periods for any student, including seminary students. For students graduating this semester, the pressure can be even greater. They are looking for ministry positions and considering housing options after they move off campus. They may even be praying that a professor or two will overlook a few errors in their final papers.

Beyond the stress of the end of the semester, I have also seen seminary students and graduates struggle with post-seminary survival. Recently I overheard a handful of former students talking about being survivors of seminary and how difficult it was to listen to a sermon, study the Bible, and enjoy fellowship after spending years in the formal academic setting of seminary. I understand what these former students are talking about, but I also want to offer some tips for thriving after seminary that I learned during my ten years as a seminary student (yes, I said ten years) and more than a decade of teaching seminary.

  1. Be humble. I was one of those first year seminary students. You’ve seen them. They are the ones carrying a Greek New Testament to church and pretending to follow along in the text as the pastor preaches. Honestly, I was pretty good at Greek. I could translate from most passages on the fly by the end of my first year of seminary (second year of Greek), but if I got asked to read aloud in Sunday School, it might get ugly. Or if the pastor was preaching from the Old Testament, I was in trouble. Here’s deal… whether it is Greek, Hebrew, theology, or hermeneutics, seminary provides an unmatched opportunity to delve into the formal study of Scripture, but completing a few semesters of a subject does not make you an expert. When I watch some of my faculty colleagues who teach Greek or Hebrew follow along in chapel with a Bible in the original languages, I know that they have years of continued study and training beyond the basic 2-4 semesters of a language. I also know they are spending hours on their own refining their craft of translation. Even in my own field, I am constantly reading books and articles related to ethics just to stay abreast of current thought. The people in your church will be grateful for the time spent in seminary and the education you have received, but that little old lady who has been faithfully studying her Bible for the last 70 years may actually know more than you do. Be humble about your education. You still have a lifetime of learning ahead of you.
  2. Study the Bible for your personal discipleship. It is really easy to allow the formal academic study of Scripture to replace personal study and discipleship. A good friend of mine from college went to a different seminary a couple years before I did. I will never forget when he told me a story about one of his professors. He was overwhelmed with the volume of reading required in his classes so he sought out one of his professors for advice. He wanted to know how to devote time to his own devotional study of the Bible when so much was required of him already. Unfortunately, his professor gave him terrible advice. He said that there will be time for devotional study when you graduate. I think many students who lose their passion for God’s Word while in seminary do so because they forsake the study of Scripture for personal discipleship. Academic study is good and necessary, but it is not the end. Personal holiness and devotion to the Lord are more important than grades. If you are having difficulty maintaining a personal time of devotion, then schedule it just like you do for your classes.
  3. Stop being critical. After a year or so of seminary, it became difficult to listen to sermons. I paid attention in chapel and church, but mainly for the purpose of catching an exegetical fallacy or theological error. Then something very helpful happened to me—I took a preaching class. My professor required us to preach in class and receive feedback from our classmates. Most of my classmates were kind to me and only minimally critical. Then my professor required us to watch videos of our own preaching. Ouch! I was bad. I wanted to be the next Adrian Rogers, my childhood pastor. Instead I was just a cheap imitation in an ill-fitting suit. Watching myself preach was a humbling experience. I still don’t like to do it because I feel that I have so far yet to go. Will the pastors you listen to make errors along the way? Sure. Are your sermons perfect? Not a chance. In fact, those faithful but unknown pastors who put their time and study in faithfully each week will likely have a deeper impact on their people than the celebrity preachers on your podcast list. Stop being critical and start reflecting on how you can faithfully feed your people.
  4. Invest in the ministry of a local church. At least once a semester in seminary I heard Paige Patterson say that he prayed our first church would be filled with the type of members we were while seminary students. There was often an audible silence after that statement. Thankfully, I heeded his advice. I joined the choir, served as a deacon, taught Sunday School, went on mission trips, and even volunteered in the nursery occasionally. None of these roles were paid positions. Even today I volunteer as a deacon, choir member, children’s Sunday School teacher, and other roles. In those roles, I’m not Dr. Lenow. My students on Sunday call me Mr. Evan. In the choir loft, I’m just one of the guys in the bass section. It’s refreshing, and it’s healthy for my spiritual life.
  5. Share the gospel. Sharing the gospel is a key aspect of the Christian life. We don’t do it to get another jewel in our crown, but we do it because we care about the souls of other people. When I share the gospel, I realize a few things. Most people truly interested in hearing the gospel don’t really care about theodicy, eschatology, or hermeneutics. They want to hear the life-changing message of salvation. Sure, those other doctrines may become important later, but right now the most important thing is for them to hear a clear articulation of the gospel in the style of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. If you can’t share the message of the gospel in a clear, straightforward fashion, it’s time to get some practice.

My desire is for this graduating class of seminarians to thrive after they graduate. I don’t want them to look back on these years as some from which they need to recover. These five tips are not a magic solution to some of the difficulties of life after seminary, but they should help ease the transition.

The New Marriage Battleground: Polygamy, Polyamory, and Open Marriage

polygamyThis post originally appeared on Theological Matters at https://theologicalmatters.com/2017/10/10/the-new-marriage-battleground-polygamy-polyamory-and-open-marriage/.

Students who have taken my Christian Home class are familiar with a diagram I draw on the board each semester. In this diagram, I visually depict the difference between polygamy and polyamory—two marriage arrangements that contrast monogamy. I then tell my students that such arrangements will most likely be legal in the United States in just a matter of years and that the church will need to be prepared to address them.

The timeframe for normalization of these alternative marriages may have accelerated in recent months as a series of articles have been published touting the advantages of various forms of multiple marriage. It is important for us to understand what these are and to critique them from a biblical perspective.

The Marriage Alternatives

Until the last couple of years, laws in the United States only recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges opened the door to same-sex marriage. Now we see a push for different types of marriage that infringe upon monogamy.

Polygamy is a marriage arrangement where one individual is married to multiple partners. Historically this is primarily a man married to multiple women. This form of marriage is the one most clearly set up for legalization through the Obergefell decision.

Polyamory literally means “many loves” and describes “consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.”[1] Polyamory differs from polygamy because all partners can be in multiple marriage-like relationships. While a recent Christian blogger has stated that polyamory is not about sex,[2] the basic premise of this type of relationship is that the various partners are in multiple intimate, romantic, sexual relationships.

Open marriage is the third alternative in the marriage battleground. This arrangement involves couples in the marriage being open to romantic, sexual relationships outside the context of their own marriage. In some respects this is similar to polyamory, although the outside relationships may not be formalized as marriage. Proponents of open marriage argue that as long as both spouses are in agreement with the arrangement then it does not break the fidelity of the marriage bond.

The Battle Ahead

Are these marriage alternatives really going to become mainstream? Numerous articles have appeared over the last year promoting these different marriage arrangements. New York published an article promoting consensual nonmonogamy.[3] The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed philosopher Carrie Jenkins about her new book What Love Is and What It Could Be in which she promotes polyamory.[4] NPR even ran a story about the cultural moment for polyamory stating, “Lately, I’m seeing ‘polyamory’ everywhere. It’s not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.”[5] Polygamy is popularized on the television shows Sister Wives and Polygamy USA.

From a Christian perspective, progressive Christian blogger Chuck McKnight is currently publishing a series of blog posts promoting polyamory and open marriage based on a “love-based ethic” in which our ethical actions are judged by only the question of whether they are loving. McKnight believes that polyamory can be loving and therefore not biblically prohibited.

The Christian Response

In response to the cultural push for acceptance of these marriage alternatives, Scripture gives us a couple of clear ideas about marriage.

Scripture communicates a consistent message about the monogamous nature of marriage. Beginning in Genesis, we see that God’s design for marriage is a comprehensive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. Genesis 2:24 provides this divine commentary on the nature of marriage:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

God designed that the man (singular) would be joined to his wife (singular) in marriage. All subsequent descriptions of marriage relate the ideal of monogamy. While there are examples of polygamists in the Old Testament (for example, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon), their polygamy is not depicted as ideal. In fact, their polygamy is the source of great strife and conflict in their homes. Despite the presence of such polygamy, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture points to monogamy as the standard. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the monogamous standard. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 and then describes two becoming one flesh. He never inserts a third or fourth individual into the marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul states, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul clearly communicates the idea of monogamous marriage here. The message is consistent throughout Scripture.

Any departure from monogamous marriage is a form of sexual immorality. Scripture consistently condemns adultery, but two specific passages come to mind in response to the current challenges to marriage. In Romans 7:3 we read, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. . . .” Paul describes a standard monogamous marriage (a wife with one husband) and equates any union with another man as adultery. In addition the author of Hebrews tells us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

If Scripture depicts God’s design for marriage to be monogamous, and if any departure from monogamous marriage is equated with adultery, then the various alternative marriage arrangements—polygamy, polyamory, and open marriage—are all forms of adultery that are subject to the judgment of God. Therefore, Christians should not endorse these forms of “marriage,” nor should they tolerate them within their midst. Just as Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for tolerating the man who had married his father’s wife, we too should rebuke those who promote and tolerate such distortions of God’s design for marriage.

[1] Rhonda N. Balzarini, et al., “Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory,” PLoS ONE 12 (2017).

[2] Churck McKnight, “What Polyamory Is Not,” Hippie Heretic (September 11, 2017).

[3] Drake Baer, “Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love,” New York (March 6, 2017).

[4] Moira Weigel, “‘I Have Multiple Loves’: Carrie Jenkins makes the philosophical case for polyamory,” The Chronical of Higher Education (February 3, 2017). Carrie Jenkins, What Love Is: And What It Could Be (New York: Basic Books, 2017).

[5] Barbara J. King, “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” NPR (March 23, 2017).

The Uncertain Future of the Ministerial Housing Allowance

267px-logo_of_the_internal_revenue_service-svgU. S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling on October 6 declaring the ministerial housing allowance to be unconstitutional. This was the second time that she has issued such a ruling, the first coming in 2013. The lawsuit was brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenging that excluding the housing allowance from taxable income is unfairly biased toward religious leaders.

Judge Crabb ruled in part that the housing allowance exemption “violates the establishment clause because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.” This is the same conclusion she reached in 2013 but was overruled by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that FFRF lacked standing to sue since no one affiliated with that foundation had ever filed for a housing allowance exemption from the IRS. During the intervening years at least two employees of FFRF have done just that. Therefore, Judge Crabb essentially invoked her previous ruling since she believed that the FFRF now had standing to bring the lawsuit.

The law in question is 26 U.S. Code § 107, which reads:

In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include—

(1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or

(2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.

Of particular importance is the second paragraph which allows ministers to exclude a portion of their income that is used to provide for a home when a church does not provide a parsonage. Prior to 1954, ministers could only exclude from taxable income the fair rental value of a parsonage provided by the church. The Internal Revenue Service code was amended by Congress in 1954 to allow the same exemption for ministers who provided their own housing.

Judge Crabb believes this is an unfair benefit for ministers that does not also apply to non-ministerial employees. She writes, “Ministers receive a unique benefit under § 107 (2); it is not, as defendants suggest, part of a larger effort by Congress to provide assistance to employees with special housing needs. A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else.”

Much of the defendants’ case is built upon the idea that ministers have a unique challenge for housing because they are expected to live in the general vicinity of their churches and be on call at all hours of the day. Similar housing allowance deductions are given to federal employees working overseas and members of the military. Judge Crabb rejected this argument in her decision.

Another element of the defendants’ case addresses the ecclesial differences among denominations. Not all denominations have a practice of providing parsonages, and some do not provide them for theological reasons. Joe Carter offers a good summary of this distinction as he writes, “The parsonage exemption, for instance, provides a preference for institutional churches whose ecclesiastical properties are owned by a central governing body (e.g., Roman Catholic). Smaller, independent, local churches often have less money to provide a parsonage. It also presents a bias in favor of wealthy, established churches over younger congregations and church startups. Many church plants that can’t afford a church building would be unable to afford to buy a parsonage.”[1]

The similar case from 2013 was ultimately overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but a similar outcome may not happen this time. The case will undoubtedly be appealed to the same appellate court, but the issue of standing will not be in play this time. In an interview with  Baptist Press, Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey states that the precedent of interpretation of the establishment clause by the Supreme Court may bind lower courts to decide in the same way that Judge Crabb did.[2] This could lead to a showdown at the nation’s highest court.

Why should we care about the future of the ministerial housing allowance? First, many ordained ministers depend upon this tax benefit to make ends meet. When churches are unable to provide adequate income, this tax deduction may make it possible for ministers to stay at a church. In fact, many churches include a housing allowance as part of an overall compensation package.

Second, the focus on the ministerial housing allowance is likely the first step in a larger plan to remove even more significant tax benefits that churches receive. The next set of lawsuits may attempt to overturn property tax exemptions for churches. If churches were not able to claim property tax exemptions, many would have to close their doors rather than pay large tax bills for commercial property.

Third, there is a growing trend to view churches as value-neutral institutions for a community. However, churches have been viewed historically as providing great value to communities. They often meet the needs of the sick and poor without placing a burden upon tax payers. They are organizers for community service to benefit their neighborhoods and cities. They provide a moral foundation for their members that often make them better citizens of the community. Viewing churches as value-neutral is shortchanging the role of churches.

As this case progresses through the appeals process, we may see significant changes for ministers and churches.

[1] Joe Carter, “Explainer: Why clergy get tax-free housing,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, October 12, 2017.

[2] David Roach, “Clergy housing allowance struck down again,” Baptist Press, October 9, 2017.

Guest Post: Watching the News Without Losing Your Mind (Or Your Faith!)

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about anxiety and the sovereignty of God. At that time, my children were preschool and young elementary age, and I struggled with worry over them. I found that article the other day and read through it, feeling like I was looking through an old family picture album.

The feelings of anxiety were fresh and I quickly remembered the worry I carried over keeping them safe, well-educated, and healthy. The idea that amazed me as I read back through that article was that – as much as things have changed in our lives – many things stay the same.

Yes, my children are older, but I still fight the temptation to become paralyzed in fear over them.  The situations might be different, but my heart at times can be the very same. Today, however, I find the anxiety not only coming from within, but also from around me.

The national news, the local papers, and social media are busting at the seams with shocking stories of pain, hurt, and trepidation for the future. There is a palpable feeling of worry, uneasiness, fear, and general anxiety among people today inside and outside of the Church.  The places that we used to turn to for help with anxiety (friends, church, even entertainment) are now over run themselves with the same anxious content.

What are we, as believers, to do in a world filled with uncertainty and fear?

First, we must remember that God has called us to be different. Christian women must stop falling into the same patterns as those around us. We have what the non-believer does not have. Because of our relationship with Christ and because He has given us His Word, we have the answers! The problem comes when we don’t access the power that we have been given. We turn into the gullible women of 2 Timothy 3 who might learn, but are never able to act on the knowledge of the Truth.

We must act on the wonderful, hopeful, freeing knowledge we have of who God is and how He is at work around us.  For if we do not, we will miss the opportunity to live out our faith, and no unbelieving person will ever want what our testimony of Christ proclaims.  Never forget, friend, that our Lord holds the future and He is still in control. Yet, if we worry just as much as our lost neighbor does, what peace do we have to offer her? It is only when we stand courageously on the truth of God that we can offer hope amid fearful times.

Secondly, we must train our mind and eyes on truth. The diet we feed our minds produces the fruit of our thoughts and emotions. Paul did not give the Philippians specific instructions on what to think on because it made for a pretty plaque on their living room wall. He wrote to them from a prison cell, during a time of disunity and heresy in the church. The Philippian Christians were surrounded by Gentiles in a town with a heightened military presence. I am sure the Christians might have been a bit nervous, so Paul charged them with exactly what to think on to prevent their mind from wandering into the back allies of fear and anxiety (Phil 4:6-8).

Lastly, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. A genre of writings that I find helpful in digesting the events going on in our world is biographies of heroes in the faith. What we are going through as Christian and as American women is not new. There are many who have gone before us and have gone through similar fears and challenges. God could have put us in any time of history, in any country.

But He chose to place us here; in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our churches. Just like those who have lived through history, I want to be found faithful to fulfill God’s purposes right where He has called me. I can only do this if I release my grip on fear and anxiety and trust God’s plan for my life and the lives of those around me.

Trust His sovereignty in your life. Whatever happens, He has you right where He wants you for his purpose and for His glory. We must live our lives in a way that, no matter what, we can testify to His goodness and power in our lives!