Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Updated: 18 min 34 sec ago

The Power of Patient Presence in Urban Ministry

8 hours 21 min ago

Detroit has changed dramatically. Just as a nondescript caterpillar morphs into a breathtaking butterfly, sections of Detroit have been transformed from urban wastelands to thriving business and residential destinations.

And yet, while certain “targeted areas” are flourishing, most of Detroit is still struggling. The affluent share zip codes with the impoverished. Young white millennials live next door to black baby boomers. The “new Detroit” has converged on the old.

Pastor Dhati Lewis sums it up well, saying that the new urban context is marked by “diversity and density.”

These realities have affected our approach to planting a church in Detroit.

‘Plant’ Yourself

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to gardening. Skilled gardeners work with the soil to enable the healthy growth of their crops. So it is with church planting. If we want to plant healthy churches, we must not only know the soil, we must “plant ourselves” in it.

Reaching your city begins with knowing your city.

Urban contexts are not blank canvases. Every urban area has a rich, extensive narrative and history. So our initial task is to immerse ourselves in the community, listening and learning as we do.

Do you know your city’s historical narrative? The broken systems? The spiritual climate? What idols enslave the people? Who’s faithfully serving Christ?

Reaching your city begins with knowing your city. For example, Detroit experienced three race riots between 1942 and 1967. Literal streets and walls were then constructed for “zoning” to separate the races (redlining). Consequently, this history affects how black Detroiters view the influx of other ethnicities moving to “their” city.

It’s Complicated

It’s easy to begin planting a church in theory before actually knowing the people and the context. For some reason, this seems to be especially prevalent in the hood. Stats are easily learned and rattled off, but there’s a difference between knowing stats and knowing people.

And urban life is different from suburban life. In the suburbs, life tends to be more monochromatic. Not so in the hood. Where I live, you’ll find people from all over the socioeconomic and racial spectrum. The diversity of people and places in the hood makes ministry complex.

None of this changes the hood’s greatest need: the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing your context is important because you want to bring gospel truth to bear on people’s lives.

It’s easy to begin planting a church in theory before actually knowing the people and the context.

For example, Doug Logan encourages people to approach urban ministry with a “sit, soak, and serve” mentality. Be a godly neighbor. Ask questions. Show hospitality. Love the people and the place God has called you to. As you do all of this, point people to the Savior who came for the least, the last, and the lost.

Without gospel-centered, Spirit-led contextualization, you may end up reaching fragments of the city, but not a diverse reflection of the people who live there. You may reach the hipsters, but not the homeless. You may reach the poor, but not the prominent.

Living in the ancient Middle East and speaking to an agrarian culture, Jesus’s parables often involved farmers (Luke 8:4–8), fields (Matt. 13:44), crops (Luke 12:16–21), and fish (Matt. 13:47–50). Likewise, when Paul enters the marketplace and synagogue in Athens (Acts 17), he soaks up the cultural and spiritual landscape, observes their idols, and dismantles their view of the resurrection by using their own rhetorical method.

Can you deliver the gospel to every group represented in your city? Can you distill rich theological truth to people who may be undereducated and not from a Reformed tradition? Can you clearly explain words like discipleship, mission, and community to those who equate “church” with a time-and-place event?

Be Patiently Present

To do these things well, you need to be present with people. Proximity will provide opportunities: hearing stories, asking questions, observing scenarios, and wiping away tears.

One way to do this is to connect with brothers and sisters currently serving the city, even if you vary slightly theologically. I’ve seen Reformed brothers too arrogant to learn from people who’ve lived in the community for years. Such lack of humility is tragic.

To be effective in the hood, we need to be missionally agile. Paul did this: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) A rigid, this-is-how-we-do-it mentality will likely push people away, given that your approach doesn’t resemble anything they’ve seen before.

For example, we’ve allowed people unfamiliar with discipleship relationships, membership, Reformed theology, and church diversity to attend on Sundays while personalizing “baby steps” for them. Through things like slow-paced one-on-one mentoring, allowing room for challenging questions or apprehensions, and radical hospitality, we’ve seen skeptics become family.

Proclaiming Christ to the lost, growing the immature, and equipping the faithful. These are vital parts of planting a church.

The Lord has sent all kinds of folks to our church: believers, unbelievers and not-yet believers. Each group has different needs, so we’re simultaneously proclaiming Christ to the lost, growing the immature, and equipping the faithful—all vital to planting a church.

Finally, I often tell our people that people are broken, so we handle them with care. Paul’s approach should be reflected; he was “gentle . . . like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). We encounter people entrenched in both generational trauma and current crises. Rather than hastily trying to get commitments from them, we sit and listen. We’ve found that doing so often leads to ears that are ready to hear the gospel.

Remember, our Father was (and is) patient and long-suffering with us. May we both picture and point to his great patience and love as we plant churches in hard places.

Asylum Seekers, Family Separation, and Political Order

8 hours 21 min ago

Two weeks after Maria’s 9-year-old daughter, Esther, returned home from an errand with her face bruised and clothes torn, she and her daughter sweated profusely under the desert sun 10 miles south of the U.S. border. Esther’s beating had been the tipping point. Maria had tried to hold out. She had grown up in the town; it was her home. But the gang ranks were growing, and with larger ranks came crueler belligerence. Some in her extended family had lost children to gang violence. All had been robbed at some point or other. When Esther returned home bloodied, Maria knew it was time to escape.

Maria had heard rumors that families threatened by violence could seek asylum in the United States. She felt she and Esther had to be ideal candidates. Gangs were everywhere; her daughter had been abused; the whole town was corrupt. As she and Esther approached the border agent and nervously began answering his questions, it quickly became apparent they wouldn’t be admitted as refugees. The agent’s demeanor said it all. They were moved to several different lines until finally arriving in a large holding room. Two days later, authorities approached Maria and Esther to take Esther away. Maria was screaming too loudly for her daughter to hear the agent’s explanation.

The question before American society is whether asylum seekers like Maria should be subject to prosecution and whether prosecution should require family separation. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently defended the Justice Department’s policy of prosecuting asylum seekers and separating children from parents facing prosecution. He appealed to Romans 13, saying people should “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” But this policy is morally abhorrent and, far from being justified by Scripture, is condemned by Scripture. Many Christians have objected to Sessions’s misuse of Romans 13 to support the current policy, but some still support the policy itself.

I want to address both the injustice of the separation policy and Sessions’s faulty hermeneutic.

Unjust Policy

Few civilians are in a position to verify the on-the-ground data Sessions summarized for civic leaders in Indiana last week. Few have access to concrete figures or to the evidence asylum seekers bring with them to support their plea. But we don’t need insider knowledge to question Sessions’s defense of the separation policy. He believes that the United States has maintained a de facto open borders policy for nearly a decade, and most asylum seekers’ claims of persecution are illegitimate, made in order to take advantage of America’s lax border enforcement.

But there are inconsistencies in Sessions’s account. First, he claims asylum status doesn’t apply to “those who have suffered a private act of violence.” It’s reserved only for those persecuted by the state. But this distinction is nonsense. It should be obvious that Maria and Esther’s experience, for example, is deeply, irrevocably political. It’s a crass mischaracterization to claim they were threatened and abused by a “private” gang, especially when many Central American gangs wield incredible power over local (and even national) politics. In extreme instances, gangs are the government. In any case, when children are abused, it hardly matters whether the violence was state authorized or not.

Second, the separation of children from their parents is morally reprehensible and can’t be justified on the procedural grounds Sessions cites in his address, where he claims the law “requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed in DHS custody within 72 hours.” Is the imperative to jail parents so urgent it demands punishing both the parents and children?

Stripping children from their parents is cruel, regardless of their parents’ temporary legal status. Moreover, the United States has more than ample resources and facilities to detain or monitor immigrants without separating parents and children.

Thus, children are being taken from parents for no other (stated) reason than that the department insists on jailing immigrants and asylum seekers, and if a child is traumatized—or as we’re learning in some instances, trafficked—in order to uphold the narrow letter of the law, as far as Sessions is concerned, so be it.

Romans 13

To justify the separation policy, Sessions appeals directly to Paul’s political excursus in Romans 13:1–7. Paul explains the community is to be subject to governing authorities, for the authorities that exist are appointed by God to restrain evil and reward good. But Paul doesn’t say God appoints the laws; God appoints the authorities, who create the laws.

Therefore, we aren’t obligated to respect every law simply because an authority orders it. If the authority commands what is evil, then naturally no one should uphold it, Christians included. No one is obligated to do what is unjust. This basic idea makes nonsense of Sessions’s interpretation.

Paul concludes the section with a careful commendation: “to pay respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” The “to whom it is due” clause is crucial. It allows for the possibility that the authority might not be due honor or respect. In fact, there are clear instances in which the authority should not be honored. If Sessions’s interpretation of Romans 13 were followed, it would render even martyrdom meaningless, for if Christians were always to honor the authority’s command, they would have to forsake their faith if commanded to do so.

It’s impossible to justify separating children from parents on any scriptural grounds.

Sessions argues that God has ordained authority to establish order, but what about the familial disorder wrought by the separation policy? He believes separating children from their parents is “orderly” simply because it follows a narrowly interpreted statute, therefore the higher, moral ordering of family life is secondary or irrelevant. But according to the Christian tradition, a law that violates the moral order is intrinsically disordered and thus lacks authority. An unjust law is no law at all, Augustine said.

It’s impossible to justify separating children from parents on any scriptural grounds. Quite the contrary: Scripture resolutely condemns the policy. Those who authorize it will be judged. The only reason ever to forcibly separate a child from its parent is if a child is threatened, abused, or neglected by the parent; the intervention is to rescue. But the vast majority of asylum seekers don’t risk a border crossing with their children in order to harm them; they do it to protect them.

Love Your Neighbor

Some Christians believe that Sessions is wrong about Romans 13 but right about prosecuting immigrants: all who cross the border illegally should be prosecuted. But I’m not arguing for leniency toward all offenders or for open borders. The question before us isn’t whether wrongdoing should be prosecuted, but whether asylum-seeking counts as a criminal offense and whether families should be divided if parents are prosecuted for seeking it. Nothing requires the Justice Department to use such punitive measures. Some say harsh penalties are necessary to deter other immigrants, but damaging children in order to deter adults is cruel and unjustifiable.

The current Justice Department policy of separating children from parents is evil.

The current Justice Department policy of separating children from parents is evil, and Christians who accept the command of Jesus to love God and neighbor should cease defending the policy and instead speak out on behalf of abused immigrants. Brothers and sisters, these are young children! Children. Snatched away from their parents, detained, and relocated—dehumanized to make a political point. Write and call your representative. Reach out to local Hispanic communities to ask what you can do. Demonstrate. Pray. And remember, “he who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17).

Editors’ note: For more context, see Joe Carter’s explainer piece.

The Esther Option

8 hours 23 min ago

In the not-too-distant past, the momentum of our culture seemed clear. Progressive values were on the rise. Christianity was in decline. Supreme Court decisions like Obergefell were underlining this fact, and it seemed that, over time, Christians themselves would be pushed to society’s margins.

Around that time, a number of Christian leaders and thinkers began to offer pathways for where we might go next. John Inazu gave us Confident Pluralism [read TGC’s review]. Russell Moore gave us Onward [read TGC’s review]. And Rod Dreher gave us one of the more provocative suggestions in The Benedict Option [read TGC’s review].

Dreher had been writing about the Benedict Option for several years. His blog—at times alarmist (though to be fair, the times can be quite alarming)—left many readers with the impression that the Benedict Option was a panicked cry of “head for the hills.” As Dreher describes it, we’re living in a time akin to the last days of Rome. Our culture’s institutions and sources of authority and tradition are eroding, being replaced with progressivism and secularism, and those who object to these values (like conservatives in general and conservative Christians in particular) are going to become the targets of increasing persecution and ostracism.

Dreher’s actual response is more sophisticated than “Run for it!” Instead, he argues Christians need to intentionally work to strengthen their own communal bonds, to renew or build new institutions, and to revitalize their programs of spiritual formation so they have stability to endure the coming times. Rather than run away, it’s a call to root down.

I’m sympathetic to Dreher’s view. My own church, a conservative evangelical congregation in a progressive neighborhood of a progressive city, has experienced firsthand the pressures that come from angry leftists. I think we’re in for quite a storm.

From Bad to Worse

I also think the election of Donald Trump, the rising tide of nationalism, and events like Charlottesville cast another light on our situation that needs serious consideration. Conservative evangelicals lined up quickly to support Trump—a man whose reputation includes sexual conquests, adultery, and bad business deals. He was elected amid a swarm of accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Even now, while embroiled in the Stormy Daniels scandal, many evangelical leaders continue to stand beside him and (most tellingly) refuse to condemn his actions. Along with the Trump phenomenon, we’ve seen the rise of the so-called Alt-Right (a nice way of saying white nationalism) and, with it, ever-increasing racial tensions.

To sum it up, the cultural situation—which looked bad prior to the 2016 election—looks even worse now. While progressives have faced losses, they remain fiercely committed to their agenda of sexual liberation and religious intolerance. Conservatives, on the other hand, have revealed their own moral bankruptcy, adopting a political strongman who promises them power in exchange for their discernment.

The cultural situation—which looked bad prior to the 2016 election—looks even worse now.

In this new, tormented climate, some of Dreher’s ideas—Christians banding together to strengthen their institutions and prepare for the storm—seem almost quaint. Not naïve; just not quite foreseeing how bad things were going to get.

It seems to me that more fundamental groundwork must be established before we can talk about surviving the coming storms. We need to return to the question of what it means to be a Christian in the midst of our cities, states, and nations, and what the shape of our public witness should be. We’re most assuredly a people in exile. The secular left of progressivism is now being confronted by the secular right of populism and nationalism. Both scramble for power. Both fill the air with toxic polemics. And people of faith and good conscience are sure to get caught in the crossfire.

The Esther Option

Enter Queen Esther. And what I call the Esther Option.


Esther’s heroism is unique in the story of the exile. While most exilic heroes are presented as devout and zealous for the cause of the Jews, Esther begins her story as a Jewish girl (Hadassah) living with a Persian name (a name that honors the Ancient Near Eastern goddess Ishtar) under the care of her cousin Mordecai (a name that honors the god Marduk). These names alone should set off alarm bells. Nehemiah dragged people into the streets and beat them for lesser offenses.

Not only do they pass for Persians, Esther willingly collaborates with the palace harem in preparation for her night in bed with the king, eating their food and doing whatever else might be described as “preparations.” In other words, Esther is no Daniel. She’s not part of the Jewish resistance.

The secular left of progressivism is now being confronted by the secular right of populism and nationalism.

As the story unfolds, the king—erratic and paranoid—appoints a new vizier, Haman, who is given unprecedented authority over the realm. Haman is an Agagite, meaning he’s a descendant of Agag the Amalekite. (The Amalekites were some of Israel’s most vicious and heartless enemies.) So Haman is far more than a savvy political actor. He’s the embodiment—both in his role as the vizier and also in his identity as an Agagite—of corrupt, win-at-all-costs power.

Awakening and Identity

The first part of the Esther Option is awakening. A decree is made that everyone in the kingdom must bow before Haman, and something in Mordecai awakens. He can’t bow to Haman, he says, because he’s a Jew. As compromised as he may be, Haman’s rise to power sends Mordecai back to his core identity as a Jew, one of God’s chosen people. Again, he will not bow. Haman, in retribution, convinces the king to put out an order that will mean genocide for all the Jews in Persia.

Esther, though, is comfortably living as a Persian queen, with no one suspecting she’s Jewish. When Mordecai appeals to her to go plead on behalf of the Jews, she’s reluctant at first. Until Mordecai says this:

Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (Est. 4:12–14)

Preachers and motivational speakers are fond of quoting the last sentence of Mordecai’s speech, but the most fascinating section is the sentence before it. Mordecai expresses his faith that God will rescue the Jews (“deliverance . . . will arise from another place”) but he warns her of a greater loss (“you and your father’s family will perish”).

Do we want to identify with his people, no matter the cost?

Esther is an orphan, and Mordecai is essentially warning her that if she refuses to stand with the Jews now, she forfeits her place in her father’s family. Her family line ends, and she will live and die as a Persian, cut off from the promises of God’s people. This is Esther’s crossroads, and it’s the moment that motivates her to act. She too awakens.

We have to ask similar questions.

As the world around us applies pressure, trying to move us away from religion entirely, or to abandon certain historic and traditional principles and doctrines, we have to ask whether we want to be part of the family of God. Do we want to identify with his people, no matter the cost? Are we willing to endure persecution and ridicule for the sake of our inheritance?

Embracing Vulnerability

What comes next demands that we answer another question. How, in the face of extinction, in the face of monstrous power, can God’s people move and act in the world?

Esther calls for a fast, and then fasts herself for three days. No food, no water. In one passage of the Talmud, it’s suspected that she spent those three days praying (of all things) the first verse of Psalm 22. Day one: “My God.” Day two: “My God.” Day three: “Why have you forsaken me?” Whether you give this view much authoritative merit or not, you have to admit that it’s poetic, given what happens next. Esther’s pathway from here is the way of the cross. She will enter the throne room uninvited and risk the wrath of the king on behalf of her people.

In many of the Sunday school versions of this story, Esther’s approach is portrayed as a moment of romance. The beautiful Queen can’t be rejected by the king, because he loves her so much. I think this version totally misses the point. Esther comes to the king after three days of fasting and terror. She comes not in strength, but in profound weakness. A weary, haunted presence. The king is moved not out of love, but out of pity.

Rather than fight power with power, we walk the way of the cross, stand by our convictions, and make ourselves vulnerable.

It’s a deliberate contrast. Haman represents the temptation to power. His fury at Mordecai leads to a radically outsized response—the destruction of the Jewish people. But rather than face that challenge head on, Esther embraces vulnerability. To face her death. To subvert power with weakness.

This, too, is a crucial piece of the Esther Option. Rather than fight power with power, we walk the way of the cross, stand by our convictions, and make ourselves vulnerable. That might mean vulnerability to persecution and ridicule, but it might also mean many other kinds of vulnerabilities—those that come from serving the poor and downtrodden, fighting social injustice, and generally moving toward the places in our culture where there is the greatest need.

Renewal and Tradition

As for Esther, we know what comes next. Haman walks into a Shakespearean downfall, Esther’s appeals lead to the rescue of God’s people, Esther and Mordecai rise to prominence in the king’s court, and the Jews inaugurate Purim.

This last step is one of the most significant in the whole book. Purim isn’t just a celebration of this particular story; it’s a celebration of Jewish identity. In his book God and Politics in Esther, philosopher Yoram Hazony writes:

The fact is that in Persia, being a Jew became—for the first time in history—a matter of choice, and a choice that had to be faced by every individual. . . . In the thousand years since Sinai, the Jews had strayed from observance of the law of Moses time and time again, but their identity as Jews had never been subject to their own volition. It was only after the dispersal throughout Babylonia and Persia that an individual born as a Jew found himself in immediate, constant, and personal contact with other possible identities—and had to choose for himself whether Jewishness would be something he would maintain, or something he would hide.

This explains why the great talmudist Rava argued that the Jews had actually accepted the law of Moses twice: under duress at Sinai, and voluntarily “in the days of Ahashverosh.” Sinai was the founding of a Jewish people whose members have no real alternative but to be Jews, and to take part in the unique history of their people. The Persian empire, however, represented the refounding of the Jewish people on an entirely different basis: Since each Jew was from birth exposed to other options, his entry into the history of his people would be voluntary.

Purim, then, celebrates this re-identification as God’s people. It’s a wisdom-filled return to tradition, to habit, and to liturgy, a reinvigoration of the diaspora Jews’ spiritual life. As Cormac McCarthy put it in The Road, “When you’ve nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” When you’ve lost your way, find anchoring practices that will reconnect you with a sense of who you are and what your place in the world is.

When you’ve lost your way, find anchoring practices that will reconnect you with a sense of who you are and what your place in the world is.

This is the third piece of the Esther Option. Along with awakening to faith and embracing vulnerability, Christians need to renew their formative traditions. (Here, I think Dreher and I are in wholehearted agreement.) We need renewal of our liturgies, our catechism, our educational institutions, and all our pathways of spiritual formation so that authentic character can flourish inside our churches. Some of this will require a return to the traditions of the past, but it will also demand something new, something to answer the specific spiritual challenges of our consumeristic, technology-saturated, sexually “liberated” age.

Christian teenager in his daily devotional. Young man reading the Holy Bible

We need pastoral innovators like Isaac Watts, who saw the poverty and ineffectiveness of the psalm-singing of his time and began to write his own theological translations of the Psalms, which ultimately gave birth to the English hymn. We need the best and brightest of our time to explore how they might develop similar pastoral, contextual innovations, which might require that some of their creative energy moves away from the typical investment of those energies—platform and celebrity—and back to institution-forming and institutional reform. This work is less glamorous, of course, but it might better prepare the church to thrive in whatever comes next in our culture.

Vulnerable, Faithful Presence

Finally, we must do this as a vulnerable people. We must reject the posture of the culture warriors, because the testimony of Scripture makes it clear this approach doesn’t work.

Instead, in spite of pressures to conform our doctrine to the new moral norms, in spite of a climate that increasingly scoffs at any notion of the supernatural, in spite of the outright hostility from those who think Christianity is a religion of bigoted, patriarchal homophobes, in spite of whatever challenges may come, we resist the temptation to fight power with power, and we resist the temptation to run away. We stay in our cities, in our world, in public view, faithfully present.

The whole picture, then, is this: While the church faces growing opposition, we pray for awakening and renewal in our hearts, we embrace the vulnerability of our identity as God’s people, we renew our commitment to the formative work and traditions that are both our heritage and our future, and we hope and pray our presence is filled with the aroma of Christ. That is the Esther Option, and that, I believe, is a constructive way forward in the dark days to come.

The FAQs: What You Should Know About Family Separation at the Border

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:49pm

What just happened?

Over the past six weeks, immigration officials have separated hundreds of migrant families who have either crossed into the United States illegally or have sought political asylum.

A change in immigration policy by the Trump administration is resulting in thousands of children being housed separately from their parents as they await adjudication. The children are being kept in separate facilities and are unable to see their parents for an indefinite period of time.

What is the policy that is causing the separation?

Until recently, families apprehended at the border were released together and sent back to their home country. Families were typically only separated if the parents were charged with a crime. In April, though, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced, “I have ordered each United States attorney’s office along the southwest border to have a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry. Our goal is to prosecute every case that is brought to us. There must be consequences for illegal actions.”

Illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor, while illegal re-entry is a felony. By being charged with the crime of illegal entry, the policy forces the children to be separated from the families while the adults await trial.

Why does the Trump administration claim the Democrats are to blame?

In commenting on the issue, President Trump said, “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

A few weeks ago, Trump’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller explained that “their law” referred to two federal laws—the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Flores Consent Decree of 1997.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 is a bipartisan law signed by President George W. Bush that says unaccompanied children “are exempt from prompt return to their home country,” unless they come from Canada or Mexico.” It does not require that families be separated at the border.

The Flores Consent Decree from 1997 (hereafter, Flores) sets a nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of all minors in the custody of INS. Flores imposes several obligations on immigration authorities related to three broad categories:

1. The government is required to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to, in order of preference, parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs willing to accept custody.

2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs.

3. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.

The Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled in 2016 that Flores “unambiguously applies both to minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents.” The ruling also clarified that Flores does not require the release of accompanying parents.

The Flores ruling also does not require that families be separated at the border, though it could place limits on how long children are allowed to remain in custody while their parents seek asylum.

How many children have been separated from their parents?

According to internal Department of Homeland Security data, from April 19 to May 31 there have been 1,995 children taken from their parents at the border. That’s an average of roughly 48 kids per day separated from their families.

Those numbers, however, don’t include the families who presented themselves for asylum legally by coming to a port of entry and were also forcibly separated.

Who could change the policy?

Both the executive and legislative branches have the ability to stop the mandatory separation of parents from children occurring at the border.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions could, for instance, reverse his policy and simply send families who entered illegally back to their home country. Congress could also amend the law so that parents who are facing misdemeanor criminal proceedings solely for illegal entry could be allowed to stay with their children during the adjudication process.

Why was the policy to separate families implemented?

The Trump administration has given conflicting rationales for why they implemented a zero-tolerance policy that would necessitate family separations. But White House Chief of Staff John Kelly—who formerly headed up immigration enforcement as the Secretary of Homeland Security—implied that the effect was intentional.

In the effort to enforce U.S. border laws, “a big name of the game is deterrence,” said Kelly, adding that separating families “could be a tough deterrent.”

President Trump has also implied that he will use the separation issue as leverage to force Congressional Democrats to agree to his other immigration demands.

Did the White House cite Romans 13 in defending its policy?

Yes. In defending his zero-tolerance policy that separates families at the border, Attorney General Sessions referred to a passage from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

What does the passage in Romans 13 say about government?

In Romans 13:1-7, the Apostle Paul writes,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Is Session’s citation a legitimate use of Romans 13?

Many Christian leaders have stated that Sessions has misused or misconstrued the meaning of Romans 13. For example, Johnnie Moore, the spokesman for President Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board, told the Washington Post, “While Sessions may take the Bible seriously, in this situation he has demonstrated he is no theologian.”

Jeff Session’s own denomination, the United Methodist Church, issued a statement condemning the policy and misuse of Scripture. “To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel,” says the statement.

Albert Mohler agrees that it was a “misuse” of the text but adds that it “wasn’t a complete misuse” but rather an “overuse of the text, an over-reading of the text, rather than an absolute negation of the text. Mohler says the critics of Sessions use of the passage are “absolutely right that Romans 13 does not argue that every law adopted by every government is right and is therefore to be defended in those terms.”

The passage about government in Romans 13, notes Mohler, requires respect for government and its rightful responsibility—and in the United States that means respect for our constitutional order. That does not mean satisfaction or absence of protest against the law if the law is unrighteous and unjust.”

And as Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains, “Paul is saying, in effect, ‘Look, it’s true that Jesus is the ultimate Ruler of a cosmic Kingdom while Caesar is only the temporary ruler of a limited earthly kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you’re above the law. You should be a good citizen and obey the law except, of course, when God’s law conflicts with Caesar’s law.’”

What Christian groups have opposed the policy?

Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, expressed the opinion of many American Christians when he told CBN, “It’s disgraceful. It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The policy has been publicly denounced by numerous other religious groups and denominations, including World Vision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers).

“There’s definitely a groundswell of opposition from virtually every corner of the Christian community,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “People are able to understand immediately the drive of parents to protect their child and to understand the horror of splitting up vulnerable children from their parents.”

My Daily Fight at the Hospital

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:03am

What do you call a mom or dad who is now childless? There are words we use, like widow and orphan, to describe others who have lost a family member. But the loss of a child is so uncommon and unexpected that there isn’t an English word to describe it. A couple I know lost their daughter on Easter. In the midst of everyone’s celebration of new life and resurrection, they mourned their unnamed loss.

Their baby girl, Ella, was a dear patient of mine whom I’d worked with off and on since her birth nearly a year and a half prior. I saw her roll over for the first time; I witnessed as she reached for her favorite toy, a pink Oball; I was part of the audience the first time she blew a kiss; I celebrated her progress. In fact, I fought with the other therapists to see her whenever she was admitted. But she had a complex medical situation, so when she contracted an infection, it overwhelmed her delicate body despite her brave fight.

I loved her.

I mourned. I’m still mourning, months later.

Risking Deep Connection

I am a pediatric occupational therapist. I work in a local hospital helping the littlest of patients grow, develop, play, and heal. I massage tight muscles, mobilize swelling, improve endurance, and promote strength. I have the privilege of working with amazing babies and parents in tenuous situations where length of days is not guaranteed.

How do I work in this job surrounded by sick little ones? How do I perform occupational therapy in the hospital setting knowing that some of my patients won’t see adulthood, or even their first birthday? I work in faith. I know that no matter how lengthy a life is, it is full of significance.

Several years ago, I was talking to my parents about the sadness that comes with my job. My dad’s wise response has always stuck with me:

As your father, I dislike your job. I hate seeing you in pain. I wish you weren’t surrounded by such loss, and I want to protect you from these feelings. But as a father, I want you there. If it were my child in that hospital, I would want someone there who cared as much as you do. So, I both want you to quit your job and work there forever.

The fight between self-protection and deep connection is fierce. Some days self-protection wins out. I see signs of imminent doom in certain rooms: poorly trending lab values, sallow coloring, expanding pumps and machines, and I don’t want to get too attached. There were years when I would pull away and not get too close, telling myself I had to separate to continue practicing. But more recently, deep connection has been winning in my heart and actions. This response didn’t come naturally. I had to confront my own lament before I could learn to view it as an honor to sit with families at terribly tender times—to provide healing and hope. And to grieve with them.

Hope and Love amid Pain

Ella was well loved, a tiny VIP in our hospital. Her memorial service was so crowded there was no place to park. I was mentally prepared for the somber service until I saw the tiny casket and glimpsed Ella’s chubby fingers grasping her pink Oball. It was the toy we’d played with so often in her 17-month-and-three-day life of significance. The toy we used to practice visual tracking, reaching, batting, grasping, and fine motor coordination. The toy I wrote about in my official records of her progress. Suddenly my tears could not be restrained.

Through my tears, I got to hug her crying mom and dad—a real, true, strong, meaningful hug. That hug said that I thought Ella was delightful, and that I really, truly enjoyed her and would miss her. Our physical embrace was the special language of people who had dared to connect to the wonder, joy, and sparkle of Ella’s fragile life.

My job involves serving, showing value, and loving well, especially in times of loss. I don’t believe I could endure this job without my Christian faith. I would be crushed by the weight of lament. I am better at my job when I feel a deep sense of purpose and connection in my relationships with my patients. Braving pain, showing value, and choosing connection are ways I express my faith at work. I show families through my time, actions, compassion, and therapy that their loved one is important, special, valuable, and cared for.

Ella died on Easter, but there is still hope. There is hope in the resurrection. There is hope in hugs that heal. There is hope in the weightiness of deep connection, especially when it is painful. There is hope when we sit in tender spaces full of fears and questions and choose to bravely enter into another’s life and story.

Your Church Needs (Good) Biblical Theology

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:02am

Picture four stereotypical churches: (1) the Prosperity Gospel Church, urging you to name and claim whatever you pray for, yachts included; (2) the Civil Gospel Church, red, white, and blue-blooded, longing for a restored Christian America; (3) the Soup Kitchen Church, where the preferential option for the poor is always with us; and (4) the Immorality-Affirming Church, where “love wins” over doctrine every time (19–22).

What do these four different churches have in common? According to Nick Roark and Robert Cline, they’re missing a solid grounding in biblical theology (101–11). It’s not that none of these churches believes the Bible, but that each in its own way misses the Bible’s main point. They each fail to grasp how the Bible’s 66 books present a unified story culminating in Jesus Christ, and how this unity helps us understand and apply all the parts properly.

Roark, pastor of Franconia Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and Cline, managing director for the SBC’s International Mission Board, believe that biblical theology is an essential mark of a healthy church. Their new book, Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel , is part of the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series from Crossway, which consists of small hardbacks expounding each of Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (and a couple more).

I’ll provide a brief summary before noting some strengths and minor weaknesses.

What You’ll Find

This brief book is about why biblical theology is needed, what it is, and how it shapes the church’s teaching and mission.

In chapter 1, the need for biblical theology is illustrated by showing how each of the four churches mentioned above misses the Bible’s main point, and how biblical theology helps us keep the main thing the main thing. The authors are conscious, however, that they haven’t yet explained what biblical theology is (22).

Hence chapter 2. Here they define biblical theology succinctly as “the scriptural roadmap that leads to Jesus” (23). Or more fully:

Biblical theology is a way of reading the Bible as one story by one divine author that culminates in who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to him. Biblical theology helps us understand the Bible as one big book with lots of little books that tell one big story. (26)

In chapters 3 and 4, a significant portion of the book is dedicated to unfolding that “one big story.” Chapter 3 covers the Old Testament, laid out creatively as “The King . . . creates and covenants, curses, judges, blesses, rescues, commands, leads, rules, casts out, and promises” (31–55). Chapter 4 covers the New Testament, as the King “arrives, suffers and saves, sends, reigns, and returns” (57–74). True to the book’s purpose of equipping the church, these chapters are punctuated by practical asides captioned as “Preaching and Teaching Tips.”

Biblical theology helps us understand the Bible as one big book with lots of little books that tell one big story.

In chapter 5, Roark and Cline explain how biblical theology shapes the church’s teaching, guarding it against proof-texting (76–81) and moralism (81–88). Chapter 6 addresses how biblical theology shapes the church’s mission, particularly diagnosing the problems with the four churches mentioned at the beginning. The book closes with an appendix illustrating how to preach various texts in a biblical-theological way.

What’s Helpful

On the one hand, longtime readers of biblical theology won’t find a lot of new information in this volume. Even its specific purpose isn’t totally unique, since Michael Lawrence wrote a similar book for 9Marks back in 2010 titled Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church. This book has the advantage over Lawrence’s of being more succinct and accessible for normal church members, which I suspect is what they were aiming for. If I wanted to disciple a group of high schoolers on the meaning and relevance of biblical theology for the local church, this would be the book to use. For pastors, I’d still recommend Lawrence. Ideally, I’d say read both.

Chapter 5 is basically a mini-hermeneutics course, covering everything from Rahab’s scarlet cord to David’s five smooth stones, and could stand alone as a helpful primer on preaching Christ (though I’ll mention some reservations in a moment). Also useful in this regard is the appendix of case studies, which gives examples of how to preach specific texts (e.g. Prov. 2:1–6; Ps. 47:8) in a biblical-theological way.

On the whole, I think the book is strongest when applying biblical theology to the church’s mission. Roark and Cline show us the dangers of over-realized eschatology in the Prosperity Church, the place of the church as new Israel in contrast to the Civil Gospel Church, the perils of downplaying eternal suffering in the Soup Kitchen Church, and the pitfalls of worldliness in the Immorality-Affirming Church (101–10). I especially appreciated their discussion of the church’s mission to make disciples when gathered and to be disciples when scattered (111–14). While such a brief discussion can’t answer all the sticky questions about what the church as an institution should be involved in, it does provide a good framework for answering them.

Where You Should Supplement

I have no major faults to find with this book, just some reservations about some of the standard biblical-theological preaching tips contained in it. I suspect what I’m trying to describe is a feeling of familiarity bred by 15 years of reading books telling me how not to preach David and Goliath.

To be fair, Roark and Cline are usually careful to nuance their statements. For example: “The point of the passage isn’t simply to highlight David’s courage” (81, emphasis mine). And, “It is true that David provides a positive example for believers” (82).

These are balanced statements (though others are less so). But my fear is that such statements could easily get drowned out by the more relentless attack on character imitation as moralism.

It’s not that I think the authors are tilting at a windmill. I know moralistic preaching is rampant in some circles, just not in mine. And perhaps that’s the source of my “redemptive-historical preaching” angst: maybe I’m just too sheltered. It could be these things are so ingrained in the preachers I listen to that hearing someone warn yet again about “being like David” seems like beating a dead horse, when the horse is actually alive and well in dryer pastures.

Because the truth is, in my limited experience, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a preacher argue that the point of 1 Samuel 17 was “simply to highlight David’s courage.” But I have heard men (myself included) preach really average sermons in an earnest attempt to preach biblical theology. As Carl Trueman lamented:

It is one thing for a master of biblical theology to preach it week after week; quite another for a less talented follower so to do. We all know the old joke about the Christian fundamentalist who, when asked what was grey, furry, and lived in a tree, responded that “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer to every question is ‘Jesus.’” One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical-theological sermons from less talented (i.e., most of us) preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of passages which are engaged in to produce the answer “Jesus” every week. It doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.

I know this isn’t what Roark and Cline want. I’m also not sure it can be easily avoided unless we temper our zeal for biblical theology by supplementing it with other sources (like systematic theology, moral theology, and the church’s creedal heritage).

I’d happily give this book to any preacher. I’d simply include it in a packet with books like John Carrick’s The Imperative of Preaching and Jason Hood’s Imitating God in Christ, which balance the biblical-theological perspective.

So when it comes to preaching, this book (not surprisingly) shouldn’t stand alone. But of course in the end this isn’t a book mainly about preaching, but about biblical theology. And as a clear, compact treatment of that, it deserves to be read by all who want a better grasp of God’s Word.

What Your Child Needs More than Self-Esteem

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 12:00am

“Self-worth is everything to a child!”

She said it with finality, her eyes intense with passion. “Telling kids they are bad only causes emotional instability they aren’t ready to handle. I’ve seen it result in terrible things . . . ” She trailed off, but her penetrating look did not.

She was the older, experienced mom; I was young and rocking my firstborn. Her warning intimidated me, but it left me with this tension—where does self-worth fit in a world of sin? If every human is born in sin, then tiny humans are no different. Toddlers are sinners, too. How does a parent address sin in a child’s life while tiptoeing around their self-esteem?

Blessings vs. Consequences

This tension was accidentally resolved for me a few years later through a simple catechism. Instead of expressing my own disappointment in my son’s sin, personally labeling him “bad,” I worked to communicate God’s response to his sin. I would ask, “What does obedience bring?” and he would answer, “Blessings.” “What does disobedience bring?” “Consequences.”

I admit blessings and consequences didn’t teach morality at first. At best they taught self-control; at worst they worked like a bribe. What they did communicate was a biblical framework for understanding life—the very framework God teaches us. Jesus often uses the promise of heavenly blessings and the threat of eternal consequences as motivation to follow him, the same pattern that had marked God’s relationship with the Israelites. When Israel obeys, the nation is blessed. When they disobey, God imposes consequences.

The repeated catechism—obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings consequences—started as a way to explain to my boy why he was receiving discipline or when he could expect blessings. What I didn’t realize until much later was the depth at which it would help him understand sin and forgiveness from an early age. The catechism exposed both the seriousness of wrongdoing and also the relational blessing born from obedience, and this led naturally into many gospel conversations. Experiencing earthly consequences helped my son grasp eternal consequences. Knowing God blesses obedience gave depth to Jesus’s obedience. My son’s own eternal consequence, given to Jesus. Jesus’s earned blessing, bestowed on him.

The Struggle

I vividly remember my 4-year-old trying to work out the effects of sin. There were a few weeks when every day he’d say, “Mom, can we talk about sin?” Sin is disobedience, he’d tell me, like when you say you washed your hands after you went potty, but you really didn’t. He’d explain the consequence for sin is death, but Jesus took the consequence. At this point, I’d try to make the conversation personal.

“Do you want Jesus to take your consequence?”

“I think so.”

“If you ask Jesus to take your consequences, you’re asking him to be your boss. You’re asking him to tell you what’s right and wrong.”

“I don’t want to. I get tired of asking about that.”

For weeks, that’s how every conversation ended. He wasn’t interested in Jesus’s lordship in his life. Though small, chubby-cheeked, and dressed like Super Mario, he understood that sin was departure from God’s authority. The more this conversation happened, the more I realized his relational problem with Jesus was his beloved autonomy. And as small as he was, even he knew this.

This conversation wasn’t born out of my son’s sense of self-worth; it was a direct result of grappling with his badness. He was faced with a serious problem. He knew about the reality of sin and believed in the consequence of his disobedience. He even knew the cure for sin was a relationship with Jesus. But he didn’t know how to accept this cure while still loving his sin. The weight of the dilemma pressed on him, so he worked through it, having this same conversation with me as many times as it occurred to him.

The Answer

Then one day, the end of the conversation changed. There was no drama, no emotional breakthrough. He just changed his mind about what he wanted and gave up the freedom to declare what was right in his own eyes. Instead of replying, “I don’t want to ask God about right and wrong,” he simply said, “Jesus, I’m sorry for my sin. Will you please take my consequence away? Will you be my boss?”

It’s not cruel to tell children they’re sinners. Sin is real, destroying lives and devouring souls. This isn’t different in the life of a child. What’s cruel is letting them live in their sin unaware. The weight of my son’s sin drove him to look for an answer—a weight he couldn’t have felt without knowing the inherent badness of his sin, of his choices, and ultimately of his own heart.

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,” Paul observes, “whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). My son had to know he was bad, and know the infinite consequence of his badness. He had to feel crushed under that reality until he was willing to say, “I can’t fix this. I need Jesus to help.”

And by God’s grace, that’s exactly what he said.

TGCW18: Day 3 Highlights

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 3:00pm

Were you unable to come to the 2018 TGC National Women’s Conference? A free simulcast is available at thanks to our friends at The Christian Standard Bible. Videos of the completed sessions are also available on that same page, and Day 1 highlights can be found here and Day 2 highlights here.

Here is some of what you missed from the third day of TGCW18.

Conference Plenaries

Plenary speakers expounded key passages from Deuteronomy, to help us take it in deeply and personally. This spoke word short film, written by Quina Aragon, was produced by The Gospel Coalition under the creative direction of Jon Aragon, for TGCW18 in order to convey the biblical narrative leading to Deuteronomy.

Session 6: A Prophet Like Me – Kathleen Nielson

Speaker bio: Kathleen Nielson serves as senior adviser and book editor for The Gospel Coalition, after directing women’s initiatives from 2010 to 2017. An author and speaker, Kathleen has taught literature and directed women’s Bible studies. Kathleen holds a PhD from Vanderbilt University. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Niel leads a network of Christian schools and universities. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.


“Every sin is a sin against God himself.”

“Receiving God’s Word is an awesome thing, a matter of life and death.”

“We need God’s Word to survive.”

“The Word from the Lord is a word of life.”

—Kathleen Nielson #TGCW18

— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) June 16, 2018

Session 7: A Matter of Life and Death – John Piper

Speaker bio: John Piper is founder of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. For more than 30 years, he served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s the author of more than 50 books. More than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available for free at John and his wife, Noël, have four sons, one daughter, and 12 grandchildren.


“If you don’t turn to God with all your heart, with all your soul, and love him, God didn’t give you a heart to do that.”

“Nobody is saved by belonging to a group—any group—when their individual heart is hard toward God.”

“There will always be things you might like to know that you cannot know. Some things God chooses not to reveal.”

“Loving God is treasuring God more than anything or anyone else.”

@JohnPiper #TGCW18

— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) June 16, 2018

Conference Photos

See these and other photos from #TGCW18 on Instagram.


Christ at the Center in Germany

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 12:03am

TGC president Don Carson and TGC Council member Bryan Chapell joined Evangelium 21 (E21) from May 24 to 26 for its eighth main conference in Hamburg, Germany. About 800 attendees came to praise, pray, and fellowship with likeminded believers from all over German-speaking Europe, and to learn more about the conference theme: Christus im Mittelpunkt (Christ in the Center).

The plenary sessions from Carson and Chapell addressed how preaching Christ and his grace in all of Scripture should affect our churches and Christian lives. For the other sessions, E21 leaders Christian Wegert, Kai Soltau, Matthias Lohmann, and Martin Reakes-Williams exposited Mark 8:22–9:13 to unfold what it means to know Christ, live for Christ, follow Christ, and hear Christ. There were also several fantastic seminars on offer this year on themes like “Christ-Centered Family,” “Blogging for the Gospel,” and “Vocation as Calling? Following Christ in the Workplace.”

Here are four takeaways from a few of the sessions.

1. God’s Grace Changes Everything

Christians must speak about sin and its effects, Carson exhorted. “We must first understand the consequences of sin before we can see Christ’s work on the cross as spectacularly good news.” The failure of humanity to follow God’s will is a common thread throughout the entire Bible, but so is the redeeming grace of Christ. In his love he conquered evil at its deepest root through his substitutionary sacrifice for sinners at the cross. Just think: Christ paid the price for your disobedience so you could be free from its bondage and punishment! This is what good news sounds like. “Whoever has a low view of sin,” Carson said, “will also have a low view of the cross.”

2. Costs of Discipleship

Matthias Lohmann, chairman and founder of E21, challenged attendees not to minimize the costs of following Christ: “In the world, any risk or side effect is reduced to fine print. I fear we Christians often do the same in our evangelism.” Jesus did not conceal the reality of risk, pain, and suffering in the Christian life. “Discipleship means,” Lohmann explained, “you no longer follow your own agenda but rather Christ’s. And if the case may be, to the point of death.”

Lohmann illustrated the cost of discipleship in the life of the missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred on the mission field. As Elliot understood it, the foundation for true discipleship in our evangelism is not moralism but grace. The reward of Christ’s grace and love far outweighs any momentary suffering in this life. As Elliot famously put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

3. Don’t Preach Law without Grace

“Everything we do is a response to what God in Christ already did for us,” Chapell stressed. It is a human reflex to define ourselves according to our own performance and achievements. The Bible emphasizes however that no one can earn God’s love through his or her own deeds.

We must never preach God’s commands without God’s grace.

This is why pastors and evangelizers must never preach God’s commands without God’s grace. This moralizing form of preaching will only lead to “dead imperatives,” since it foregrounds human striving and forgets that change in life is impossible without God’s grace. “Why do we preach the gospel of God in all of Scripture?” Chapell asked. “Because we love to see what happens to God’s people when they encounter his grace again and again.”

4. God Is Growing Evangelium 21

By God’s grace, the ministry of Evangelium 21 is growing. The leadership wishes to strengthen regional conferences to support local church networks (the south region meets in Munich, the east region in Leipzig, the west in Bonn, and the Swiss region in Basel). In part to support this step, the main conference in Hamburg will now take place every two years instead of annually.

Over the past few years E21 has released several new resources, including a songbook, Martin Luther’s Lectures on Romans 1515/16, the New City Catechism, the Nashville Statement, and more. In cooperation with Moore College in Sydney, Australia, E21 is helping to release a new online Bible course in German called “Bibel für alle” (“Bible for everyone”). E21 continues to host and develop the Spurgeon Conference on Preaching and the Josia Youth Conference, and it recently established a network called Ezer21 to facilitate fellowship and theological equipping for women.

In order to carry out these developments and expand its work for the equipping of ministers and churches, E21 is adding staff members. Please pray with us that God would bless these new steps and use E21 to build up his people and their gospel witness in German-speaking Europe. The work of E21 entirely depends on donations, so please also pray with us for financial provision to carry out the ministry.

Gravity and Stars: A Father’s Day Reflection for the Fatherless

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 12:00am

When I was 10 years old my dad bought me a catcher’s mitt. I say it was for me, but it was really for him. He needed a glove to gather up the wild pitches of his Little League son. The Atlanta Braves were finally good that year, and I badly wanted to be the next John Smoltz, so every night after supper we would head out to the line of pear trees in our backyard. Smoltz to Olson. Again and again. Years later my dad would confess that the pitches were so wild that he also invested in a cup.

Michael Chabon once wrote that fatherhood is “an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal, and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars.” Like the commitment of gravity to the stars. An unseen reality so foundational that, without it, everything begins to fall apart, the stars themselves slip from the sky.

That’s how life felt a year later, like stars slipping from the sky. There are a lot of ways to lose a father, each with unique pains. Death. Divorce. Abandonment. I lost mine to addiction, a living death which rivals death itself.

Addicts aren’t gone, but they’re missing. Their addiction has banished them to wander as a ghost who haunts the land of the living with the presence of their absence. From 1991 to 2000, my dad was still around, but he was gone. A ghost of his former self, haunting my Little League games with his absent presence.

Wound of Fatherlessness

The other day my wife asked a strange question: “Who taught you how to shave?” We had been talking about my dad, about what growing up without him was like. I had to think about it for a minute. “Actually, I think it was my college roommate, Rosey.” All around that conversation my dad’s absence loomed large. Not that I hadn’t been in touch with him through those years. I had. Supervised visits after rehab. Letters and an occasional phone call after prison. Strained visits as he rebuilt his life with a new family. How do you forgive your father for not being a father?

A counselor once put it to me this way: “You have to grieve the loss of your dad ever being your dad, and then you get to decide if you want a friendship with him.” Fair enough. But how do you grieve the loss of gravity? How do you put the stars back into the sky? How do you teach yourself to shave? How do you pitch Smoltz to Olson by yourself?

The wound of fatherlessness isn’t lightly healed. Time certainly is no help. If anything it reveals just how big the wound really is, just how much damage the foundation has actually suffered. My pastor growing up was fond of saying, “Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Jesus does.” I knew what he meant, but I still had no real idea. It has only recently begun to dawn on me. Time isn’t the healer of all wounds, but there is a Wounded Healer who uses it to his own ends.

Wounded Healer

For the longest time I was indifferent to Jesus. What did his suffering have to do with mine? I still remember sitting in our pastor’s office as he explained the physical dynamics of Jesus’s death on the cross in excruciating detail. He was passionate, his words compelling, but I was so unmoved. I didn’t want Jesus. I wanted Jesus to leave me alone with my albums and video games. Smashing Pumpkins’s Siamese Dream and Bill Walsh’s College Football would do just fine for the time being.

And then something happened. I started to feel haunted by the wounds of Jesus.

Slowly, at first. I began to see that his wounds meant something for mine, spoke to mine in their own language. My pain wasn’t foreign to him. My sins weren’t too big (or too small) for him. And, maybe most importantly of all, he knew what it was to feel abandoned by a Father. He cried out from the cross in a shout of pain, the pain of being forsaken, of being alone. And for a moment, gravity buckled, and the stars slipped from the sky in total darkness.

“By his wounds, we are healed.” That’s what the prophet Isaiah—and later the apostle Peter—wrote. His wounds are a world of healing, and they speak to ours. In my case, they are still speaking. Henri Nouwen put it best: “Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’s suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.”

I will never get back the father I lost. But I have gained, through Jesus’s suffering, another Father who has fathered me well. A Father who promises never to leave or forsake his children.

I’m closing in on 38, and I’m now a father myself, to three girls and a boy. God still hasn’t magically taken away my father wound. Sometimes I wish he would. Instead, he has begun the long work of healing. It has taken time. But for the first time in years I’ve started watching the Braves again. Most nights my 11-year-old son joins me. He loves Ozzie Albies. Freddie Freeman too. I can’t wait to teach him how to shave.

TGCW18: Day 2 Highlights

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 4:57pm

Were you unable to come to the 2018 TGC National Women’s Conference? A free simulcast is available at thanks to our friends at The Christian Standard Bible. Videos of the completed sessions are also available on that same page, and Day 1 highlights can be found here.

Here is some of what you missed from the second day of TGCW18.

Conference Plenaries

Plenary speakers expounded key passages from Deuteronomy, to help us take it in deeply and personally. This spoke word short film, written by Quina Aragon, was produced by The Gospel Coalition under the creative direction of Jon Aragon, for TGCW18 in order to convey the biblical narrative leading to Deuteronomy.

Session 3: The Greatest Commandment for Every Generation – Kristie Anyabwile

Speaker bio: Kristie Anyabwile is a pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher, and writer. Married for more than 25 years, she joyfully supports her husband, Thabiti, as he pastors Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C. She has written contributions to the ESV Women’s Devotional BibleWord-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the ChurchWomen on Life: A Call to Love the UnbornUnloved, and Neglected; and Hospitality Matters: Reviving an Ancient Practice for Modern Missions. Kristie and Thabiti have three children.


“We are called to engage in a kind of godly gossip: ‘Girl, let me tell you what God is like. . . Let me tell you how good God is.’”

“We need to think big thoughts of God, because what we think of him will shape how we live.”

“Exclusively love God by obeying Him and testifying of His faithfulness to the next generation.”

“Law is our native tongue. We have to learn the language of grace.”

@KAnyabwile #TGCW18

— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) June 15, 2018

Session 4: The Greatest Commandment in a Pluralistic Age – Don Carson

Speaker bio: Don Carson is a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is president of The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Joy, reside in Libertyville, Illinois, and have two children.


“The problem of a divided heart is in fact a problem of idolatry.’”

“Love for God entails obedience to God.”

“God sets his affection on Israel because he loves her. He loves her because he loves her.”

“Love for God recognizes the priority of grace.”

—Don Carson #TGCW18

— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) June 15, 2018


[Coming up Next] Session 5: Open Wide Your Hand! – Jen Wilkin

Speaker bio: Jen Wilkin is a speaker, author, and teacher of women’s Bible studies in Dallas, Texas. She has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Her passion is to see women become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe. You can find her at

Conference Photos

See these and other photos from #TGCW18 on Instagram.

Still to Come Schedule of Events for Saturday, June 16

8:30 AM – Session 6: A Prophet Like Me

10:30 AM – Session 7: A Matter of Life and Death

How Churches Can Partner to Reach the Nations

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 12:02am

John Stott famously said, “We must be global people with a global vision because our God is a global God.”

Most leaders I talk to don’t need to be convinced of this point. Nor do they need to be convinced that strategic partnerships—relationships leveraging the unique resources of multiple churches—are a healthy, sustainable means to engage in global church-planting efforts.

But many do struggle to know where to begin.

For the last four years, I’ve helped lead the Acts 29 Emerging Regions Network. I have the privilege of speaking with men and women on the front lines of ministry to the unreached—brothers and sisters advancing the gospel by planting churches in places like Lagos, Ho Chi Minh, Lahore, Shanghai, Kampala, Mumbai, Tokyo, Nairobi, Bangkok, and more.

Not everyone can be in these places. This is why we aim to facilitate partnerships between churches to plant churches—specifically in unreached areas. Still, finding a viable partner is challenging.

Here are three places to start when it comes to engaging in global church-planting efforts as a local church.

1. Region

Often there’s a particular place you want to invest in. Perhaps it’s a region you’ve been reading about and praying for. Or maybe there’s a region that would be strategic for you to engage due to language or geographic proximity. Of course, some areas should be prioritized simply due to their distinct lack of gospel resources, healthy churches, and/or trained leaders.

But partnering with churches in largely Christian contexts can still contribute to efforts in unreached places, especially when the aim is to plant multiplying churches.

Partnering with churches in largely Christian contexts can still contribute to efforts in unreached places, especially when the aim is to plant multiplying churches.

For Matt Dirks and Harbor Church in Hawaii, this has looked like leveraging their South Pacific location as a launch pad into East and Southeast Asia. As I write, Matt and volunteers from their church are hosting a retreat for pastors and their wives from various parts of Asia.

Harbor Church has also invested, for a decade now, into a budding network of church planters in Vietnam, recruiting other pastors with Vietnamese language proficiency to accelerate their training efforts.

2. Resources

Your mind likely jumps to finances here, which is understandable. But there are solid leaders planting churches in challenging contexts who want your relational, spiritual, and intellectual support far more than your financial support.

If you’ve received any theological education (even informally), then you have something to offer. The time and energy you’ve invested there—along with the insights, processes, and care that have grown you as a leader—can and should be reinvested into partners. Theological famine is real; we shouldn’t underestimate its effects.

For Red Tree Church in St. Louis, for example, partnership looked like orienting staff meetings, preaching collectives, and other rhythms to include the leaders of their partner church in Mumbai. Eventually, this led to one Red Tree pastor moving to Mumbai to support the training of pastors around that city.

While there’s more to resources than money, many pastors and churches still need financial support. Don’t be the church who writes checks but doesn’t care for your partners. But also, don’t be the church who will give a partner everything but money. If you have a good relationship, don’t withhold financial resources.

It’s easy to think that unless you have lots of money, your contribution won’t really make a difference. Jesus says otherwise.

It’s easy to think that unless you have lots of money, your contribution won’t really make a difference. Jesus says otherwise (Mark 12:43–44). And some of Paul’s highest praise was for the Macedonian churches whose “abundance of joy and . . . extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Cor 8:2). Monetary riches are not the measure of a generous heart.

I saw this type of generosity play out recently with a young church plant in Austin. Less than a year old, Trinity Church set aside money for the sake of partnership and invested in a church in Tokyo. Combined with contributions from other churches, this young church is helping fuel gospel ministry among the world’s second largest unreached people group.

3. Relationships

Resonate Church in the Bay Area and The District Church in Florida wanted to make a difference with church planting in an unreached area. They allowed their relationship to drive their partnership efforts. They committed to help raising up the next generation of gospel-centered church planters in Thailand through Acts 29 training initiatives.

They know it will take years to see the vision come to fruition, but they intentionally sought out ways to partner with churches on the ground to make a difference. They didn’t have prior connection to Thailand, but they are sending people, money, and knowledge to a dark place to shine gospel light.

Healthy gospel partnerships truly can have a global impact. Whether they’re formal or informal, start with relationships to identify partners who are planting churches that will plant churches.

Learning to Be a Daughter When I’m No Longer a Kid

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 12:02am

My husband hates it when I tell the story of how we first met.

“I was not at my smoothest,” he always says.

And he’s right. He wasn’t. The man who can give me butterflies with one glance made a horrific first impression by uttering my five least favorite words:

“Are you Voddie Baucham’s daughter?”

Phillip was asking for a legitimate reason: he was looking for my dad at a meeting. But at the time, I wrote him off as just another fanboy who would only ever see me as a byproduct of my father’s well-known ministry—never as a person with my own merit.

It happens a lot.

Just Call Me Voddie’s Daughter

When I started blogging again, my core audience was people who had followed my father’s ministry and were anxious to see the fruits of his labor.

Which makes sense, because a lot of my dad’s ministry centers on cultivating a godly family. One of his books is even called What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter. (My husband never gets tired of those jokes, guys; throw one at him the next time you see him.)

In my readers’ minds, I had been raised in the perfect home environment, undergone the perfect courtship, and was now having the perfect marriage with the perfectly godly, handpicked man of my dad’s dreams.

Admiration for my dad was so intense that when my son was born, people asked if he would be named “Voddie.” They didn’t suggest naming him after my husband, the baby’s father. They wanted to name him after my dad. He wasn’t Phillip’s son to them. He wasn’t even my son. He was Voddie Baucham’s grandson.

What Would Your Dad Think?

There are still a lot of people who don’t know who my father is. He’s popular in a specific subculture, but when I’m at the mall no one is going to run me down for an autograph.

Your parents don’t have to be famous for you to know what it’s like to grow up in their shadow, though. If you come from a “good”—stable, two-parent, Christian—family like I did, it can be easy to grow up feeling like your beliefs aren’t really yours but Mom and Dad’s.

This feeling is why so many of my Christian friends had crises of faith in their teens and early 20s. They’d gone to church their entire lives, but they’d just been parroting what their parents thought. They questioned whether they’d claimed the faith for their own.

I went through that experience too. And as I crawl out onto the other side and begin to own my faith, it looks a lot more like Jasmine Holmes’s and less like Jasmine Baucham’s. This change could have happened while I was single, but marrying my husband and moving out of my home helped me to make the distinction between my parents’ faith and my own.

I still affirm God as Creator, Christ as the only Savior for sinners, and the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. But, in other ways, my faith has taken on a new character. I no longer feel the need to parent my son, communicate in my marriage, and define my life’s calling in quite the same way my parents did in their home. I had a wonderful upbringing, but my parents had the opportunity to shape that upbringing based on their convictions and their own growth.

I’m just asking for the same opportunity they had.

But as I changed and began to publicly own my beliefs, a crowd of voices rushed to put me right back in my place. Voddie’s daughter, what are you doing? What would your father say?

Growing Up and Branching Out

Don’t get me wrong. I love my dad. As a homeschool student, he has been one of my favorite teachers, counselors, and confidants. We have myriad memories, inside jokes, and well-worn conversat topics. He is my biggest advocate, my constant cheerleader, and my rock when the stresses of this life overwhelm me.

My dad was an amazing earthly example of God’s fatherly love toward his children (1 John 1:3). He protected me (2 Thess. 3:3), he provided for me (Luke 12:24), he patiently instructed me (Ps. 25:12), and he led our family (Ps. 5:8). He did all of these things imperfectly, of course—God is the only perfect Father—but he did them with love, commitment, and diligence.

But my dad is still a flawed human being who isn’t accountable for my walk with Christ. I’m responsible before God for my own obedience.

In Proverbs, Solomon tells us that children are like arrows in the hands of a mighty warrior (Ps. 127:4). Arrows do a warrior no good if they stay in his pack; they’re made to be launched in battle.

Many people fail to consider that children aren’t made to sit in their parents shadows for the rest of their lives. They’re made to be launched from their homes into a hurting world after having been trained to bring the good news of Christ Jesus.

All the teaching and training my parents poured into me was ultimately being poured for God’s glory. I’m not ultimately a testament of Voddie’s faithfulness, but of God’s.

Called By His Name

My husband hates that the first words he ever said to me were “Are you Voddie Baucham’s daughter?”

But Phillip has proven ten thousand times over that he sees me as so much more than that. As my husband, he’s allowed me to hold these tensions: Having a good dad who’s also imperfect. Being incredibly grateful for how I was raised but also honest about things I want to do differently. Being so much like my parents but also being my own person.

Not everyone affords me this grace, but the fact that Phillip does reminds me that God does. In God’s eyes, and as much as I love my earthly dad, I’m not “Voddie’s daughter” but his daughter.

God doesn’t ask me to make an account for what my dad thinks and believes, or to outline all of the likenesses, nuances, and differences between us. Instead, God calls me to conform myself to his image. And, day by day, I hope I’m looking more like him.

I’m grateful for the start that both of my parents gave me. But I’m also grateful that my journey didn’t end there. Praise God for continued growth. Praise God for strong roots and ever-stronger branches reaching toward the Son.

TGCW18: Day 1 Highlights

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 5:21pm

Were you unable to come to the 2018 TGC National Women’s Conference? A free simulcast is available at thanks to our friends at The Christian Standard Bible. Videos of the completed sessions are also available on that same page.

Here is some of what you missed from the first day.

Pre-conference: Loving The Most Vulnerable

How does the gospel shape our response to the most vulnerable ones around us: refugees, fatherless, widows? It’s a question that arises not just from Deuteronomy but from the whole Scriptures. It’s a question we followers of the Lord Jesus must answer, with our words and our lives. Biblical teaching and personal stories will call us to embody gospel-centered love for a needy world.

Loving the sojourner – Afshin Ziafat

Speaker bio: Afshin Ziafat is the pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. He helped launch Vertical Bible Study at Baylor University and regularly travels to the Middle East to train Iranian pastors. Afshin has an MDiv from Southwestern Seminary. He is married to Meredith, and they have two daughters.


“We love the sojourner, we love the outcast, because this is what God does. This is who He is.”

“We cannot applaud Christians who go overseas in our churches and then when the missions field comes to our backyard board up our windows.”

“If you are a Christian, before you are an American you are a citizen of the kingdom of God.”

Loving the fatherless – Tony Merida

Speaker bio: Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tony has an extensive itinerant ministry, and has written several books, including The Christ-Centered ExpositorOrdinaryOrphanology, and eight volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, of which he also serves as a general editor, along with Danny Akin and David Platt. He is happily married to Kimberly, and they have five adopted children.


“There are a lot of people who are charmed by the Bible but not changed by the Bible. . . The purpose of the Bible is to transform us.”

“James puts two things together that evangelicals love to separate: compassion and purity.”

“It is possible to be about public compassion and personal holiness.”

Loving the widow – K.A. Ellis

Speaker bio: K. A. Ellis writes and lectures on theology, human rights, and global religious freedom. She is president and co-founder of the Makazi Institute, which trains and equips the next generation of cultural analysts. She’s a PhD candidate in missiology at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies in England, and holds an MAR from Westminster Theological Seminary and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. She has also been named the RTS Cannada Fellow for World Christianity.


“Until we are born again in Christ, we are spiritual widows.”

“The widow and the orphan are too significant in the kingdom of God just to be pitied. They are not to be pitied. They are to be empowered.”

“To encourage the widow is to love her. To empower the widow is to love her. To learn from the widow is to love her.”

Conference Plenaries

Plenary speakers will expound key passages from Deuteronomy, to help us take it in deeply and personally.

Session 1: A Faithful God and His unfaithful people – Mary Willson

Speaker bio: Mary Willson serves as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition and is presently engaged in doctoral studies on the Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She also holds an MDiv and ThM from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Alongside her academic work, she enjoys teaching and training others to teach the Scriptures, especially in the context of the local church. She has many nieces and nephews who make life all the more wonderful and rambunctious.


“God’s commandments are precious provisions of His grace.”

“God’s commandments are precious provisions of his grace rooted in his covenant promises”

“God doesn’t call His people despite their weakness, but because of it.”

[Coming Up Next] Session 2: Defining the Relationship – Jackie Hill Perry

Speaker bio: Jackie Hill Perry is a writer and artist whose work has been featured in The Washington TimesThe 700 ClubDesiring GodThe Gospel Coalition, and other publications. She is signed to Humble Beast Records and released her debut album, The Art of Joy, in 2014. At home she is wife to Preston and mommy to Eden.

Conference Photos

See these and other photos from #TGCW18 on Instagram.

Still to Come Schedule of Events for Friday, June 15

8:30 AM – Session 3: The Greatest Commandment for Every Generation

10:30 AM -Session 4: The Greatest Commandment in a Pluralistic Age

1:30 PM – Workshops: Round 1

3:00 PM – Workshops: Round 2

4:30 PM – Workshops: Round 3

7:30 PM – Session 5: Open Wide Your Hand!

8:30 PM – Corporate Worship

Schedule of Events for Saturday, June 16

8:30 AM – Session 6: A Prophet Like Me

10:30 AM – Session 7: A Matter of Life and Death

Church Planting in the Heart of Japan

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 12:02am

Japan is the second-least-reached nation in the world. With a population of 125 million, just 0.58 percent are evangelical Christians.

Approximately 38 million people live in the greater Tokyo area, making it one of the largest cities in the world. A few years ago, God called my wife and I to Tokyo to plant a church. We believed the promise: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14).

We long to see Tokyo saturated with and restored by the gospel.

Watch the story of SOMA Fuchu

Leaning on the Spirit

In the first few years of our time in Tokyo, I felt called to work a normal job so that I could be involved in people’s everyday lives. God provided me with work in home care, where I helped care for the elderly and disabled in our area.

My job often required patience. I longed to speak the gospel, but had to do so at wise and appropriate times. After a year of caring for a man with ALS, I felt compelled by the Spirit to speak with him about Jesus.

Since he couldn’t move his body, he blinked to receive Jesus as his Savior. God brought us this man as the first member of our church family.

Since he couldn’t move his body, he blinked to receive Jesus as his Savior. God brought us this man as the first member of our church family. Although ALS had destroyed his body, he served our church faithfully in prayer.

Led by the Spirit

In our church plant’s early days, I often asked God to help me understand the story of this city. One day, the Spirit led me to visit the park near my house. I met a group of elderly people who were organizing a city festival. As I listened, I noticed they needed younger people to help, so I volunteered.

At the festival, I met a troubled young man. He’d been forced to join the volunteer group by his father. He had become anti-social, and his father wanted him to get out of the house and spend time with people. I invited him to our house for dinner, and we listened to his story.

We learned he’d suffered terrible bullying at school when he was younger. My wife and I continued inviting him into our home and our lives. Our small gospel community also came alongside him. Over time, he continued to share many of his difficult experiences. It was clear he felt accepted—perhaps something he’d never experienced before.

It took a year and a half, but he eventually trusted Christ. The very next week, he brought his sister. She heard the gospel, and that very day she too trusted Jesus.

It took a year and a half, but he eventually trusted Christ. The next week he brought his sister. She heard the gospel, and that day she too trusted Jesus. She’d seen a profound change in her brother’s life throughout the previous 18 months. She wanted what her brother had. They were baptized together shortly thereafter.

But God is not done with this family. Recently, this young lady shared Christ with her grandfather. Days before passing away, he put his faith in Christ as well. We marvel at the grace of God upon their family.

Changed by the Spirit

There’s another lady who’s been involved from the beginning. One day, we taught her that the essence of the church is a believing community, not a building. Recognizing this was true, she said she wanted to be part of our community because of the great love she’d experienced. Yet despite this desire, she spent the next five years refusing to believe in Christ.

A few months ago, my wife confessed that she felt like giving up on our friend. It wasn’t easy to keep loving her, and my wife in particular felt used by her. However, the Sprit convicted us that night and reminded us of Christ’s great patience with us (2 Pet. 3:9).

The next morning, we got an email from the lady telling us that some terrible things had happened in her family. In light of that, she was going to bring her whole family to our Sunday gathering. That Sunday that she trusted Jesus. Soon after, she was baptized and began sharing her newfound hope with others.

Work Continues

In Japan, most of the people we meet have never heard the gospel. People say that it’s one of the most difficult countries to reach. But here’s the good news: God is always with us, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

So we continue planting churches in hope that the gospel would saturate our land. May it fill all of Japan as the waters cover the sea.

The Missing Ingredient in Our Parenting

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 12:00am

In our new parenting book, Equipping for Life, written primarily for young new or aspiring parents, we set forth three important aspects of parenting (we call them the 3 “Rs” of parenting): realism, relationship, and responsibility. While young couples often start out their parenting adventure with a healthy dose of idealism, in reality parenting is done by sinners on sinners and takes place in an imperfect world.

Additionally, the nature of parenting is often misconceived; it’s more than merely a task or assignment. Rather, it’s a complex and evolving relationship between parent and child, under God. Moreover, parenting needs to be given more of a priority than most give it; it’s a mistake to delegate parenting to teachers, coaches, or youth leaders and sideline essential parental involvement and engagement.

In this piece, we’d like to share one insight which has increasingly deepened during the course of our own parenting journey that, if taken to heart and applied consistently, has the potential to revolutionize the way many of us go about parenting our children. This simple insight is that throughout our parenting efforts, character consistently must be made the key priority in everything we do and say.

Throughout our parenting efforts, character consistently must be made the key priority in everything we do and say.

In theory, this may seem obvious, and few would likely disagree. In practice, however, many of us don’t actually parent in such a way that character is the overriding focus in the way we relate to and guide our children.

So, let’s briefly define character and then look at ways we can help our children develop character through the various life stages of parenting.

Importance of Character in Parenting

Character is who a person is at the core of their being. It affects all their relationships and accomplishments in life. And character doesn’t just appear in our children; we must be diligent to make it a focus, cultivating it in their lives, especially when they’re young. While many parents prize activities or achievements (sports, education, or good grades, to name just a few), character should be the priority and be valued as that which undergirds every aspect of life. In conjunction with establishing children in their personal faith in Jesus Christ, parents’ central concern, then, should be on their child’s character development—as a response to what Jesus has done for them. At the core, we want to encourage our children to be more like Christ (Rom. 8:28–29).

As a child encounters various challenges and opportunities, his or her character is molded. The tendency for many young—and not so young—parents is to indulge their children, especially their first child and often also the youngest. However, if we pamper our children and permit them to get their way all—or even most of—the time, we’ll inevitably reap the consequences in the form of a spoiled, ungrateful child bent on getting his or her way. We’ll be training the heart of a manipulator who subtly but effectively subverts the role of the parent. This runs counter to the parental responsibility to foster traits of submission and cooperation within the family. The stewardship of developing character in our children is vital, not only for ourselves and our children, but also for the sake of family unity and dynamics, for the community of believers, and ultimately for the mission of God. It’s absolutely essential to stand firm as parents and make sure we’re parenting our children rather than the other way around.

Your primary goal in parenting is not to minimize conflict but to build genuine character.

Toward that end, it’ll be important to communicate from the beginning that you’re in charge, not your child. This isn’t a matter of trying to stifle our children’s development and self-expression or acting as overbearing despots shutting down all their initiatives. Rather, it’s a sign of true, committed love and of being responsible as a parent. As the book of Proverbs continually affirms, discipline is vital in childrearing, and the loving parent is one who provides consistent correction and accountability (e.g., Prov. 6:23; 12:1; 14:24; 29:15).

As you move through the lifecycle of parenting—from infancy to childhood to adolescence to early adulthood—the nature of your relationship with your child will inevitably change, but your commitment to building character should remain constant. This is what “responsible parenting” is all about.

In the short run, a laissez-faire, hands-off approach may seem preferable in that there may be less conflict, but it will not likely result in a young person marked by character and maturity. Remember—your primary goal in parenting is not to minimize conflict but to build genuine character.

Detriment of Misplaced Focus on Grades, Trophies, and Accomplishments

So, as your child starts school, what is your main goal for them? Is it to see your son or daughter get good grades—straight A’s? Good grades certainly have some value and may be an indication of intelligence and academic ability—or at least of being able to do well within a given system of expectations—but they’re not always a reliable indicator of character (though they can be).

If not grades, is your focus as parents to promote your child’s athletic success? Being a good sports parent may be one of the signs of a “good” parent in this generation, but are you pushing your children too hard to excel in baseball or basketball or some other sport? You may be the perfect soccer parent, present at every game, capturing memorable moments on camera and posting them on social media—only if your child’s team won the game, of course—perhaps even the coach of your son’s or daughter’s team. You may sacrifice much of your time, especially on weekends, to invest in your child’s recreational pursuits. Yet your child’s heart may remain unregenerate, his mind set on winning at all cost, and his sense of identity staked on how well he did on the baseball or football field.

In the end, who is going to watch all those videos? What does it really matter if your son’s team won or lost a given game? But his character will have been affected, for better or for worse, and it’ll be too late for you to turn back the clock.

Role of the Spirit in Developing Character in Our Children

Rather than focusing on good grades or athletic (or other) achievement, invest the bulk of your efforts on helping your child develop character. Since character is who a person truly is in their heart, exemplified in what they do when no one’s looking, good character means integrity—a stable core of conviction that isn’t easily shaken by peer pressure, cultural influences, or shifting circumstances.

As you seek to shape your child’s character, which values will you seek to impart? And what will be your strategy to teach and reinforce those values? Character isn’t formed by default or by chance. What’s more, children tend to imitate their parents’ behavior, so we’ll want to make sure that we ourselves are people of integrity.

So how do we accomplish this?

First, we can recognize that, while requiring parental focus and commitment, developing character in our children can’t be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in your child’s life. If we take on the task ourselves, the burden of forming character will be overwhelming; we just can’t build character in our children through our own efforts. The Spirit will do his work in our children as they enter their own relationship with God and as they themselves strive to be men and women of integrity and moral excellence by God’s grace.

Developing character in our children can’t be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in your child’s life.

A catena of Scripture passages on the Spirit shows that it is the Spirit who produces in all of us (including our children) what is pleasing to God. As they walk with him, are led by him, live in him, keep in step with him, and are filled with him, they’ll set their mind on spiritual things, and the Spirit of the risen Christ will infuse their mortal bodies with supernatural strength to surmount their sinful nature. Paul encourages believers to “walk by the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit,” and writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:16, 18, 23). He adds, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24). He also urges believers to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and affirms that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5; cf. v. 11).

In this way, our children will be able to please God and “do all things through him who strengthens” us (Phil. 4:13). Again, the apostle Paul strikes the balance beautifully when he urges believers, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Encourage your children to strive actively to “work out their salvation,” trusting that God is at work in them, both to have the resolute will and the actual power to live the life God wants them to live.

If you’ve introduced your child to Christ—and he or she has received him and become a child of God—you have the opportunity to nurture their spiritual lives by impressing on them Scripture about the work of the Spirit in keeping with the above-cited passages. The last thing you’ll want to do is condition your children to live the Christian life in their own strength!

Final Plea

It’s character, parents! Focus your energies on developing character in your children. Don’t worry too much about good grades or athletic achievements. Those do have their place, but character trumps scholastic or athletic accomplishments in the end because Christlike character is a permanent, lasting fixture of our children’s lives, both in this present life and in the life to come. Winning a tournament or playing at a recital, on the other hand, are temporal achievements—here today, gone tomorrow.

It’s character, parents! Focus your energies on developing character in your children.

Therefore, parents, care more about inculcating virtues such as integrity, honesty, and selflessness in your children than being unduly preoccupied with or blinded by external badges of honor.

The virtues God celebrates are Christlikeness and the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If your child were to take his or her final exam in these characteristics, how would they do? Would they get an “A” or “F” in self-control, for example, or somewhere in-between? What about the other virtues on the list? And how would you do? We know these are convicting questions.

While ultimately character is the result of the work of God’s Spirit within us, Scripture nonetheless urges us to “make every effort” to actively pursue these virtues and even to excel in them (2 Pet. 1:3–11). So, parents, let’s get to work and strive to build Christlike character in our children by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Truth, Power, and Pence at the SBC

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 1:10pm

I’m sitting here at the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier today Vice President Mike Pence addressed the convention. We were told he initiated the offer to speak. I wish we had not accepted.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful to God for our nation. I want him to bless it. But here’s a question for my fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals more broadly: can you name a place in the Bible where God sends a ruler of a (non-Israelite) nation to speak to God’s people? Is the pattern not just the opposite? Moses challenges Pharaoh. Daniel confronts Nebuchadnezzar. John the Baptist calls out Herod. And Paul appeals to Caesar. The biblical flow chart for confrontation occurs in Psalm 2: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.” The arrow moves from God’s people to rulers of the nations, not rulers to God’s people. Jonah didn’t invite the king of Nineveh to challenge him. He said, “Repent.”

Permit me to remain neutral on Pence himself. Whether you love him or hate him, reason one our churches and associations of churches should ordinarily not receive political leaders to address their assemblies is that it goes against the pattern of the entire Bible. You never see Daniel asking Nebuchadnezzar to show up at the next worship gathering, or Jesus asking a Roman centurion, even one with “great faith,” to make an appearing at his next sermon to “share a word from his heart.” No, Daniel and Jesus were after something different than were the rulers of the day.

Politicians Should Be in the Pew, Not the Pulpit

Here’s a practical takeaway for the pastor: don’t invite that congressman or governor to address your assembly. Rather, invite him or her to sit in the pew with everyone else and to hear from God’s Word, as Psalm 2 directs. When we do otherwise, it reeks of the favoritism that James warns against, like saying to the rich man, “You sit here in a good place” (James 2:2). Really, there’s no reason to give attention to a politician’s words over a plumber’s or an accountant’s, at least not in our assemblies or associations.

When running for president, George W. Bush attended the funeral for 12 college students killed by a bonfire. He was asked to speak. He replied, “No, this is not a place or moment for political positioning, but a place and time for worship. I will sit in a pew like everyone else and worship and pray.”

Reason two I wish Pence hadn’t spoke follows from the first: having a political leader address our churches or associations of churches tempts us to misconstrue our mission. Our mission is not the mission of the Republican, Democratic, or any other party. Our mission, when gathered, it to work toward Great Commission ends. To bring in a politician risks subverting our gospel purposes to the purposes of that politician’s party.

Certainly, that’s how outsiders will perceive us. They conclude, “Ah, that church or those churches are just an appendage of the party.” Call this the third reason not to give a platform to politicians in our assemblies: it undermines our evangelistic and prophetic witness.

Reason four is that it hurts the unity of Christ’s body. Some Christians will like Pence. Others won’t. And we don’t need to take a stance on Mike Pence or any politician to be a church or to work together as churches. Yet bringing in such a politician, especially one so heavily identified with a divisive administration, works against our unity in the gospel.

Which means, ironically, I am not sympathetic with some of the critiques I’ve seen on social media from Christians for the SBC’s decision to bring in Vice President Pence. Don’t assume that just because people like Pence they also like everything his administration represents, or accuse him of such. After all, I suspect there are things that Christians on the political left would prefer not to be associated with as well, like abortion. They should extend the same courtesy to Christians on the right. Argue for specific issues of justice, yes! But recognize that the decision to support a particular politician is one or two levels removed. Other variables and strategic calculations weigh into such support. Until we become convinced a politician is so far beyond the moral pale, such that support for that politician should lead to church discipline, Romans 14 requires us to make space for differently calibrated consciences. We are not apostles who can be certain that our decisions about political tactics are the direct revelation of God.

Temptation of Political Access

Am I saying we should never invite or receive politicians to address one kind of Christian assembly or another? Not necessarily. I can envision a few circumstances where there is some measure of mission overlap that could justify it. Maybe a group of Christian college presidents asks the secretary of education to address them. Or a Christian conference on work asks a Christian congressman to talk about working as a Christian on the Hill, so that attendees can apply the principles to their own settings.

Indeed, The Gospel Coalition probably had such a justification in mind made when they invited Senator Ben Sasse to speak at one of their conferences. We can leave for another day whether its justification works. There will always be questions of wisdom at play in decisions like these. But the criteria I’m offering are, how does it comport with the biblical pattern of prophetic speech; and how will it affect the mission, witness, and unity of the church?

Let me conclude on an underlining issue in all of this: There’s nothing necessarily wrong with desiring political access. You can desire political access for love of neighbor and for the sake of justice. The question is, are you willing to lose your head by speaking against the powers that be when you have such access? John the Baptist was. If you’re not willing to lose your head, it tempts people to wonder why you really want access.

To my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters, whom I love: how would you say we’ve been doing lately at speaking up against the powers that be? Or here’s another question: is it possible we just got played?

How the Gospel Has Affected Robert Smith, Jr.

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 8:48am

In this new video, Robert Smith, Jr.—preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School—discusses how the gospel calls ministers to humility and faithfulness in their service to the church.

Strength You Can’t Will

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 12:04am

“Paul doesn’t give them a list of things to do to make their faith strong enough for Christ to dwell there. . . . He prays that the Spirit would give them the power because you don’t have the power. You didn’t have the power to save you. How do you think you have the power to keep you?” — Steve Patton

Text: Ephesians 3:14–21

Preached: March 11, 2018

Location: Reunion Seattle

You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.


Watch Your Mouth

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 12:03am

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

How many of us believe this lie? Even worse, how many of us perpetuate it? We feebly recite this ditty to our children while remembering the scars of our own verbal wounds.

But this convenient untruth is not just for kids. In the age of social media—the age of the soundbite—disagreements about politics, policy, race, and patriotism are everywhere. We can be tempted to think that stridently airing our opinions is not harmful. But all too often when engaging those who disagree, we do not seek conversion, compassion, or understanding. We seek victory.

And so our words become weapons.

Mighty Words

From Genesis to Revelation, we can trace the power of words.

The creation of the universe began with words: “’Let there be light.’ And there was light” (Gen. 1:3).

Humanity fell into sin because Eve dared to exchange words with the father of lies (John 8:4), wrapped in the skin of a snake. Craftily he placed doubt in her mind with words: “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1). Then his words provoked pride: “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:6).

After the fall, God’s words cursed Adam, Eve, the earth, and the snake (Gen. 3:14–24). Then his words proclaimed the gospel, pointing the first sinners to the hope of a Savior: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

And so it continues. Throughout the Old Testament, words altered individuals, families, and nations. The scheming words of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Rebekah devastated families.

But God also uses words for great good. The Hebrew midwives and Rahab the prostitute spoke words to preserve life (Ex. 1:15–21; Josh. 2). God even used a chatty donkey to capture the attention of a wicked prophet too blinded by his own ambition to see death approaching (Num. 22:22-35).

The Lord used the prayerful words of his people to bring rain and famine, healing and death, deliverance and destruction.

Heed His Words

Biblical narratives demonstrate the power of words, and God also gives us explicit teaching about how we should wield their power.

This teaching is necessary. Perhaps you have witnessed or even participated in a discussion that hastily goes awry, hijacked by pride or irrationality. As the conversation deteriorates, it becomes evident that its purpose isn’t to seek understanding, but to prove something. The participants use words to demonstrate their intelligence, perceived superiority, or rightness. But they produce the opposite effect—revealing their own foolishness. Solomon warned us about this: “Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent—discerning, when he seals his lips” (Prov. 17:28).

Words can be lethal. Constant vitriolic words spewed from a caustic heart (Matt. 15:18) not only destroy the speaker but often leave a trail of broken relationships and embittered people.

When we tear others down with our words, we also grieve the Holy Spirit. Instead we should say “only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). We should speak words that give life.

Consider how “I’m sorry, please forgive me” restores a relationship and makes it stronger. Think about the well-timed compliment or encouragement that “is like gold apples in silver settings” (Prov. 25:11). Ponder the helpful words in a speech, sermon, conversation, or book that inspired you to dream, pursue, create, or build.

Indeed, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).

Word Made Flesh

The greatest testimony to the power of words is the reality that our faith depends on the the Word made flesh (John 1:1–3, 14).

The Word was present with his Father in the beginning, and brought this universe into being. Two thousand years ago the Word emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and humbly dying on the cross (Phil. 2:5–8). And Christ’s final words, “It is finished,” declared his completed redeeming work for all who would come to him by faith (John 19:30).

Our faith comes from hearing the gospel preached—with words (Rom. 10:17). And this faith in the heart is then confessed with the mouth (Rom. 10:8–10).

Words matter.

In the present age, people will continue to use words to hurt and tear down. But by faith we look forward to that day when the Word himself returns and recreates a new world, where all words bring life.