How to Start a Family Devotion in December

December is coming! And with it many reminders of the holiday season. For many Christian homes, December presents an opportunity to close the sacred/secular divide. Many have had a full year of Bible study and devotions at church groups, but have yet to cross the barrier into family devotion time. In this post, I’d like to suggest a reading plan for bringing the actual story of Jesus home this Christmas. First, allow me to suggest some practical advice for starting a family devotion.

Keep it Short and Sweet

If you have young children like I do (5, 2, and 7 months), doing a family devotion at all may feel like an impossibility. We can hardly get everyone in clean jammies, let alone to settle down enough to read a section of Scripture. Don’t let the fear of family devotion time keep you from having a time devoted to God. Right now, our family devotion time lasts less than 10 minutes each night. We read a small passage of Scripture, let each child have a question time, review the story, then pray together. Don’t let devotion time become a grandstanding for theology or give a 30-minute lecture on the meaning of a Greek verb. Let the time reflect the age and maturity of your family.

Don’t Wait

There are a million reasons for not starting a family devotion. So your kid is 15 and you’ve never done it before. Its awkward. It’s not cool. And no one has any clue what they are doing. That’s okay! Obedience trumps awkwardness every time. Satan will let you have whatever excuse you need to stay out of the Bible. Open God’s Word, start small, and stay regular. Don’t wait to start, let this Christmas season open a new chapter in your family worship time.

Sing Something

While I may have particular delusions of grandeur day dreaming winning American Idol, no one in my family is a particularly gifted singer. Despite the squeaks and squawks coming from the Wegener household, we still try to sing at least one Christmas hymn together at home after devotion time. This personal family worship time is not going to win any awards, but it is going to honor God. Sing a hymn together through December. If you need to, put on a recording and sing along. Let praising God for the birth of Christ be a sweet ending to each December day. This personal family devotion time will help children connect with worship at church.

Don’t Pick on a Family Member

Don’t pick on any child or family member during devotion time. This is not a time for exposing sin and embarrassing a kid. If something came up during the day and you need to address it, make sure to do it the biblical way and go speak to that person directly first (Matt 18:15). Nothing will cause resentment for devotions to God like turning family time into the Spanish Inquisition. Some devotion material will naturally bring up sin issues in the home. Don’t shy away from those moments, but make sure to point the finger at yourself first and often. Husbands, as spiritual leaders of the household, we cannot come across as the most holy of our home. We need to be made of the same common clay as our children. Let them know that you struggle with sin as well. If you have to pick on or expose anyone’s sin, let it be your own sins first and foremost.

Suggested December Reading Plan

Below I would like to suggest a December reading plan of the gospel. Adjust the plan for the age of your family. Get a translation (not a children’s story book) the youngest person can understand. If you get behind, don’t fret—just try again. Emergencies happen. Extraneous circumstances come up. Remember, family devotion time won’t happen by accident. Make it the routine not the exception.

Download the reading plan here.

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

Three Ways to Redeem Thanksgiving

When it comes to Christmas songs, I’m a post-turkey kinda guy. As soon as Black-Friday hits, its beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. However, I ran into a unique problem this year. When we started Pandora radio, we found a “Thanksgiving” channel. Intrigued by the notion of Thanksgiving songs, we started playing the channel. To my surprise we began hearing, “Come Fly with me,” with Frank Sinatra dominating the Thanksgiving airways! Apparently, Thanksgiving songs have long been given a coup de grace.

Why don’t we sing about being thankful? At Christmas time, its easy to sing a secular song about the joys and doldrums of the weather or emotional ties to a warm fire. But when it comes to being thankful, we need to be thankful to/for someone. The problem lies with the human condition. We are naturally a self-centered idolatrous people. It is easy to be generally thankful; it is hard to recognize a true and personal God for whom we ought to be thankful. Not being thankful to God on Thanksgiving is simply a symptom of the secularism that pervades our home life.

Recognizing God at Thanksgiving

At Thanksgiving dinner our children will say they are thankful for their parents and various trappings and we’ll have our customary prayer. Yet, the largest portion of our Thanksgiving conversations will belong to football, Black Friday deals, and inventing reasons for a second piece of pie. God, in many American households, will get a prayerful name drop but little more concerning him will be welcome.

We all recognize that materialism continues to encroach on our giving of thanks. We know our society continues to progress in the sickness of consumerism. Yet, many of us adopt the secular Thanksgiving motto, “the best way to be thankful is to have more stuff to be thankful for.”  Our Christian families can push back against this materialistic tide. We can use Thanksgiving as a launching pad into the advent season.

Some Suggestions for Thanksgiving

1. Ask family and friends how God has blessed them this year
This isn’t an opportunity to brag or correct errant prosperity gospel theology; this is an opportunity to reflect on how God provided for our families. For my family this year, God provided us a church and a home here in Georgia. Personally, I am thankful that the gospel is reflected so beautifully in my wife. My children have grown in knowledge and understanding of Jesus. Thanksgiving is a proper time to recognize these blessings.

2. Spend time praying for politicians, rather than critiquing them
No doubt many of our families are divided over who should hold office. We could don our MAGA apparel or make sure the conservatives in our family feel-the-bern this year or we could agree to pray for our leaders (without backhanded comments). No doubt each one of us has a good reason to sit down at a glutton’s feast of slander and disdain for politicians. A godless Thanksgiving concerns itself with proving our cousin’s social policies are insane but a God-filled Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for our cousin. Find a way to be thankful to God for people with whom you disagree.

3. Avoid complaining and arguing
We need to remember that God’s Word tells us to, “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Yes, the rolls got left out this year. Yes, the turkey should have been thawed long before the oven was preheated. Yes, our parents, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. are still the same people we had to deal with last year. None of these factors negate or change God’s Word. Its time to set a Thanksgiving precedent for obeying this portion of God’s word—Do everything without complaining or arguing. Remember, critiquing each other is not the same as being thankful for each other. God has been so abundantly merciful with us this year, maybe its time to extend that mercy to family and friends at the dinner table.

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

Why I Vote

There are two things you should never talk about at Thanksgiving: religion and politics. Since Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, let’s go ahead and do both. Though some will argue for splitting the two up, it is important that both religion and politics continue to keep a civil discourse together. For Christians, participation in government, including the right to vote, is an important means for achieving a society that protects fundamental God given rights. Below I discuss some personal reasons for why I vote.

Influence Local Government

I hear often, “its just one vote what does it matter –  it won’t influence anything.” Let’s ask for a moment what just one vote represents. A vote represents the influence which one person has in government. If I get the privilege of casting only one vote, what have I influenced? After all, one grain of salt hardly makes a difference when baking a loaf of bread. However, if the baker forgets to put just a fourth of a teaspoon into the mixing, the entire batch won’t turn out right. We must understand this, our country is run by votes! If we are in-tune with the needs of our community, then our vote – our influence – is doing more than making one tick mark on the ballot; our influence is garnering the will of the people for the improvement of our local community. Therefore, we can actually measure the good we have done for our cities through the democratic process. We can reflect on and change the policies of our towns. My vote is a personal plumb line for measuring foundation of our society’s principles.

Integrity

If we cannot be true to our convictions in the voting box, then we are not true to our convictions. A vote may not make so much a difference where you are, but it does say something about who you are. Take for example the issue of abortion. There is a large chasm of difference between someone who claims a pro-life stance and someone who votes pro-life. Yet under the guise of separation of church and state, many Christians do not want to take their ethics and morals to the voting booth. They don’t want to ‘impose’ on others. The person who says, “I cannot take my religion to the polls,” advertises his  hypocrisy. His beliefs are little more than virtue signaling. The most basic action any Christian can take towards building a moral and ethical society is with her vote. Removing the Christian influence from the public arena is not just putting our light under a basket, it is snuffing that light out altogether.

Just and Humble Leaders

I long for our nation to be led by just and humble leaders.  Who are the great men and women of our day? Who are the leaders going to be? Often our political officials strut around with heads too large to bend their neck to an ordinary task. But just and humble leadership in office begins with just and humble voters at the polls. Our elected leaders are nothing more than mirrors reflecting ourselves. We ought to remember that in the United States the people rule (or at least should rule) and if the people are moral and just in ruling, we do not need the “greater” men and women in office – we just need a common person who is willing to serve. When I go to vote, I am not looking for a great name like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt. If a man or woman is not great before they serve in an office, they won’t be great when they secure it. Therefore, I am looking for the honest humble servant. Since we do not need men and women who are ambitious for an office but rather ambitious for service, then I (as a voter) need to be ambitious for serving. Serving our nation begins with my one vote.

Do we really believe that our nation is made great by those serving in an elected office? Our revolution was not won by an epoch of uncommon men and women. Our government was not founded on the belief of a ruling class. No, we are a nation of the ordinary mundane everyday men and women. Our elected officials are hewn from the same quarry as our, builders, nurses, lawyers, and artists. No matter our birthrights, economic status, or education, we all gather together on one equal playing field. We all hold exactly one vote in our hands – one vote that speaks volumes for the state of our influence, integrity, and humility as a nation.

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

Happy Hallowed Reformation Day

While small super heroes and tiny princesses are parading around during Halloween, it is appropriate for Christians to reflect upon another October 31st event, the birth of the Reformation. On October 31st, 1517 an Augustinian German Monk named Martin Luther nailed to the door at Wittenberg his 95 thesis (issues he had with the Catholic Church). The 95 thesis are not particularly revolutionary in themselves. Initially very few people paid any attention to what Luther wrote. It is highly unlikely Luther even considered hammering his work as a spectacular event. Yet, history bears witness to tumultuous consequences and blessings of his action. When we reflect back on Luther and on the Reformation, we are celebrating three things: living by faith, Scripture over tradition, and giving God all the glory.

Living by Faith

Prior to his revelation from Scripture, Luther operated under the belief that good works would merit salvation. The German Monk’s conscience was uneasy with this proposition. No matter how disciplined he was, how many good works he performed, or prayers he made, Luther was condemned by sin. Every good work was tainted. Every action was infected with selfishness. If salvation were in his own hands, Luther believed he was condemned already. The revolutionary change in Luther’s thinking came from Romans 1:17. In Romans 1:17 Luther believed he found the heartbeat of the gospel—the righteous shall live by faith. Those who would be righteous need not trust in good works but must live by faith. Therefore, Luther challenged the Pope’s authority to forgive and remit sins (thesis 5). Nothing but faith in Christ alone could save humanity. This tenet of the Reformation would come to be known as Sola Fide (Faith Alone). Celebrating the Reformation means celebrating the forgiveness by faith alone.

Scripture Over Tradition

While Luther was contemplating Sola Fide, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Monk, was selling indulgences to the masses. Tetzel became known for his famous couplet:

“As Soon Coin in the Coffer Rings,
a Soul From Purgatory Springs.”

Unbaptized babies, those who died without full grace, anyone with earthly attachments, they all were candidates for an extended stay in purgatory. Purgatory was a place for the purging of sin and earthly attachments, in order to make one fit for heaven. Fortunately, the faithful on earth could buy purgatorians a fast pass to heaven—an indulgence.

Luther, who wasn’t known for his quaint rhyme scheme (see A Mighty Fortress), took issue with Tetzel and the indulgence scheme. Once one accepted salvation by faith alone, good works could no longer merit salvation. For Luther, Scripture trumped the tradition of purgatory. No tradition was a greater authority than Scripture itself. The Bible for Reformers was the only infallible, inerrant, and sufficient source for faith and practice. Any church tradition that did not line up with Scripture needed to be reformed. Luther’s belief in going back to the source, the Bible, became known as Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). To reflect on the Reformation means opening the Word of God and allowing its infallible authority to change our lives.

Giving God the Glory

When Bach and Handel wrote their magnificent pieces, they would sign Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). Every work, every action, every day for the Christian is given fully and entirely to the glory of God. Once a sinner, now redeemed by Jesus’s own blood, the believer lives his life for God’s glory. Celebrating the Reformation means celebrating a great change in the human heart. The motive of good works is no longer one of fear. Through Jesus, the believer is able to perform good works out of love.

Ultimately, celebrating the Reformation is sweeter than the occasional Trick or Treat on October 31st. We are not just remembering those who gave their lives in defense of the Christian faith. We are not just celebrating 500 years history. We are giving thanks for Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins. We no longer need to mask ourselves behind a thin veil of good works. We need not pretend to be anything other than what we are – sinners in need of grace. As believers in Christ, we walk by faith knowing that Scripture declares Jesus died for sins. Today when you remember the Reformation, don’t just be thankful for some list of historical facts. The men and women of the Reformation, who gave their lives so we could practice our faith freely, lived to the glory of God. All of humanity can be saved by grace through faith alone (sola fide) according to the Scriptures (sola scriptura) to the glory of God the Father (soli deo gloria).

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

Should the church #believewomen?

Mayella Ewell falsely accused Tom Robinson of sexual assault, but Tom was found guilty. While making an attempt to escape prison, Tom was shot dead. Do you remember Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? It was one of my favorite books growing up. In the novel Mayella truly had been assaulted; she was a survivor. But Tom was not her attacker and she knew it. Atticus Finch, Tom’s Lawyer, could do little to reconcile Tom before the court. Lee wrote, “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case.”

As the #believewomen movement grows, To Kill a Mockingbird puts an important question before us:

How do we protect the abused, while maintaining a presumption of innocence?

Harper Lee’s 1960 fiction shines a light on 2018 issues. When Tom Robinson was accused, he was considered guilty because of his race. If the court of public opinion is mistaken as a court of justice, the innocent are often destroyed. So how should the church respond in cases like the one presented in To Kill a Mockingbird?

This question isn’t a mere hypothetical. As recent events have proven, even the church is not exempt from both abuse and false accusations. When accusations come forward, and those who have been abused should feel safe coming forward, who should the church believe: all the accusers or all the accused?

Even the attempt to answer such a question inherently alters the role of the church. The church is no longer the Bride of Christ but assumes the gavel of the Judge. In doing so, she assumes a role reserved for her Bridegroom, Jesus (Matt 28:18, Acts 10:42). Only God knows the secret courts of men’s hearts. In a world full of hurt and pain, Jesus assures both the abused and falsely accused a just heavenly court where sin will be punished. Meanwhile, God gave the church a specific role: healing wounds—not judging them.

The Judge or The Bride?

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18

When accusations arise, the question for the church isn’t “who should we believe” but rather, “how can we bring about reconciliation—how can we make things right?” In such cases we would do well to remember the church is the Bride and not the Judge. As the Bride, the church points to the only True Judge—Christ. He alone is the truly Just Judge. His Bride, the local church, seeks to restore the abused in him; in her, the abused find a empathetic embrace. Women who have been sexually assaulted and abused ought to find care in the church. The Bride of Christ can and does provide shelters, safe places, and counsel for assaulted women.

Having addressed those who are abused, we must also talk about protecting those falsely accused. False accusations are the minority of cases, but they need reconciliation too. We must remember that Jesus was falsely accused, sentenced and executed before a court largely influenced by public opinion. The Bride, therefore, must be very judicious before making public statements concerning any accused party. Premature public declarations of innocence or guilt threaten to change sanctuaries into courtrooms and altars into witness stands. In order to refrain from putting on the judge’s robe, the church should allow for outside investigation for accusations against her ministers.

In God’s court, all truth will be established. Yet here on earth, some of the guilty will go free. Lamentably, not all of the abused will receive earthly justice. Some of the innocent will be punished. Therefore while the Bride points to God’s ultimate justice, she must embrace and bring healing to the children of God. The local church—the embassies of God’s kingdom—must offer the healing balm of the gospel to the deepest wounds of the heart.

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

The Benefits of Prohibition

We’ve all heard of the slippery slope argument—that if one were to take one step past a particular line, the downward tumble is inevitable. Sometimes we can dismiss the slippery slope argument as mere conjecture, but during last week’s trial of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (of course, it was only a Senate judiciary hearing, but it certainly took on the spirit of a trial) one particular slippery slope argument was raised. When asked if he drank alcohol during his high school years, Kavanaugh replied, “We drank beer. My friends and I, boys and girls, yes, we drank beer. We like beer. I like beer. I still like beer. I drank beer.”

After admitting to crossing the line, the slippery slope question followed, “Have you ever passed out from drinking?” Alcohol—can a little impairment cause a big slip while walking a strait line?

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Proverbs 20:1

The Mocker

For quite some time, I have read in Christian magazines of the success some churches have had brewing their own beer, placing kegs outside prayer tents, and using alcohol to hang out with friends or talk to non-believers. One need only google alcohol and Christianity Today, the top results: “The Church that Drinks Together,” “A Toast to My Journey with Wine,” or “Why So Many Christians are Relaxing Over Drinks.”

Many pastors are now envisioning a church where alcohol and outreach are successful partners. Somehow, we’ve come to think alcohol will open doors in a post-Christian society. I suggest we allow the Kavanaugh line of questioning to bring us out of this stupor. Even the world knows good judgment and alcohol don’t mix.

Pairing the Spirit’s work with impairing spirits makes a mockery of the gospel. There is only one Spirit who has never caused Christ’s Bride to stumble—let his holiness set your church apart.

The Brawler

It’s time for a sober discussion concerning the evil effects of alcohol on our society. We have heard from Christine Blasey-Ford concerning her abuse at the hands of impaired men. Whether or not her accusations against Kavanaugh are true, we have to admit they are not unique claims. While pastors are crying out for alcohol’s freedom, how many women are crying out from alcohol’s abuse? What is alcohol’s effect on the children in our communities? The church and her ministers ought to be safe places from the tyranny alcohol brings into the world.

We can brawl all day over whether Scripture permits church leaders the freedom to drink, but consider this: the United States is wondering, “does a man who possibly abuses alcohol have the temperament to judge well?” Proverbs 31 answers the question for us, “It is not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and deprive the oppressed of their rights” (Prov 31:5).

Alcohol is not known for treating women well. Alcohol does not restore broken families. Alcohol doesn’t give wise counsel.

The Fool

How much can a person take before it can be described as stealing? How many words must be false before it is considered lying? How many glances can a person make before it is better termed adultery? Slippery slope questions are always foolish. Yet, when we read Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine,” we prefer to ask “how many drinks renders one drunk?”

Jesus came so that we might have life abundantly. The picture Scripture gives of Christ is a fellow-sojourner who calls us to follow him. He is the Faithful Shepherd. By contrast, Scripture presents alcohol as dragging people away into debauchery. Alcohol is a fool’s friend and deceitful by nature.

The world is stumbling in the darkness of a post-Christian world. As it searches for leaders, it continues to find abusers.

The Benefits of Prohibition

I made a rule for myself in Middle School—never drink. Upon personal reflection, I knew I couldn’t trust myself not to slip, if I crossed the initial line. And to this day, I have never drank alcohol. My testimony is this: there is one great benefit to drawing a personal prohibition line and never crossing it—no accusation of drunken behavior will ever stand in trial against the Lord’s reputation.

The Bible makes the contrast very clear, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). Those who drink, their glass is always emptying. Those who walk with God, their soul overflows.

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

Condemning the Specks

As the time for Christine Blasey Ford to speak before the judiciary committee concerning her allegations against Supreme Court nominee, Bret Kavanaugh draws near, all of social media is filled with opinions. Some Christian leaders have flocked to Kavanaugh’s aide, defending his character. Others pastors have embraced Ford in an effort to stand for and defend all abused women. Whatever the outcome, the lesson for Christians should be clear: be careful condemning from the darkness what will soon be revealed in the light.

Using equal measures

Jesus is often misquoted when it comes to judging others. “Don’t Judge Me” has morphed from clique into comedic memes. Yet, Jesus never asked human beings not to judge, rather to judge correctly.  I love how Jesus understood judging others,

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. . . . For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37–42).

When the accused stands before a judge, the judge is not to use an unequal measures. Would we want others to condemn us the way we condemn? Do we want God to judge us the way we judge others? The illustration of equal measure should give us pause, when it comes to posting an opinion concerning those who have been accused. Would we want to be deemed guilty before even having entered the courtroom? Would we want our testimony condemned before it had even been given?

Are Christians judging with unequal measures? Part of the #whyididntreport movement’s argument is based on unequal scales. They claim men are given the benefit of the doubt, while a woman’s testimony is questioned. What about political affiliations? Placing an donkey on the left or an elephant on the right of Lady Justice’s scales, would certainly cause her to peak from under the blindfold. Everyone’s measures are affected by implicit bias. Therefore, before Christians condemn publicly, we must be careful to look at God’s measures. Since God judges mankind impartially, we must also judge impartially.

Blind Leading the Blind

When Jesus continued his teaching on judging others, he gave an illustration. Does a blind guide guide well? “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Jesus tells us that our own judgments come out of our own darkness. Darkness of facts impairs our verdicts. Darkness of sin imbalances our measures. Therefore, Christian leaders and pastors ought to withhold judgments against anyone who may have caught the public’s eye. Premature personal verdicts diminish our credibility.

Removing the Plank

So, we are left with one solution. Any time someone is dragged into the public spectacle and stands accused, Christians ought to take the opportunity to reflect rather than project. We can project our voices out onto social media. We can capitalize every word, gesticulate as much as emojis will allow, and add a legion of exclamation marks, to prove whether the accused is messiah or demon. None of these tools are useful for servants bent on washing feet and loving others.

An accused party ought to give us pause. Is the accusation against the accused lodged in my own eye? Do I abuse women? Am I truthful in all my words? Have I ever condemned someone falsely? Would my teenage years grant me access to sainthood? Am I in need of grace and mercy? Jesus marked the path for Christians succinctly: “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Yes, we will have to judge on this earth. But let us be good judges with clear vision. Let us see that we are all sinners in need of grace. And thankfully grace doesn’t just balance the scales before God, it removes them from the equation.

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

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.