Bible

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!

To Marry or Not to Marry: The Question for the Next Generation

Thisft_17-09-14_marriage_halfof week is Unmarried and Single Americans Week (September 17-23), so it seems appropriate to contemplate the changing landscape of marriage in America and its potential impact on our churches.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, half of all American adults today are married. This number is down from 59% twenty-five years ago and 72% in 1960. In addition, the median age for first marriage in 2016 was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. This age has risen 2 years over the past decade and nearly seven years over the last half century.

Pew Research also reports some interesting data regarding the desire to get married on the part of those who are unmarried:

Among adults who have never been married, 58% say they would like to get married someday and 27% are not sure if they want to get married. Still, 14% say they do not want to get married.

Even those who want to get married offer various reasons why they are not yet married. Pew Research notes:

Among adults who have never been married but say they are open to marrying in the future, about six-in-ten (59%) say that a major reason they are not married is that they haven’t found the right person. . . . About four-in-ten never-married adults (41%) who say they may want to marry in the future say that not being financially stable is a major reason they are not currently married, and 28% point to this as a minor reason. Fewer – but still a substantial share – say that a major (24%) or minor (30%) reason they are not married is that they aren’t ready to settle down.

ft_17-09-14_marriage_mostnevermarriedThe growing population of unmarried individuals in the United States has significant implications for the church, and it would behoove us to take note of both the positive and negative impact.

Positive Impact

There are several potential positive benefits that unmarried individuals bring to the life of the church. Here I will highlight two of them.

  1. Unmarried individuals have more time to devote to the work of the Lord. The Apostle Paul gave great encouragement to those who were unmarried in the church at Corinth. He said, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul knew that unmarried individuals could focus more time on serving the Kingdom of God because their attention was not (rightfully) drawn to serve a spouse. Churches should not lose sight of this. There is an entire population of unmarried people in the church who can provide a great work of ministry while undistracted by the concerns of marriage.
  2. Unmarried individuals can move more quickly in fast-paced ministry settings. Both Texas and Florida were recently hit by devastating hurricanes. Calls went out form disaster relief organizations all over the country to provide supplies and volunteers to meet immediate needs. In many cases, unmarried individuals (particularly in my church) were some of the first to volunteer because they are able to act more quickly in these circumstances. Without the obligations of caring for a spouse or children, they can respond and serve when immediate needs arise that demand quick attention. Thus, churches would be well-served to cultivate this ministry mindset among the unmarried believers in their fellowship.

Negative Impact

As with the positive impact, there are potentially several negative consequences of a growing unmarried population in the church, but these two demonstrate some of the issues the church must address.

  1. Cohabitation rates are growing. One reason for a decrease in marriage rates and an increase in the median age of first marriage is that cohabitation rates have increased steadily over the last thirty years. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) notes, “The percentage of women who have ever cohabited nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013. In 1987, one-third of women (aged 19-44) had ever cohabited, and in 2013, nearly two-thirds (64%) of women had cohabitation experience.” As I noted in a post earlier this year, the church is not immune to the problem of cohabitation. As more people cohabit, churches will be forced to address issues of church membership and discipline in a culture that is more accepting of cohabitation. And it is not simply the young about whom we must be concerned. NCFMR reports that the number of cohabiting older adults tripled between 2000 and 2014. In many cases these cohabiters are widows and widowers who choose to cohabit rather than remarry in order to avoid losing Social Security or pension benefits.
  2. Out-of-wedlock birth rates are growing. Just because people are waiting longer to get married or not marrying at all does not mean that there are no children being born. The National Center for Health Statistics notes that “the percentage of all births to unmarried women was 40.2% in 2014.” This means that 4 out of every 10 children in the United States are born to unwed mothers. CNN states that a third of women who give birth in a given year are not married. These are the children who will be coming through the children and youth ministries of our churches. In many cases, they will not have a father in their lives. Thus, the church will be called upon to fill in the gap for these children who do not have both mother and father.

Conclusion

There is no reason to fear the growing population of unmarried adults in our midst. But we cannot ignore them either. The church needs to minister to them and allow them to minister as a valuable part of the body of believers.

_________________________

U.S. Census Bureau, “Facts for Features: Unmarried and Single Americans Week: Sept. 17-23, 2017,” 14 August 2017.

Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, “As U.S. marriage rate hovers at 50%, education gap in marital status widens,” Pew Research Center, 14 September 2017.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present,” November 2016.

P. Hemez and W. D. Manning, “Over twenty-five years of change in cohabitation experience in the U.S., 1987-2013,” Family Profiles, FP-17-02, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2017).

P. Hemez and S. L. Brown, “Cohabitation in middle and later life,” Family Profiles, FP-16-20, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2016).

National Center for Health Statistics, “Births: Final Data for 2014,” National Vital Statistics Reports 64 (2015).

Stephanie Coontz, “How unmarried Americans are changing everything,” CNN.com, 21 September 2017.

Guest Post: A {Real} Solution to a Complaining Heart

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.

“What are you writing about, momma?” one of my daughters asked innocently as I began working on this piece.

“Complaining,” I replied.

With a concerned look on her face, she said, “Oh. Are you going to name any names?”

While I initially laughed at her response, it reminded me of the broad scope of this problem throughout God’s people, even in my own household and in my own heart.

Despite the trials going on in our country or the severity of the headlines, we, as Christian Americans, live a relatively easy life, especially compared to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live abroad.

I believe it is this life filled with an abundance of blessings that reveals the sin in our own hearts bubbling up as complaining and grumbling.

To some, complaining might seem as innocent as a group of friends sharing their concerns with each other. However, concerns, not channeled in the right way, lead to the fertile soil of discontentment, where complaining takes root and grows deeper and deeper with time.

Of course, we are supposed to share our burdens with each other, but this command of Scripture is intended to cause us to pray for each other and encourage each other through our concerns and burdens.

On the contrary, complaining actually does the opposite. When complaining is mentioned in Scripture it is usually paired with grumbling and discord.  Therein lies the difference:

Sharing our burdens leads to prayer and encouragement, complaining leads to further grumbling and increased discord within the body of Christ.

When God tells us to stop a behavior, He always leads us to fill it with a better action. For example, when Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling and complaining,” it is within the context of us being light to a dark and corrupt world. In Philippians 2:12-17, Paul charges us to do the work God has called us to do. As we do that work – obeying God’s commands in our life – we are showing God’s good pleasure in our lives.

Our obedience to God as we do His will leads us to glorify Him with our lives and actions, which leads to us being a light because the world around us is “crooked and perverse”. This is how we are light among the darkness around us.

However, if we complain and grumble, we cannot fulfill God’s will for our lives in this way. Our light is dulled by our grumbling mouths and we are no longer visible in the darkness around us.

A complaining spirit not only steals our passion to act out God’s will in our life, but it steals our light to the lost world.

I once thought the simple answer to complaining was becoming more thankful. However, in further studying the Philippians passage about grumbling, thankfulness is not mentioned. Don’t get me wrong; We can always be more thankful of the blessings God has bestowed upon us (Phil 4:6-7).

But the remedy to a chronic complainer is understanding God’s will in your life and, through obedience to Him, fulfilling that calling for God’s glory. Like Paul mentions in verse 17, we are all called to be poured out as a drink offering in whatever ministry God has placed us.

Here is a modern day example of Paul’s charge in Philippians 2: A young mom is overwhelmed by her trying daily tasks of taking care of her young children. She begins to complain to her husband or friends about the endless dishes or piles of laundry, the lack of sleep, or the continual messes. She tries to be thankful, but logic makes it difficult to rejoice over another pile of laundry. Paul gives this godly mama the charge to understand that it is “God who works through you to will and do for His good pleasure” and that if we can do the things God has called us to do without grumbling or complaining, then we will be “without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we will] shine as lights in the world”.  And finally, “[she can] rejoice in the day of Christ that (she has) not run in vain or labored in vain.”

The real solution to our complaining is a greater understanding of the calling God has on our lives and a deeper knowledge that He is using us to impact His kingdom right where we are. Once, we know that truth in our innermost being, the roots of complaining in our soul will be removed and replaced with the healthy growth of renewed purpose.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

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.

Guest Post: When the Lord Is Your Banner

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 Moses built an altar and called its name, The Lord is My Banner.” (Ex 17:15)

The Israelites were coming against their first enemy since crossing the Red Sea. They had fought the battles within their own hearts, questioning God’s provision of food and drink, only to find God faithful to provide daily for their needs. Still they wavered in their faith and questioned, “Is the Lord among us or not?” The time had come where they faced an enemy of flesh and blood. The Amalekites came to fight Israel.

On the backside of the battle, we learn that the Israelites were victorious. So much so, that the Lord pledged to “utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14b). When the battle had ended, Moses worshipped God and declared that “The Lord is my banner.”

Throughout history, a banner was vital to the battlefield. It is a rod or flag that the army would rally behind. If a soldier became separated because of the frantic pace of battle, they knew to gather back around the banner.

To stand behind a banner meant to forever identify with its cause.

There could only be one banner. For an army to have more than one would only bring confusion and disunity. When Moses could have celebrated the victory in so many ways, He chose to acknowledge God as his banner. What does it mean in our life for us to do the same?

First, when we declare God as our banner, we must lay down all other banners. We women love to rally around a worthy cause, promoting it to our friends and defending it to our foes. But, as a believer, no cause, no passion, no activity can take the place of God being the banner in our life. The Lord, His Word and His commands to us take precedent. Even other pursuits in our lives that look good or God-honoring can quickly become a banner in and of themselves. We run the risk of one day realizing that, somewhere along the journey, we forsook the Lord’s banner for a mere imitation.

Only the Lord’s banner is safe to follow, because only it is infallible. When we follow any of the banners the world has to offer, even the good ones, there will eventually come a time when error creeps in and we find ourselves fighting for an unrighteous cause.

Many people through history have suddenly found themselves drawn into unrighteousness only because they followed a worldly cause further than they should have. This is not to say we should ignore the causes around us that need our help. But, keeping God as our banner, we are able to help even more because of the solidarity of our focus.

Lastly, when the Lord is our banner, we are not offended by others. Any criticism we receive or mockery we endure is ultimately not targeted at us, but at the One we follow. He is more than able to withstand the darts that are thrown at us than we are. In contrast, when we have adopted other banners in our life, an attack on that cause is a personal attack on us. We internalize every criticism or unkind comment because we are the ones fighting. We cannot lay down our weapons, because there is no one to pick them up again.

However, when the Lord is our banner, He is the one who fights to defend His name.

We only speak His truth and love His people.

What cause do you rally around that competes with God’s primary position in your life? Do you find yourself taking offense often, because you are personally trying to defend your cause? Take this opportunity to learn from Moses and declare the Lord, and the Lord alone, is your banner, for He is the only infallible one, defending His own honor against the enemies that come.