Look for the Yellow Hats

With more than one million man hours and three million meals given away per year, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) agency plays an important role in disaster recovery. In 1968 the SBDR was formed to help meet needs of those affected by natural disasters. Since that time, SBDR has become the third largest disaster relief agency in the United States (behind only The Red Cross and Salvation Army).  Right now, over 95,000 volunteers have been trained by the SBDR in every arena from chainsaws crews to day care workers. Despite receiving zero federal funding, both the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott and Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence expressed their appreciation to the SBDR at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. All funds and volunteers for the SBDR are supplied by local Southern Baptist Churches.

As these volunteers don their trademark yellow caps once again and respond to the aftermath of hurricane Florence, perhaps it is a good time for to remind ourselves why Southern Baptists formed an entire agency with emphasis on disaster relief.

The Image of God

Irenaeus, one of the first Christians to address the imago Dei, wrote that there is a distinction to be made between the ideas of image and likeness. He theorized that image formed a baseline for all humanity. However, likeness—the degree to which we are similar to God in character and action—has been affected by sin. To some, that may appear to be a distinction without a difference, but the manner in which Southern Baptists respond to crisis-after-crisis may help shed some light on the subject.

The Yellow Hats

When an act of God throws a hurricane on the American Coast, Southern Baptists respond by offering help for every man, woman, and child. In so doing, their commitment to the imago Dei is put into practice—the baseline of God’s image is respected. Think of it like this: Southern Baptists are pro-life for all of human life. While our belief concerning the imago Dei gets more media coverage in our opposition to abortion, every man, woman, and child from the womb to his or her eternal destiny bears the image of God. As such, SBDR reaches out and works to rescue every person possible—every image of God—in a disaster. Their reasoning for doing so is not to gain political power, increase revenue, or place the SBC in the spotlight. Instead, 95,000 volunteers, capped in yellow, get up, go out, and rescue others because “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”

Offering Help

When Irenaeus wrote on the difference between image and likeness, he recognized that despite mankind being created in the image of God, there was a discrepancy between mankind’s status and character. This gap can only be bridged by a change in man’s heart—a change only possible through the gospel. Offering help to others is not the finish line for practicing the imago Dei. SBDR will care for anyone regardless of their sins. Drunkards, abusers, the sexually immoral, etc.— all receive a baseline of care. Help is offered to all. But, SBDR is not only disaster relief and victim care; it proclaims the gospel and calls for response.

Offering Hope

In 2017 the SBDR recorded over 4200 gospel presentations. They also reported that more than 800 people responded to the gospel in faith and were connected with local churches. Earthly disasters are temporal but a spiritual disaster is eternal. As such, the goal of SBDR is not merely to save people from flooded communities, but also to redeem communities from the flood of sin. Some perils are overcome by bread, but eternal peril is only overcome by the Bread of Life.

So look for the Yellow Hats. Undoubtedly they’ll be living out Southern Baptist doctrine and fulfilling the words an old hymn:

Rescue the perishing
Care for the dying
Tell them of Jesus mighty to save.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Who Gets to Divine the Divine? A Response to Union Seminary’s Statement

On September 5th, 2018 Union Seminary released statements of belief on their twitter account. The release appears to be a reaction to the recent petition concerning Social Justice. This petition has garnered over 6000 signatures, including that of John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham. In addressing the statement on social justice, Union Seminary established their views as the polar opposite of those put forward in the petition. Below I’ll address two tenets put forward by Union Seminary.

1. On Scripture

“While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible.”
-Union Seminary on Scripture.

When Union Seminary states, “divinely inspired,” it is qualified as an errant fallible inspiration. The justification for Union Seminary’s view derives from their doctrine of sin. Since the Bible was authored by men, Union Seminary argues, it must contain some form of sin—particularly bias and prejudice. The sinful prejudice of the Bible is evidenced by the demographics of the biblical authors. Since biblical authorship lacks diversity in race, gender, and sexuality, how could modern readers believe the Bible is free from prejudice? Modern biblical scholarship exists, Union Seminary claims, to help readers sift through the words of the Bible to discover that which is divinely inspired and that which is prejudice. Therefore, they must qualify divine inspiration by stating, “we affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.”

Let’s consider the logic of Union Seminary’s statement for a moment—the Bible is divinely inspired, but human sin and prejudice have obscured God’s message. Therefore, human scholars—human sinful scholars—are needed to clarify that which was divinely inspired from that which was mere human prejudice. Infallibility and inerrancy are affirmed by Union Seminary’s statement, but not in the words of Scripture, but rather in the discernment of biblical scholars.

So I have to wonder, if authors divinely inspired by the sinless Holy Spirit could not overcome their own prejudices, how can we expect non-divinely inspired scholars to do better? Are biblical scholars qualified to sift the divine from the drivel by way of critical theory? If so, the scientific method of  scholarship trumps divine inspiration.

Does Union Seminary’s statement concerning scripture give critical theory powers of divination? When Union Seminary states, “while divinely inspired,” they make divine inspiration a conditional clause reliant on critical theory. For proof, lets observe their statement on the imago Dei.

2. The Image of God

We affirm that God created every person in God’s own image. Accordingly, we deny that vitriol directed towards people because of how God made them (i.e. sexual orientation or gender identity) is in any way faithful, biblical or godly.
-Union Seminary on Imago Dei.

In this statement, Union Seminary makes some very large claims. First, they affirm every person is created in the imago Dei. They deny binary gender as vitriolic and unbiblical. Consider the verse referenced by these statements:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

In order to reach Union Seminary’s understanding of the imago Dei, one must affirm the first clause of verse 27, “So God created man [meaning humanity] in his own image.” However, one must also accept that the author of Genesis revealed his prejudice by espousing gender in a binary fashion. So, when the divinely inspired author wrote, “male and female he created them,” he was unduly influenced by his sin and/or prejudice. But who decides which clauses are God’s message and which are man’s prejudice?

Who gets to divine the Divine? When Union Seminary denies the Word of God as infallible and inerrant, they ratify the infallibility and inerrancy of scholarship. Inerrancy and infallibility are not removed from their consideration; they are transferred to a new location.

Union Seminary leaves us with an unfortunate truth. In a postmodern, post-Christian culture, leaving inerrancy and infallibility in the hands of God is a liability. From a social aspect, it costs too many followers. From an economic standpoint, it costs too many patrons. In terms of politics, too many offices. So, inerrancy must be outsourced.  And where should we house it? The fickle slums of human wisdom has always been the cheapest option.

And so, the question of Genesis 3 becomes relevant once again, “did God actually say?” Either divine inspiration or the scholar’s method is infallible and inerrant. Who is inerrant: God? or humanity?

Before we answer too quickly, we must remember that dust with a PhD, is still dust.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Suturing Wounds with Mercy

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

Ever sing the classic Michael Jackson song? It’s catchy. There is one real problem with the song, however: it relies on self-reflection and the self improving the self.

I often look into the mirror first. I often catch myself believing the lie that I can somehow begin with my own failures and create change in myself. I will find an issue and then want my own reflection to change itself. Many Christians, no doubt, have taken up this same mantra of self-improvement.

As is so often the case with other secular worldviews, we may even notice a modicum of success. Positive changes can come by sheer strength of will sometimes! The problem with self-willed self-improvement, however, is that sin and failure do not posses the ability to heal our broken souls.

God does not use sin to bind up the wounds of life. Sin is a gangrenous sore festering at the core of our being. Such infections cannot be removed by human willpower. Sin must be cleansed by grace. The stitches which God uses to suture our lives is mercy.

Hebrews helps make the point clear:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Self-improvement and sanctification stem from different places. Self-improvement focuses on the self—specific sins and failures to be overcome. However, sanctification—Christian growth—ought not begin with self-reflection, but rather with self-abdication. There can only be one man in the mirror—Jesus or myself. We do not change by focusing on failures and sin. We change by drawing near to God. We grow by kneeling before the throne of grace.

That which is true about ourselves is true of our neighbors as well; relationships heal when mercy flourishes. As we are to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, others should be equally confident in drawing near to us. Reminders of past failures and sins should not frequent our marriages, friendships, or our families.

Below are two suggestions for helping cultivate a relationship built on mercy rather than self-reflection:

1. Sacrificial Love Heals

The consequences of sin are real. Equally real are the consequences of sacrificial love. Prodigal sons don’t need a laundry-list of changes to be made before being welcomed home. The parable from Christ is clear—the Father runs to and embraces the prodigals. When we sacrifice our right to anger or justice upon the altar of love, we let God’s example (the example of his Son) heal our wounds. Convalescence begins with mercy.

Let mercy be the outward flourishing of all relationships. Just as the Father forgives, forgive. Sin cannot unite. Reminding people of their past sins cannot unite. Mercy alone binds us to Christ and therefore to each other.

2. Mercy is Fruitful

Do our children trust us with their tough emotions? Can a friend come to us in confidence? God’s mercy leads the psalmist, David, to come boldly before God to ask for mercy. God has shown himself to be merciful. Since we know God is merciful, we can come with open hearts and confess our sins to him—sins he already knows. Therefore, by cultivating mercy in our relationships, those who know us can come to discuss the deepest wounds of sin.

When we allow sin to keep our relationships at arms-length, we make mercy superficial. Keep in mind Jesus’s parable. If we choke everyone who owes us a penny, should the King (our Father in heaven) forgive us of our mountains of debt? If God used the same measure of mercy that we use, could we come to his throne confident in his mercy?

Herein lies the real problem. In order to have mercy on someone, we have to be wounded by them. With such deep wounds, how can we be as merciful as God? That’s a man-in-the-mirror question. And we all have a tendency to start with the man in the mirror. But, if instead we begin with Christ in the mirror, we can know his mercy will change our ways. Our mercy to others ought to be a pure reflection of God.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

How do you pray for your church members?

I fell under a deep conviction in 2008. And beginning a ministerial career under God’s judgment wouldn’t be the best start. I acquired a nasty habit during my college years. I found myself often saying, “I’ll pray for you,” only to then forget completely. My neglect of others wasn’t intentional; I said, “I’ll pray for you,” fully-believing I would fulfill that commitment eventually. At best, this was unintentional hypocrisy and at worst, deception.

Below, I offer the system that I’ve put in place to fulfill my commitment. It grew out of extended reflection and asking God for his help in overcoming my inadequacy as a minister.

“How do you pray for your church members?”

I began by asking other ministers how they prayed for their people. Admittedly, most said they prayed for their congregation generally. Others prayed as specific requests arose. But I would then ask these pastors one final question: “Have you prayed for everyone in your congregation by name?” From congregations of 50 members to those of 500, the answer was “no.” Their answer echoed in my soul and I could not align that reality with what I believed to be a critical responsibility of a pastor.

So, in 2013 I decided the answer to my question needed to be “yes.” At the time, I was the youth pastor to a group of about 60 students in a church of over 500. I knew that if I waited for my students to come to me and ask for prayer, only a small percentage of them would receive prayer. I knew that if I would only pray for them generally, I would never actually pray for them specifically. Either option was unacceptable.

Establishing a Prayer System

My solution was to create a new and simple system. I bought cheap composition notebooks and put the name and picture of each family associated with our youth group in each notebook. Then I committed to take three of those books each week and write a specific prayer for that family in them. After praying for them, I wrote a note to them saying, “I’m praying for you this week. If there is anything you’d like me to pray for specifically, please let me know.”

As our youth group grew and the number of books increased, I began handing out books to other staff members—three books each week. I set the expectation that everyone who worked for me would pray for three church families each week. Within a year, each family had been prayed for at least three times and they had received three cards letting them know that they were being prayed for.

I have continued this process in my new role as Pastor of Summerville First Baptist. We have about 90 members and I have about 35 books. As I write this post, I have just picked up the remaining three books without at least one prayer written in them. In six months of pastoral ministry, every single family has been prayed for by name.

Divine Coincidences?

Now you might think, “I’m too busy for that.” The whole process takes less than an hour a week. Pastors, you can do this.

You may ask, “What’s the point?” Allow me to give you a few anecdotes.

When I began this system, a family came and told me they were thinking about getting a divorce and had been struggling with the issue. Getting a card in the mail after a particularly horrible fight one night was enough to prompt them to come and ask for help.

Just this past month I had a church member thank me for praying for her. She received the card that I was praying for her just before going into surgery. The catch? She didn’t tell anyone she was getting surgery. But knowing that I was praying for her made a world of difference.

Just this week, I prayed for a family only to find out afterward that the husband had just been in the ER. You can call these three stories coincidences. That’s fine. But I can tell you that I don’t have any divine coincidences when I don’t pray. But, when I do pray, the comfort and peace of Christ seems to settle on each member of my flock at the exact moment they need it most.

Brothers, if you’re at a small church, put a system in place to pray for your people. If you happen to be a church of over a thousand, commit your entire staff to praying for specific people. Require them to write out a prayer. Have them fill out a card. Make sure that the sands of time do not form prayerless mounds.

Many mickles make a muckle

There is an old Scottish proverb that makes me chuckle: “Many mickles make a muckle.” Simply, it means that the small things add up. Three families a week is not an unreasonable commitment. But three families each week becomes 156 in a year. In a decade, that’s 1,560 prayers for church members by name. And when we look back and ask ourselves, “Have I prayed for each of my sheep by name?,” we will be able to answer, “yes.”

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Five Pastoral Reflections


I’ve only been a Senior Pastor for a total of six months. This means, of course, that I have no access to any grand wisdom. However, I wanted to offer up five reflections on my first six months as pastor.

1. Set Your Routine

Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Most people are well-intentioned pie eaters. Some just want to spend some time getting to know the new pastor, others have spiritual needs which they want addressed immediately. Every single church member will have some expectation concerning the pastor’s time. Without a set schedule, pastors will find it difficult to salvage even a sliver of time for biblical study.

I have a set routine. Certain times are available for meetings. Other times for biblical study. Keeping track of my own schedule helps ensure that no duties are neglected. As for myself, Saturdays are protected. I’m with my family all day. Emails, prayer meetings, and events always seem to popup on Saturdays, but unless it’s an emergency, I’m not available to anyone except my wife and children. A set routine assures family time.

2. Nail Down Haphazard Habits

By “haphard habits,” I mean those habits which have some fluidity to them. Any spiritual discipline that isn’t nailed down and engrained can be forgotten easily. I find these habits the hardest to maintain.

Recently, I asked in a Church Revitalization Facebook group which spiritual discipline is most-commonly neglected. Many pastors responded that fasting was the most neglected spiritual discipline. Fasting is one of those haphazard habits. Few Christians have a set time every week for fasting. I don’t let spiritual disciplines waste away. If a year passes without memorizing a new verse of Scripture, I’m in trouble. My way of nailing down scripture memory is to record when and what I memorize. Therefore, a spiritual journal is key to nailing down haphazard habits.

3. Prioritize your Marriage

We all have a number of ministerial spinning plates to keep in the air. Our spouse shouldn’t feel like one of them. We do not consider the qualifications of 1 Timothy to be suggestions—they are foundations. Much like pastoral integrity, the marriage covenant qualifies to even perform pastoral duties. Peter says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Since prayer is the power of pastoral ministry, let Peter’s warning concerning hindered prayer sink in deep.

4. Saying “No” is Easy

Since we moved to Georgia we’ve had the occasion for several long car trips to Texas and Michigan. Thank you Waze app! With a well planned route, staying on course is easy. The only issue is the still small voice in the back of the van, “Dad, can we stop at . . . ” Can you say, “recalculating?”

When the path is clear, saying “no” is easy. Have a clear, Christ-centered plan for leading the church. Set goals. Have a vision. There are hundreds of very good things the church could do; if any one of them doesn’t line up with the vision, say “no.” Saying “yes” to side attractions is a sure way to hear “recalculating”. Recalculating the vision every month is a sure way to never arrive at your destination.

5. Members are Just People

Even the best Christians are still sinners. Congregants will lift up and tear down in the same week. As such, church members cannot be the foundation of our ministries. The Church’s one foundation is not the church itself; only Christ is a solid enough foundation to rest our ministries on.

Numbers will go up and down. Sunday School will flourish and diminish. Sermons will be strong some weeks and weak on others. Christ alone is enough to stabilize the tumultuous nature of pastoral ministry.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Three Signs of Eroding Integrity

Integrity is not simply the password we use to gain access to ministry positions, it is the watchword of our lives. No minister ever sets out to be inconsistent in word or action. When erosion is slow, foundations crumble without notice. Thankfully, there are a few warning signs of eroding integrity:

Increasing Procrastination

The upkeep of integrity is easier when we keep up on our work. Procrastination decays our ministries. If we find ourselves putting off the Bible, prayer, or planning, then we will reap what we sow. Procrastination delays the planting of spiritual seeds. When harvest time arrives, reaping is sparse.

Don’t put off your relationship with God until the evening. As soon as you are able, spend time in God’s Word. When an event goes on the calendar, make a plan with steps to complete the project. When a parishioner asks for prayer, stop and pray for them. Remember, procrastination antagonizes commitments to honesty. Don’t be tempted to lie just because the sun came up on the due date.

Diminishing Honesty

In the 21st century the belt of truth from Ephesians 6 is less like the humble foundation on which all armor of God hangs and more like batman’s utility belt. We see truth not as the foundation of our integrity, but as an opportunity for something flashy and exciting—a truth bomb. We want to give people a dramatic truth they can retweet. One of John Wesley’s famous Holy Club questions was, “Am I honest in all of my words and actions, or do I exaggerate?”

Social media provides us ministers the perfect place to exaggerate. Everything from baptismal numbers to great events are all prone to exaggeration. However, integrity requires us to have a greater commitment to honesty than to exaggeration. The cynosure of truth is not in the size of its championship buckle, but in its modest ability to uphold the breastplate of righteousness in its proper place.

The Wandering Eye

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness” Matthew 6:22–24. We teach children to sing, “be careful little eyes what you see.” We ought to remember this song in our private times.

Let’s ask ourselves a sincere and honest question: are our eyes healthy? Pornography isn’t the only taint threatening our integrity. Few parishioners will ever know what we decide to watch on Netflix. If our eyes gape at boarders of the darkness, then they are not gazing at the light. Let us transfix our eyes upon Jesus, then our whole body will be healthy.

It is possible for us to fake our way through spirituality. We can make up fake Bible study times, false claims of hard work, or even fake a sermon. Please understand, small lapses in integrity follow us through our entire ministry and root themselves in our personal lives. Do not attempt to justify lapses in personal integrity. We won’t be any less busy, less tired, or less stressed in the coming days. If we excuse our integrity for busy days, it won’t show up on the hard ones. The Christ we serve is holy. Let his holiness reflect in all we do.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Noah’s Warnings to Christians

Noah received two of the highest accolades ever given to a mere mortal in Scripture. God’s Word describes him as, “blameless in his generation” and as having “walked with God” for 601 years (Gen 6:9)! Yet, as Martin Lloyd Jones once said, “The best of men are men at best.”

Despite the impeccable record of his early years, his later years provide a much-needed warning for each of us. Chapter 9 reads, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen 9:20–21). His sin does not remain his only, but infects his family. “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (Gen 9:22).

What warnings does the second part of Noah’s story give us?

Noah Took the Focus off of God and Placed it onto Himself

In Noah’s story (Gen 6:9–9:17), God is the subject. Noah’s role is fairly passive for most of the four chapters in Genesis. In fact, if you wanted to make a movie about Noah that was actually based on the biblical account, I imagine the storyboards would say something like this: God speaks, Noah obeys, earth floods, and rainbow appears. But in Genesis 9:18, the roles are altered and God becomes the passive character. He never takes the centerstage again in Noah’s story. The focus of Noah’s story changed.

Generally speaking, that best describes Noah’s sin—his life became entirely self-focused. I don’t think he ever intended it to happen, but little by little, Noah removed God from the central place in his life’s story. Let’s not be shy on this point: we are all susceptible to this. We can minister to the glory of God or we can glory in the ministry of ourselves. Make no mistake, though, we can only serve one master. We must make our choice daily. Is God in the spotlight or have I demanded that it be refocused on me?

Noah Toyed with the Line between Pleasure and Sin

More specifically, the narrative turns to Noah planting a vineyard. God has no problem with this in itself. But the line between Noah enjoying the fruit of his labor and his falling into drunkenness wasn’t clear to Noah. And the same is true for each of us as well. We are all prone to yield to temptation and fall into sin.

How much worm can a fish swallow before it’s hooked? Pleasure always entices us to ask the wrong questions. A reputation built over the course of a lifetime can be destroyed by a momentary pleasure. It’s crucial that we heed James’s warning: “each person is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14). Guard yourself against sin by pursuing godliness and fleeing temptation.

Noah’s Sin Affected his Family

I’m not sure what is more disheartening, Noah succumbing to vice or his sins infecting his family. Noah has only one monologue in the recorded play of his life. “Cursed be Canaan,” he states, “the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (Gen 9:25). Like a wave crashing into sand castle on the shore, sin eroded the foundations of his family.

Noah’s failure reminds us that sin always poisons the spiritual wells from which our children must drink. Let us not be fooled; holiness and sin cannot walk hand in hand. Holiness provides a clarity for our walk with God which the insobriety of sin can never stumble upon.

Let us heed Noah’s warning. We are all capable of running the race well only to stumble at the end. Keep the spotlight on God in your ministry and in your life. Guard your heart from sinful temptation and protect your family by pursuing holiness.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.