Theology

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.

Christian Marriage in a Post-Christian Age

wedding rings“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled. June 26, 2015, is a date to be remembered for generations. According to the majority opinion of the Court, the Fourteenth Amendment provides a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. And according to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, the majority has also paved the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriage. So what are we to do now? How are Christians to live in a post-Christian age?

There is much to be said about the SCOTUS decision, but I will save that for another day. Right now I want to offer a positive spin on the future of Christian marriage in a post-Christian age.

I am fully convinced that by the time my children are old enough to marry, the status of marriage in the United States will be completely different than when my wife and I married over 12 years ago. This will create a number of challenges for us as parents and as Christians, but these are challenges that we can and should take on with confidence.

Here are a few thoughts about what Christians should do regarding marriage in a post-Christian society.

  1. Teach what the Bible says about marriage.

The foundational passage of Scripture about marriage is Genesis 2. In fact, when Jesus and Paul taught about marriage, they both referred back to the creation narrative to make their case. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” There are a few key points that we see in this verse that are also affirmed in the New Testament.

  • Marriage is created by God to be monogamous. When we see the divine commentary on the first marriage in Genesis 2, we see the original model for marriage—“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” When Scripture speaks of marriage, it speaks in terms of monogamy. Yes, polygamous marriage was a reality in the Old Testament, and a number of the early patriarchs participated in such marriages. However, in each case, polygamy led to very difficult marital circumstances. Jealousy, backbiting, and ridicule were the norm in these relationships. If you fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus and Paul both affirm the monogamous nature of marriage and appeal to the creation narrative in order to do so (see Matthew 19:1–12, 1 Corinthians 7:1–40, and Ephesians 5:22–33).
  • Marriage is created by God to be heterosexual. Before God instituted the first marriage, he had a choice. He had only created the man, and he declared that it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Thus, God decided to make a woman and bring them together in marriage. Thus, the first marriage was intentionally heterosexual in nature according to God’s design. Jesus affirms this directly in Matthew 19:4–6a when he says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Jesus declared that marriage was designed around the fact that God created male and female. This was the design of marriage in the garden of Eden. It was the design of marriage that Jesus upheld in his teaching. It is the design of marriage that we should teach.
  • Marriage is created by God to be permanent. The Supreme Court did nothing specific to undermine this aspect of marriage, but we have already been undermining it as a culture and the church for decades. In Genesis 2:24, we see that a man and his wife will join one another. The old KJV uses the term “cleave.” The idea is simple. The man and woman join together and become one. This is more than a partnership or contractual relationship. They become a single unit. After quoting Genesis 2:24, Jesus then gives a brief explanation of the verse. He says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). Notice the last phrase of the verse. We are not to separate what God has joined together. In a culture that celebrates individuality and recommends divorce when life gets difficult, we need to teach the permanency of marriage.
  1. Model biblical marriage in the church and culture.

Marriage is not a random social arrangement. It has clear public goods, such as ensuring that children have the right to be reared in the home of their biological mother and father. It is also the most effective and efficient way to move the next generation from helpless infants to productive members of society. But more than that, marriage is one of the clearest illustrations of the gospel that we have. It illustrates the relationship between Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes the foundational marriage verse of Genesis 2:24 and then states, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). This is all part of his lengthy description of the relationship between a husband and wife. Thus, he declares that God’s design for marriage even in the garden of Eden was to point us to how he relates to his people.

Therefore, we should take the instructions of Ephesians 5 very seriously. Husband, love your wife as Christ loves the church. Care for her. Protect her. Sacrifice your own interests for her good. Wife, submit to your husband as to the Lord. Follow him. Respect him.

Even in the church, we have undermined biblical marriage by making light of the model that God created. We should not quickly jump to divorce as the answer to difficulty. We should not mock or ridicule our spouses for a cheap laugh. Instead, honor and cherish each other—just as our vows promised. If we follow the biblical model of marriage, our marriages will be different. They will be as a city set on hill giving a public witness to the world of the power of Christ in our lives and our marriages.

  1. Instill in our children the importance of biblical marriage.

For many of us, we have a historic understanding of marriage that will most likely not be impacted that much by the changes wrought by the Supreme Court decision. However, our children will grow up in a culture that will be inundated with unbiblical models of marriage. Already we are beginning to see commercials, children’s literature, and school curriculum seeking to normalize same-sex marriage, cohabitation, plural marriage, and divorce. There is no way to shield them from seeing these things, so we must learn how to counter them.

First, we need to model marriage in our homes. Make sure that your children see how you interact with your spouse in a godly way. Demonstrate the truths of Ephesians 5 right in front of them. Second, talk about biblical marriage with your children. I don’t ever recall having long conversations with my parents about God’s design for marriage, but it is not because my parents ignored the issue. They didn’t need to explain it to me. I saw it all around me—in our home, in our church, and in my school. That will not be the case for my children. We must talk about marriage as a key doctrine at all times in the model of Deuteronomy 6:7. Third, we must encourage our children to marry when the time comes. I recognize that some of our children will be called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:8), but most of them (from a historical standpoint) will not. However, many in the next generation may see marriage as a pointless, cultural relic by the time they are old enough to get married. We must encourage marriage as God’s model for joining together in intimacy and rearing future generations. Without such encouragement, even Christian young people may give up on marriage.

So what should we do in light of the Supreme Court ruling? While we could start wringing our hands and fretting about what the future may hold, I believe we should instead redouble our efforts to live out the biblical model of marriage in a watching world. Trust me, the world is watching, and they will want to know why our marriages are different if we truly model the biblical pattern.

“We Believe…”: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsWe are all theologians in a sense. Not everyone has pursued formal theological education to attain a degree that gives “theologian credentials,” but we all have at least some basic belief about God, man, sin, and salvation (or the lack thereof). When new churches start, they often spend countless hours laboring over how to express their theological beliefs in a written statement so that prospective members will know exactly what kind of church they are joining. In a perfect world, such statements of belief will find their way into the constitution or by-laws as the articles of faith or statement of belief.

For the most part, a church’s articles of faith will lay out the basic beliefs of the church regarding the Bible, God, Christ, man, sin, salvation, the church, ordinances and office, membership, and perhaps a handful of other things. This raises the question of marriage, sexuality, and gender identity—where do they fit in a statement of belief? Do they even belong in the first place?

Within a classical understanding of doctrine, a statement regarding marriage, sexuality, and gender identity could fit easily under the category of anthropology. The doctrine of anthropology is the study of human nature and existence. This doctrine asks the questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose in life?

The best place to start in answering those questions is the first chapters of Genesis. Here we see some key truths about human nature that we must not forget. First, we are created by God—that is how we got here (Gen 1:26–27). Next, we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26–27). While the image of God includes a number of different aspects, we can at least affirm that it includes the fact that we are created for a relationship with God. Third, we have been given stewardship over the rest of creation (Gen 1:26, 28), which means that we have the unique responsibility of caring for everything else God has made. Fourth, we see that God created us in two distinct genders—male and female (Gen 1:27). And finally, we recognize that God intended for the man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). These points will become very important as we see below.

When we move to Genesis 2, we learn about how mankind is created to relate to one another. In verse 18 we read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” In the verses that follow, we see the creation of the woman and the first marriage. God takes one of Adam’s ribs and fashions the woman out of it (Gen 2:21–22). He then brings the woman to Adam and presents her to him as his “suitable partner,” or his wife. In verse 23, we read Adam’s response to God granting recognition that this woman is “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Finally, verse 24 gives us the divinely inspired commentary on this union. We read, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

What we learn from the creation narrative is that marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.

Not only do the opening chapters of Genesis point out God’s design for marriage, but they also lay the foundation for our understanding of gender and sexual identity. Note that God created two genders—male and female. He did not create the multiplicity of genders or sexual identities in the ever-expanding LGBTQ nomenclature. There are simply male and female, and they are designed to be complementary partners to one another. This is most clearly expressed through the institution of marriage.

Marriage between a man and a woman then becomes the only biblically authorized context for sexual expression. Any sexual expression apart from an exclusive, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is sinful according to the text of Scripture.

It is this understanding that we want to put into the governing documents of our churches. Thankfully, we do not need to re-create the wheel in order to get an effective statement on anthropology, marriage, and sexuality into our church constitutions and by-laws. The first place that you ought to look is the statement of faith of your own denomination. Many denominations have such statements that will give you a starting point for appropriate language to use. The statement of your denomination might not be comprehensive enough for what we face today, but it should a good place to start. You can add to those denominational resources the helpful input of groups like Alliance Defending Freedom who have composed language that could be adopted into your constitution. Their work is more generic in order to appeal across denominational lines. My preference is to combine both such resources to develop a unique statement that addresses the needs of your specific church and the distinctive of your faith tradition. For example, below is my proposed statement that I believe works well within a Southern Baptist context.

We believe that God has created humans in his image and in the two distinct and complementary genders of male and female. These two genders are expressed in both physical biology and roles. Any departure from the biblical standard of male and female, whether that be a rejection of biological gender or an attempt to alter biological gender, is a violation of Scripture. (Gen 1:26–27; Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6; Eph 5:21–33)

We believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race. (Gen 1:26–28; 2:18–24; Prov 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 31:10–31; Eccl 9:9; Matt 19:3–9; Mark 10:6–12; 1 Cor 7:1–16; Eph 5:21–6:4; Col 3:18–21; 1 Tim 5:14; 1 Pet 3:1–7)

We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, and pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:6–23; 20:10–21; Job 31:1; Prov 5:1–20; Matt 5:27–28; Mark 7: 10–23; Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–20; 7:1–5; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:3–5; Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3–5; Heb 13:4; Jude 7)

We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6; Rom 3:23; 6:23; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 John 1:9)

We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church. However, identifying particular behaviors and identities as sin does not constitute harassment or hate. (1 Cor 13:1–13; Gal 6:1; Eph 4:15, 32; James 1:19)*

Let me suggest that you work on your own statement of beliefs in the area of marriage, sexuality, and gender so that your church can have a clear position on the issue. You may use the one provided above or adapt it for your own purposes. Remember, the purpose of such a statement is to state clearly what you believe about marriage, sexuality, and gender.

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*Much of this statement has been adapted and/or copied from Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) and “Five Things All Churches Should Have in Their Bylaws” from Alliance Defending Freedom. Both of these resources are available to the public at the links above.

This is the second installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Dr. Waylan Owens. Part 1 is available here.

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

Biblically Sound Now Available on RightNow Media

I’m happy to announce that the videos from my Bible study, Biblically Sound: Embracing Doctrine for Life, are now available on RightNow Media. Biblically Sound is a 10-week Bible study on doctrine and theology. The goal is to teach people how to build a biblical foundation for what they believe. I covered various doctrines, including the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, the church, and heaven.

This study was originally written for the men’s and women’s ministries at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. The women’s ministry recorded the videos with their lead teachers, Donna Gaines and Jean Stockdale. Those videos are now accessible for churches on RightNow Media.

RightNow Media is a subscription based service providing high-quality Bible study materials for churches. A church can buy a subscription and have the entire RightNow Media library accessible to its members. Your church will need a subscription to view the videos, but the link to the study is available here.

If you are interested in purchasing the Biblically Sound book, you can find it on Amazon and the CreateSpace store.

Jesus and the American Sniper

The recent blockbuster movie, American Sniper, has already earned more than $253 million around the world since its release just a few weeks ago. The movie tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper, who is considered to be the most deadly sniper in U.S. history. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is graphic in its depiction of the violence of war, but it also sheds light on the struggles of the man who became known as “Legend” on the battlefield.

Given its massive success at the box office, it comes as no surprise that American Sniper has generated quite a bit of controversy as well. What struck me as interesting (and saddening) was a recent back-and-forth between producer Michael Moore and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, both of whom invoked the name of Jesus to defend their respective positions.

Michael Moore has openly opposed the film and stated via Twitter:

In these tweets, Moore implies that Chris Kyle participated in sinful, unbiblical, and un-Christian behavior by serving as a sniper in the American military during his four tours in Iraq. For those of you who recognize Moore’s work, such statements are probably expected in light of his political views.

On the other side of the spectrum, Todd Starnes responded to Moore’s tweets by focusing one of his “American Dispatch” commentaries on Moore’s views. In the middle of his commentary (starting at the 48 second mark), Starnes invoked the name of Jesus as well as he stated:

Well, I’m not theologian, but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.’ But then again, I’m no theologian.

In stark contrast to the thoughts of Moore, Starnes concludes that Jesus would actually applaud Kyle for his work in the war and welcome him to heaven on the basis that he had personally ensured Islamic jihadists would end up in hell.

From a political perspective, I’d really have to hunt for a while to find much of anything to agree with Moore about. I’m probably going to line up with Starnes about 80–85% politically (although I often have problems with his rhetoric). However, in this case I think they both missed the point about Jesus.

I think Moore is asking the wrong questions for the most part. Would Jesus have participated in a war during his 30+ years on earth? Probably not. We have no record that he did and no reason to even speculate about it. However, Moore should be asking whether or not a legitimate government has the biblical authority to participate in war. On that question, the text of Scripture speaks fairly clearly. In Romans 13:1–4, Paul writes:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

This passage has typically been interpreted to include a government’s right to take up arms and defend its citizens and the innocent. This authority is granted to the government by God. In Chris Kyle’s situation, he was acting as an agent of the government in an official capacity as a soldier. From the best we know, he only engaged enemy combatants in his role as a sniper. Thus, his actions seem to fall within the scope of the authority granted to government in Romans 13.

In his attempt to rush to Kyle’s defense, Starnes crosses the line by declaring that God is pleased with the fact that Kyle ushered unbelievers into a fiery judgment. The problem is that Starnes missed the point of the passage he quoted. Invoking the praise of the master from Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30), Starnes states that Kyle must have received a hero’s welcome in heaven upon his untimely death.

The problem here is that God does not rejoice in the death and judgment of those who do not trust in him. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God does not rejoice in the condemnation of “another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.” Instead, he is grieved that such a one never came to faith in Christ alone for salvation.

The fact of the matter is that war is a tragic consequence of the fall of mankind. War should never be pursued for its own sake. It should always be a last resort and a tragic necessity for the sake of restoring peace. Even though I believe waging just war is within the authority of the government, we should long for the day when there will be no more war. We learn about that day in Micah 4:3 where the prophet describes the last days as a time when “they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war.” This is an eschatological reality, but it will only be realized after Christ returns. Until then, war will continue to be a part of this fallen world.

Finally, I want to address a point that Starnes made twice—he said he is not a theologian. By academic and professional standards, I guess you could say that I am a theologian. But so are you, and so is Mr. Starnes, and so is Mr. Moore. We are all theologians in one sense. When we approach the text of Scripture or declare what we believe (or don’t believe) about God, we are doing theology. Mr. Starnes may not have formally studied theology, and his theology in this particular commentary is weak in my opinion, but it is still theology.

Therefore, I would like to encourage us all to be careful when we apply the thoughts, words, or actions of Jesus to a particular situation. We need to make sure our theology is sound before we proclaim what Jesus would do or say.