Thursday, November 20, 2014

Did you vote?

Politics in Texas grew to a fever pitch in recent months in the wake of the ongoing saga over Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of pastors’ sermons and mid-term elections that produced a new governor, new lieutenant governor and new attorney general for the Lone Star State.
The political involvement of Christians ranges across the intensity spectrum from fanatic to oblivious. Regardless of which political party you align with, the right to vote is a privilege and a responsibility that every Christian should take seriously.
I’ll admit, I considered skipping long lines at the polls on Election Day. However, something I heard regarding last year’s Houston mayoral election prompted me to reconsider.
As more than 6,000 gathered Nov. 2 for the I Stand Sunday rally in support of the five Houston-area pastors subpoenaed for their sermons, one of the participants mentioned that only around 10 percent of registered voters in Houston turned out for the 2013 election, where Parker was re-elected.
Even if this number was approximate, it’s still telling. Imagine what might have happened if conservative Christians in Houston had exercised their right to vote last November. The outcome of the mayoral election likely would have been different, and the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance likely would have never been on the docket in May.
Yet, now, Christians are up in arms over the city’s infringement on religious liberty, and rightfully so. However, there’s no doubt that many of them are at least partially to blame because they abstained from the ballot box last November.
Certainly as Christians we realize that our hope is not found in government, and the state of Texas—as glorious as it may be—is not our true home. However, in the United States we have the freedom and obligation to let our voices be heard, which is best done proactively at the polls rather than reactively after elected officials pass legislation we dislike. We should do both, but the latter without the former seems disingenuous.
This article is not meant to make you feel guilty if you didn’t vote. Hopefully, it will encourage you to make sure you exercise your right to vote in future elections and to consider how you can be both a good citizen of the state as well as a good citizen of the kingdom of God.
It’s growing increasingly apparent what happens when Christians remove themselves from the public square. We must not cower in fear nor should we be obnoxious revelers. There are ways you can be a responsible citizen, maintain your Christian convictions and make a difference. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
  • Look for ways to be involved in the public sector. This could include running for a position on your local school board, city council or other civil office.
  • Volunteer in your community. City officials are always looking for individuals to help organize or serve at community events. I know of many church planters who have found serving their city in these ways gives them credibility in the community and opens doors for ministry.
  • Get to know and pray for elected officials, even if you disagree with their positions. What might it look like if your local city council received consistent notes of encouragement letting them know that you care about them and are praying for them? Who knows, those prayers may go a long way in turning their hearts toward God.
  • Vote in all elections, not just the “big” ones. You never know what ordinance or decision may have a significant impact down the road.
  • As much as possible, without violating the Word of God, submit yourself to those in authority over you. Peter’s words to fellow sojourners is helpful here: 

“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Imagine the impact convictional kindness and community involvement can have in your city, in Texas and in the United States. In this way, Christians can be “in the world but not of the world.” 
This article first appeared in the TEXAN Digital Magazine.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What do you do?

What we do defines who we are. In America, your vocation is one of the most defining aspects of who you are. For example, when introduced to someone new, one of the first questions asked is “What do you do?”
This question generally stirs up pride or embarrassment, depending on how excited you are about your job.
The Puritans, our Christian brethren from four centuries ago, viewed vocation as a divine calling and an avenue for worship. “The main end of our lives is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings,” wrote Puritan pastor William Perkins.
Likewise, the Apostle Paul instructed first-century Christians in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24)
There is a sense of value or purpose infused in our work. Today many Christians have lost that sense of sovereign purpose in their jobs. Shuffling papers and never-ending deadlines cloud our view to the fact that what we do for a living matters much to God and fits into the big picture of his divine plans.
Christians must awaken again to the value of vocation not only as a form of worship but also as an avenue for fulfilling the Great Commission. For most, our greatest mission fields await us in the 9 to 5.
In the Oct. 8 issue of the TEXAN DigitalMagazine, we have stories on marketplace chaplains as well as ministries devoted to equipping businessmen and businesswomen to leverage their jobs for global missions. I pray that these stories will encourage and challenge you to view your vocation as a means for worship and witness.
Hopefully God will use them to spark ideas in your mind and in your church. Here are a few possibilities to get you started:
Witness in the Workplace
 How do you view the relationships you have in your job? Do you look for opportunities to share a verbal witness with your coworkers? Certainly, a Christlike attitude and personal integrity bring honor to Christ, but don’t forget to speak the gospel as well. Remember, “… faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
Often, an easy way to open gospel conversations is simply to ask, “How can I pray for you?” You’ll be amazed at how coworkers will open up to you about brokenness in their lives, giving you an opportunity to speak of the One who can heal their brokenness. The 3 Circles Life Conversation Guide created by NAMB can aid you in connecting the gospel to their brokenness.
Business as Missions
Global commerce and travel have flattened the world these days, as corporations fly employees to countries far and wide. Christians often lament countries that are “closed” to the gospel; however, companies like Coca-Cola have proved that virtually no country is completely closed. Genuine business efforts provide missionary platforms in some of the most difficult-to-reach locations in the world. How might you leverage your platform and the platforms of the people in your church for short-term or long-term missionary advance?
I know churches that have examined their congregation to see what vocations are most represented in their people and then created missions opportunities around those vocations to reach countries traditionally “closed” to the gospel. One church recognized a large group of special education teachers in the congregation and organized overseas teacher trainings in these countries. A friend who is a plumber has leveraged his skillset to help dig water wells in impoverished countries, opening doors for him to share about the Living Water.
As seen in our cover story on Marketplace Ministries, businesses represent an untapped mission field. Why not consider approaching local businesses or emergency response stations or sports teams and volunteering to serve as their chaplain?
Pastors can also make intentional efforts to visit with church members at their place of business. Of course, you want to be considerate and not distract a person from his job, but you never know what impact you might make on that church member and the people he works with.
Gil Stricklin, president of Marketplace Ministries, also advises pastors to show a genuine interest in church members’ jobs. Outside of sermon preparation, he says he would spend a great deal of his time “going out to guys' (worksites) and kneeling down beside their desks. ... I’d pray for them and encourage them. I think that would be some of the most significant ministry any pastor could have.”
Kingdom-Minded Parenting
 Parents, have you considered what your life and words teach your children about their future careers? Sure, we want our children to grow up and get good jobs, but why? Do we simply want them to make good money so they can live comfortably? What if Christian parents instilled in their children a desire to use their talents and careers to bring glory to Christ? It would certainly have implications on their decisions related to which college to attend, what major to pursue and what career path to take. The first step in teaching them this value is to model it in your own job.
What we do defines who we are. As Christians, we must our vocations as opportunities for worship and witness in the world? We must "work heartily, as for the Lord."
So, what about you? What do you do?

This article first appeared in the TEXAN Digital Magazine.

Friday, September 05, 2014

If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball

Photo by Adam Tarleton
My 10-year-old son Will and I share a common love—baseball.

While he’s not naturally gifted at playing the game, Will loves to be part of the team, and as with most kids his age his skills have progressed each year through repetition and practice.

This past spring, Will graduated from coach-pitch to kid-pitch, which brought with it both excitement and anxiety. However, after only a few games I could see that anxiety largely overshadowed the excitement.

Will hit the ball well during practices and pre-game warm ups, but as soon as he stepped in the batter’s box, fear froze him in his tracks—so much so that he would not even move when an errant pitch came right at him.

In the very first game, he was hit in the arm by a pitch. The painful experience only served to make him more fearful of batting. I joked with him after the game, “I know it hurt, buddy, but at least you didn’t get hit in the face.” And, wouldn’t you know it, the very next game, a wild pitch hit him square in the face.

Added to this, he struck out several times because he never swung the bat. This only intensified his timidity. Soon, whenever his turn at bat approached, he complained of feeling nauseous.

Following one of his games, I asked, “Will, what goes through your mind when you’re up to bat?” Will replied, “I’m afraid I’m going to strike out or get hit by the ball.” He was so afraid of pain, failure and embarassment that he did not even want to try.

I then gave him some baseball advice that eventually became a mantra we would repeat before every game and every at-bat: “If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball.” I encouraged him to swing at every pitch, even if it was outside the strike zone.

Over the course of the season Will began to swing the bat more and more. Yes, he still struck out on occasion, but he also began to put the ball in play and advance his teammates around the base paths.

And then the big moment came—Will got a base hit. The look of excitement on his face was priceless. And, of course, this success strengthened his resolve to swing again during his next at-bat.

Our mantra—If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball—reminds me of a similar statement by Southwestern Seminary evangelism professor Matt Queen to those who fear the pain of failure, rejection or embarrassment when sharing their faith:  “Not every time you share the gospel will someone profess Christ, but if you never share the gospel, you’ll never see anyone profess Christ.”

For many Christians, especially those of us who are not naturally gifted evangelists, the prospect of sharing our faith leaves us terrified and frozen in our tracks. Even the thought of it brings a nauseous feeling. Rather than risk “striking out” in a witnessing encounter, we sit idly by and refuse to say a word.

Maybe the remedy is simply to start swinging. Thankfully, God measures success in evangelism by obedience, not decisions. A rejection of the gospel is a rejection of Jesus, not of us. So, in a sense, we never strike out when we evangelize.

We must faithfully obey our Lord’s Great Commission and let the Holy Spirit do his work. Sometimes, we swing and miss. Other times, we plant or water gospel seeds, advancing a person’s understanding of his need for the Lord. Given enough swings, eventually we will experience the exhilarating joy of seeing someone come to faith in Christ. And with every swing we gain confidence for future opportunities.
Last week, the tables turned—Will became the teacher; I became the student. As the first day of school approached, Will said, “I can’t wait to start school so I can tell my friends about Jesus.”

He will likely never be a professional baseball player, but Will understands what it means to overcome his fears and swing for the fences when it comes to sharing his faith.

What if Christians took the Great Commission seriously and decided to risk failure, rejection and embarrassment to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ? What if we intentionally sought out opportunities to share the gospel with family, friends, co-workers or those we meet as we go about our daily lives?

This week, pray for opportunities to share your faith, pray for boldness to witness when God brings someone across your path (and he will), and pray that the gospel would show its power.

If the thought of this makes you nauseous, remember: If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball.

This article first appeared in the TEXAN digital edition.

Monday, June 30, 2014

LAUNCH: Creating a Culture of Everyday Evangelism [VIDEO]

On June 11, Southwestern Seminary hosted a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to discuss how churches can create a culture of everyday evangelism and reach their communities with the gospel. Pastors and SBC leaders from across the country shared their experiences with leading their churches and training their congregations in personal evangelism. Below is the video introduction for the panel discussion, which features the late evangelism professor Roy Fish recounting his “Three Driving Forces for Evangelism,” and the full version of the panel discussion.

Roy Fish’s “Three Driving Forces for Evangelism”


Click Here to get FREE Everyday Evangelism Resources

LAUNCH Panel Discussion

Click Here to get FREE Everyday Evangelism Resources

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Field Guide for a Dangerous Call

Are you walking into danger? Ministry is a dangerous call. Thankfully, God has provided guides to decision-making in ministry. 
DangerousCallIn his latest book, A Field Guide for a Dangerous Call, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson warns of potential pitfalls and points those in ministry to five guides—the law, wisdom, holiness, the Corinthian principles, and the Holy Spirit—to help them navigate life and ministry.

These chapters are adaptations of the warm affirmations that Patterson gave to the students of Southwestern Seminary in his spring 2014 chapel series.

“If you’re looking for an easy life and you want safety, a reprieve from all of the pressures that you’ll be under, then you need to decide now, today, to leave the ministry and get out of it. It’s not a safe place. If you are going to be in the ministry, you are going to walk into serious danger,” Patterson says.


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Create a Culture of Everyday Evangelism in Your Church

What if every member of your church made evangelism a regular practice in his or her daily routine? Imagine the impact this would have on your church and community. Sadly, though, what should be a natural part of the Christian life is often neglected or passed off to “the experts.”
In his latest book, Everyday Evangelism, evangelism professor Matt Queen debunks the myths of personal evangelism, providing encouragement, insight, and practical steps for creating a culture of everyday evangelism in your church.

Queen and other professors have led students in taking the Gospel to every home within a one-mile radius of Southwestern Seminary and have now expanded the initiative to reach a two-mile radius. The book’s final chapter gives strategies and advice for churches to implement a similar evangelism strategy in their communities.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

New Go-To Guide for Every Preacher

Every effective preacher needs tools to craft faithful, text-driven sermons. However, since pastors have limited time each week and there are thousands of potential preaching resources, knowing the best commentaries and books to help in sermon preparation can be a daunting task.

In his latest book, Preaching Tools, David Allen draws from the well of more than 40 years of experience in the pulpit, both as a pastor and preaching professor, to provide the top commentaries and resources for every book of the Bible. Resources are categorized for quick reference, and Allen’s annotations provide insight into the books’ strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds. At 160 pages, this quick reference is worth having in every preacher’s library.


“What I’ve tried to do in this book is provide an annotated bibliography for preachers of helpful resources, mostly commentaries, for every book of the Bible, in English,” says Allen, who serves as dean of the School of Theology and director of the Center for Expository Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Most of the books listed in this bibliography I own in my personal library. These are the works that I have found to be the most helpful in sermon preparation.”


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