Cultural Commentaries

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.

What Baseball Teaches Us about Race

254px-orioles_outfielder_adam_jones_looks_on_before_the_al_wild_card_game-_283013627424629

Adam Jones, Center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles

I have always considered baseball to be a reflection of the world around us. There are so many life lessons to be learned from the sport—learning from failure, working together, exhibiting patience, and evaluating the situation. We also see that baseball is an international sport that brings numerous cultures and ethnicities together. We see players from North, South, and Central America, Asia, Europe and Australia sharing the field. This season the first African-born player made it to the Majors.[1] Much has been accomplished in Major League Baseball related to race since Jackie Robinson first broke the color barrier in 1947. Unfortunately, the events surrounding the game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox on May 1 demonstrate that baseball and society have a long way to go.

Baseball news has been full of reports that Adam Jones, the 5-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glove winning center fielder for the Orioles, was the object of racial slurs from fans at Fenway Park. Jones told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me. I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.”[2] In response, the Red Sox ejected the fan who threw a bag of peanuts at Jones. ESPN reports that the Red Sox ejected around 30 fans from that game.[3] Jones added that he had experienced racist taunts at Fenway Park before, but this was the worst of his 12-year career.

If the words and actions of the game were not enough, other players have stepped forward to say that they have also been subjected to racial slurs at Fenway. CC Sabathia, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, said that he has heard racial slurs directed at him from the stands in Boston. In addition, David Price who pitches for Boston said he has been the recipient of similar attacks at his home stadium. Finally, Dusty Baker, the manager of the Washington Nationals, said he wasn’t surprised by the treatment of Jones by the fans.[4]

Nightengale further reports that the problem extends beyond Boston. He writes:

The hideous and repulsive reality is that this isn’t limited to Boston. It happens virtually every day. In almost every ballpark. Just ask every African-American player who has played the game, and you’ll hear the chilling stories. They’ll talk about the slurs coming from the stands, the racist mail delivered to their mailboxes and the ugly behavior exhibited when alcohol gives fans liquid courage.[5]

The behavior was so bad on May 1 that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement on behalf of the league. He stated:

The racist words and actions directed at Adam Jones at Fenway Park last night are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated at any of our ballparks. My office has been in contact with the Red Sox, and the club has made it clear that they will not tolerate this inexcusable behavior. Our 30 clubs will continue to work with fans and security to provide a family-friendly environment.  Any individual who behaves in such offensive fashion will be immediately removed from the ballpark and subject to further action. The behavior of these few ignorant individuals does not reflect the millions of great baseball fans who attend our games.[6]

If baseball represents a microcosm of our culture, what does this say about our society? Unfortunately, it says we have a long way to go when it comes to race. On one hand, I feel confident in what Manfred says at the end of his statement about the fact that these few fans do not represent the millions of great fans. On the other hand, I know that we all have to search our hearts and ask what our hidden prejudices and sins are.

From a biblical standpoint, there are two main ideas that speak directly to the question of racism. First, we read in Genesis 1:26–27 that God created all people in his image. Scripture states, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. . . .’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” There is no distinction made on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or any other characteristic in regards to the image of God. We are all image bearers and have inherent dignity and worth in the eyes of God. We cannot make a distinction in people based on their ethnic or geographic heritage. This is confirmed as we read the words of Paul in Acts 17:26–27, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Second, we must recognize that we are all in need of a Savior to deliver us from our sin, no matter our ethnicity. Apart from faith in Christ, we are all dead in our trespasses. Through faith in Christ, we become united as heirs of the Kingdom. Yet, there is still no distinction in regard to race. In Galatians 3:26–29 Paul writes:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Across all racial and ethnic lines, we suffer the same fate apart from Christ. However, we also receive the same salvation through faith in Christ. The fact that God has provided the way of salvation through Christ to us all is wonderful news indeed.

What Adam Jones experienced the other night is shameful. May we who have become heirs according to the promise be the ones who call all people to unity by proclaiming the truth that God has made us in his image and that he has offered salvation to us all without concern for race, color, or nationality.

[1] Des Bieler, “MLB’s first African-born player set to take the field as Pirates promote Gift Ngoepe,” The Washington Post, 26 April 2017.

[2] Bob Nightengale, “Orioles’ Adam Jones berated by racist taunts at Fenway Park,” USA Today, 1 May 2017.

[3]Orioles’ Adam Jones says he was target of racist abuse at Fenway,” ESPN, 2 May 2017.

[4] Timothy Rapp, “CC Sabathia Details Racist Experiences in Boston After Adam Jones Incident,” Bleacher Report, 2 May 2017.

[5] Bob Nightengale, “Orioles’ Adam Jones has already made a difference by speaking out,” USA Today, 2 May 2017.

[6] John Meoli, “Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, Red Sox, others react to racial slurs directed at Orioles’ Adam Jones,” The Baltimore Sun, 2 May 2017.

Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.