Guest Post: The Heart of an Anxious Mom in the Hand of a Sovereign God

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 and was re-printed in Baptist Press here.

I was sitting on the conveyor belt in the baggage claim area of the Jackson International airport when the tornadoes came through Jackson, MS. The airport staff had directed us to take shelter there until the storms passed. I had already heard of the casualties in Arkansas, children who lost parents, parents who lost babies.

My own mother was on the road somewhere in the storm trying to get home. As I sat there in the darkness, the familiar emotions of fear and worry consumed me.  Immediately, though, I also felt God’s presence and reassurance that, “I am with you and will never leave you. I love you and the people you love and I have a perfect plan for each of your lives.”

There is something you must understand, though. This is not the first time the emotions of anxiety and worry have swept over me almost causing me to lose my breath. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even the thousandth time. God’s sweet voice of reassurance is a tune I have come to know and claim as truth in my life. I struggled with fear and worry some as a child, much like other kids my age. I was scared of the house catching fire or snakes being in my bed.

However, it was not until I became a mother myself that I sat down at the banquet of anxiety.

Once I saw the positive pregnancy test, I instantly felt responsible for a life other than my own. After our first daughter was born, fear would overwhelm me as I was giving her a bath or rocking her in my arms. Some days I would only nibble at the banquet, knowing that most of my fears were irrational. However, other days I allowed myself to fully take in the diet of worry. On those days, my joy was lost. My thoughts of what “could” happen tumbled out of control if I was not careful. The Lord blessed us with more children, and with each one, the feeling of fear and anxiety continued like old, worn jeans that you know you should throw out, but keep around for comfort sake.

“What if I wasn’t paying attention and something happened to them?”

“What if I didn’t feed them the right things?”

“What if I didn’t do the right things to protect them?”

“What if we didn’t have the right toys/equipment/safety devices for them?”

At some point in time, all of these questions haunted me. However, I began to realize that all of my concerns had one common focus. Me.

The more I focused on myself and my abilities, the more I saw my shortcomings and faults. However, when I took my eyes off of myself and placed them on an almighty, powerful God, I began to see how the God who tends to the lilies can be trusted with all of my concerns.  As my children grew, the Lord began to teach me magnificent truths that took me away from the banquet of anxiety and led me to the true Bread of Life where I can feast on His goodness.

God used 2 Timothy 1:7 many times to speak truth into my heart: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is not God’s plan for us to consider ourselves crazy because we have irrational thoughts of worry. He has given us a sound mind. That means I can trust him as He leads me to make the right decisions throughout the day. If I am in a close walk with Him, He will guide my path and give me a sound mind.

In my life, the antidote to fear and worry has always been a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sovereignty of God.

For example, I cannot keep my children safe 100% of the time, but I know God loves them even more than I do and whatever He chooses to allow in their lives is for the purpose of His glory. In the same manner, I trust God for clarity of mind so that I can make the best decisions for my family that I can make. I forget things. I accidentally overlook things, but by the grace of God, His sovereignty more than makes up for my faults.

I praise God that he has taught me to recognize fear, worry, and anxiety in my life, not as mental issues, but as trust issues. The more I trust in the precious sovereignty of God, the more I am at peace with whatever He brings my way.

An Inauguration Day Prayer

361px-donald_trump_president-elect_portraitToday is Inauguration Day. It is the day that the most powerful country in the world transfers power from one leader to the next. In many respects, this is unique to the American experiment. The outgoing President and the incoming President, who hold starkly different views on policy and governance, stood side-by-side at the front door of the White House this morning in a symbolic gesture of the transfer of power.

While Donald Trump is just the sixth President in my lifetime, he is already the most controversial of them all, and he hasn’t even taken office yet. That being said, we still have a biblical obligation to pray for President Trump. It does not matter if you think he is Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar, Lincoln or Nero. Scripture gives us a mandate to pray for our leaders. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Submit ourselves to the governing authorities. By most historical accounts, Paul penned his epistle to the church in Rome during the reign of Nero. Nero was no friend of Christians. In fact, he persecuted Christians after falsely accusing them of setting fire to Rome. Yet, Paul still told the believers in Rome “to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). In light of these instruction, we should start our prayers for the President with an acknowledgement of our own submission to those whom God has placed in authority over us.
  2. Pray for his heart. There have been many conflicting reports regarding Mr. Trump’s spiritual status. At the end of the day, only God knows his heart; therefore, we should pray for his heart that he would be saved (if he is not) and worship God. In Psalm 2:10-11 we read, “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” We see this warning from the psalmist that kings and judges should worship the Lord. We need to pray that God would have the President’s heart, and that his life would be an expression of worship.
  3. Give thanks to God for our President. It is often hard to give thanks for people with whom we disagree. Considering the drastic contrast between Presidents Obama and Trump, it is likely that you either disagree strongly with the outgoing President or the incoming President, or perhaps both. No matter the case, we are instructed to give thanks to God for our leaders. Paul admonished Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We should give thanks to God for Mr. Trump because he is our duly-elected President. He is the leader of our nation, just as the king was in Paul’s day. As we give thanks to God for our leaders, we should also live as good citizens. The result of this combination is that we would be able to lead peaceful lives.
  4. Pray for peace and welfare. There is no doubt that their days in exile were the lowest point for the people of Judah. In the midst of that exile, Jeremiah sent the exiles a letter with an interesting statement from the Lord. He wrote, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). For both President Obama and now President Trump, there have been some who have called for us to pray for their failure. On one hand, there are certainly policies that we hope do not succeed, but overall, we should pray for peace and welfare under their leadership. By most accounts, peace and welfare would be a success. The Lord instructed the exiles to seek the welfare of the land of their exile because it would result in their own welfare. We should also pray for the welfare of our nation under the leadership of our next President.

These points of prayer for our new President can also be applied to any leader. We should also pray for our Congressional representatives, governors, statehouse officials, mayors, city council members, and others. Inauguration Day reminds us of the presidency, but all leaders deserve our prayers. Would you join me in lifting up our President in prayer similar to what is below?

Dear Father, I come to you today, on Inauguration Day in my country, to pray for our leaders as you have instructed us. First, I pray for a submissive spirit on my own part to those you have placed in authority, specifically President Trump. May I be a good citizen of my country who submits to the ordinances of government in keeping with the ordinances of God. May I honor those to whom honor is due. Second, I pray for the heart of Donald Trump. I do not know his spiritual condition, but I ask you to draw him to yourself. If he does not know you personally, then I pray for his salvation and that he would worship you in spirit and in truth. Third, I give you thanks for President Trump and the other leaders of our country, states, and cities. You have granted authority to our government, and these are the leaders you have ordained for this time. Finally, may their leadership result in the peace and welfare of our nation so that we may also find welfare and live tranquilly in godliness and dignity. Lord, thank you for hearing my prayer, and help me to bring these leaders before you in prayer regularly. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Debt and the Seminarian

student-loan-debtEvery spring semester I have the opportunity to speak to our Spiritual Formation students (mostly first-year master’s students) about stewardship. In that discussion, I explain to them that stewardship is about managing resources that belong to someone else. From a spiritual standpoint, God owns everything, and he has entrusted some of those resources—money, time, talents, etc.—to us to use for his Kingdom. Although I attempt to reinforce to my students that stewardship involves much more than money, I spend a significant amount of time talking to them about money and specifically the impact of debt on the ministry. For some of these students, it is the first time they have ever been confronted with how debt could impact their future.

I was reminded of this today as I read a recent article in The Wall Street Journal about student loan debt repayment. Here are some highlights:

  • “Many more students have defaulted on or failed to pay back their college loans than the U.S. government previously believed.”
  • “The new analysis shows that at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years.”
  • “No college saw its repayment rate improve under the revision, and some schools saw their seven-year repayment rates fall by as much as 29 percentage points.”[1]

In my experience teaching stewardship and working in financial aid in the seminary setting, student loan debt is one of the most crushing debts that seminarians face. While my seminary does not participate in any federal loan programs, many students still enter seminary carrying debt from their undergraduate programs. A recent study reported that 68% of graduates from public and nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt. The average amount of debt per borrower was over $30,000.[2]

If a seminary student enters with this level of debt, he is most likely to defer that loan until he completes 3-4 years of seminary. Over that time, that loan will have accrued interest, and it is possible that he may have even taken on further debt in the form of credit cards, vehicle loans, or medical expenses. Once he graduates from seminary, he may be in debt well over $40,000.

Now let’s couple that debt with a relatively low wage for pastors when compared to careers with similar education levels. According to LifeWay, the average full-time senior pastor of a Southern Baptist church with 75-99 in attendance is $46,981 per year.[3] For the typical seminary student, a salary over $40,000 may sound fantastic. But we have to remember that ordained ministers are considered self-employed by the IRS, so nearly 15% of that salary will be allocated for self-employment taxes (approximately $7,000). Then, the typical seminary student living on campus does not pay market rates for housing, so his overall housing expense goes up. Compound that with other expenses of moving and setting up a home, and the typical seminarian may find it difficult to make payments on his student loans. Then he will become one of the statistics mentioned in the WSJ article.

Helping students avoid the traps of bad debt is one of the goals in my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class at Southwestern Seminary. I don’t want students to question whether or not they can “afford” to accept a call to a church. I want them to be free to go where God calls them because they have been wise stewards of God’s money that he has entrusted to them.

In Proverbs 22:7 we read, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” I want my students avoid the slavery of debt and to serve God without the albatross of debt hanging around their necks.

If you’re a student at SWBTS, it’s not too late to sign up. The class meets on Mondays at noon, and I’d love to see you there.

[1] Andrea Fuller, “Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than Believed,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 January 2017.

[2]Project on Student Debt,” The Institute for College Access & Success, 2016.

[3]Compensation by Average Attendance of Church: Senior Pastor Full-Time,” LifeWay, 2016.

It’s Been a Long Time: Reflections on Ten Years at SWBTS

320px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29This week I will attend my twenty-first convocation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. January 1 marked my tenth anniversary at SWBTS. Over the last couple of months my wife and I have reflected on the last ten years in Texas and one point that keeps coming back up is the fact that we are still in our first post-seminary ministry. Compared to many of our seminary classmates, this is unusual.

A couple of years ago, Lifeway conducted a survey on pastoral tenure. It found that the average tenure of a pastor at a church is 3.6 years.[1] I’m not sure of the average length of time a professor stays at a seminary, but I have seen enough come and go through the years to know that transition happens on a fairly regular basis.

When I arrived at SWBTS in January 2007, I was a young 28-year-old fresh off comprehensive exams from my PhD coursework. I had a little teaching experience and a little bit more administrative experience. I jumped into the administrative side of things from day one and started teaching that fall. I’ve worn more hats at SWBTS than I can remember. I’ve had to request new business cards more often than most people. And I can rarely get through my current list of titles (of which my business card has four and one is now wrong), much less the ones I no longer hold.

How is this different than many of my seminary classmates? Some of them are easily at their third or fourth ministry assignment in the last ten years. A few may have even passed five or six. This is not to say that something is wrong with them. In many cases, God has led them to new ministry assignments for specific purposes. In some cases, the current ministry was too burdensome and a new opportunity was in order. In a handful of cases, the lure of a larger ministry with more influence has pulled them away from an otherwise effective ministry.

In my case, I have been able to work along steadily in the same place for a decade. I’ve had opportunities to perform different roles at the same institution, so that probably makes my ministry a little different than many pastors. However, I still feel that there has been great benefit in staying as long as I have. Here are just a few:

  1. Stability for my family. When we first arrived in Fort Worth, we knew just a couple of people. We set out to make new friends as our own family continued to grow. I’ll never forget one couple at our church who were hesitant to get too close because they feared that we would move on in a couple of years just like the other seminary families they had known. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had not come to SWBTS for school but to serve. We’re still friends today. The result of this longevity has been that my family has been able to plant roots that continue to grow deeper. Three of our four children are native-born Texans. They have enjoyed friendships with other children from their earliest memories just as I did. This is important for us as a family.
  2. Long-term investment. A few semesters ago I was teaching a night class when an older gentlemen in the class shared a memory from years earlier. He told me that he had been in my very first seminary class approximately eight years earlier. I cringed a little. I shared with him that I hoped this class was better than that one. He laughed and said that he didn’t remember much about the class except that we spent a lot of time working through Scripture (I was so relieved to hear that!). Through the years I have seen many students come and go, but I especially enjoy the opportunity to have some of them more than once in class. There are a few students with whom I remain in contact after their graduation. No matter where they go, they know where to find me. Investing in others over the long term is what my boyhood pastor encouraged me to do just months before he died.
  3. Personal growth. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Staying at the same ministry has forced me to grow. I can’t impress people at SWBTS with my skill set because they’ve seen it for years. As a result, I have been forced to grow as a professor, mentor, administrator, and colleague. This takes time and more effort than most of us would care to admit.
  4. Constant learning. Related to personal growth is the fact that staying in one place for a long time requires constant learning. Just the other day, my wife and I were talking with another couple about how much I read and study. I told them that I read more today than I did during PhD coursework. This is required to stay abreast of the changes in my discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I should. There is always more to learn. Had I moved on to another ministry every few years, I might have been able to get by with less, but now I have to strive for more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten years at SWBTS and look forward to this eleventh year with great anticipation. If I were to retire at 73, I could spend 45 years at one place. Who knows if that will happen, but I appreciate the opportunity SWBTS has given me to plant some roots here for the last ten years.

[1] Thom S. Rainer, “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders,” (20 August 2014). Available at http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2014/08/20/8-traits-of-effective-church-leaders/.

Politics and Ministry

240px-2016_presidential_election_ballotOver the past several weeks, I have been asked more about politics than I can ever remember. The situation with the current presidential election has created as much discussion as the Bush-Gore fiasco of 2000. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we have sought to be a voice of reason during the contentious election cycle. As part of that reasonable voice, I have participated in two discussions over the last week about politics and its implications for ministry.

Today I spent about half an hour discussing politics and ministry on Facebook Live as part of Southwestern’s “Ask the Expert” series. Despite the obvious failings of this “expert,” it was a fun experience with some good questions. You can find the video below.

Last Thursday I was part of a panel discussion with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of SWBTS, and Rep. Matt Krause, Texas State Representative from District 93. We had a wide ranging discussion about law, politics, church, and religious liberty. The video from that discussion will be available on the Seminary’s YouTube channel in the coming days.