Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 Election

I hadn't planned on blogging here on the 2016 election but changed my mind. Sometimes that happens and since I have been promising to get back to blogging this year AND I have some thoughts to share, I figured why not. Many readers have been with me for a long time now and just might be interested in my take on the outcome of the election. As you might expect, I have a few thoughts but mostly have been concerned with the way Christians have dealt with their differing views on who they should (or should not) vote for.
There has been a great deal written in the media from all angles about the recent election of President-elect Donald Trump. Some of those writers are liberal in their political and social leanings and broadly cannot fathom how this happened. Much of chatter on social media and through more traditional media outlets has focused on what went wrong with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Why didn’t more women vote for her? Why was turnout down among the Democrat base? Given the character of the GOP candidate, how could people have possibly have voted for Mr. Trump at all? And on and on and on. No doubt in the coming months a thorough post mortem will be performed and political scientists will offer explanations as to what went wrong and how to wrest control of the federal government from those dastardly Republicans.
We expect the folks who supported the losing candidate to try and figure out what went wrong and live to fight another day. We also expect to see a great deal more of the accusations of racism, bigotry, misogyny, etc. directed towards anyone/everyone who voted for Mr. Trump. In some instances, those accusations may well be true though I strongly believe the vast majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters are decent, hard-working Americans who simply felt like the last eight years treated them poorly economically and socially. Mr. Trump promised to do something about their plight and those voters believed him. Mrs. Clinton told them to more or less expect more of the same for the next four years which these Americans believed and voted accordingly…many for Mr. Trump. In any event, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are sure to be quite outspoken over the next four years all the while condemning every move Mr. Trump makes and the people who voted for him every chance they get.
For conservatives, one might think all would be well but that would be a mistake. There was a rather diverse coalition of voters who put Mr. Trump into the White House and there is a lot they don’t exactly see eye to eye on. One thing is clear, they all agreed that four more years of the same policies the United States has had in place for the last eight was simply not an option, even if it meant electing someone with the extreme character issues Mr. Trump clearly has.
The issue in conservative circles does not so much involve the people who voted for Mr. Trump as it involves conservatives who didn’t. In my tribe, a small but rather vocal group of Evangelical Christians early on declared themselves #NeverTrump (to use the Twitter hashtag) and have stuck to their ideological commitment ever since, an relatively easy task to be sure. They find Mr. Trump’s character repugnant and consider him unqualified for office because of it. This group has difficulty understanding how anyone who would claim to be a Christian could possibly have cast their ballot for Mr. Trump.
However, many belonging to the #NeverTrump clan went further than simply questioning how brothers and sisters in Christ could vote for such a man as Donald J. Trump. Some openly questioned the intelligence of fellow Evangelical Christians remarking with disdain that one was clearly lacked intelligence and displayed that by supporting Mr. Trump. Some went further and actually questioned the salvation of those who found it within them to vote for this man in spite of his obvious, glaring flaws both as a candidate and as a man. Those accusations later morphed into attacks that caused deep divisions in our tribe that I suspect will be a long time in healing, if they heal (I pray they do!).
What made these remarks the more harmful in our tribe was the fact that they were often made by very prominent men who serve in denominational leadership roles funded by the very people whom they suddenly find so unintelligent and perhaps quite lost. Such leaders questioning the intelligence and salvation of rank and file Southern Baptists did not go unnoticed. In fact, recently at my own state convention, the chairman of the executive committee publicly reminded messengers that a mechanism already exists for churches in our state to exclude certain entities from Cooperative Program (CP) giving. Apparently, there have been enough questions asked about how to go about defunding a specific national entity while continuing to faithfully support CP.
In my personal experience, I am acquainted with men and women who span the spectrum when it comes to Mr. Trump. Some are loudly in the #NeverTrump camp while others, though in that camp, are not nearly as loud about their disdain for the president-elect and the prospect of four years of his administration. On the other end of the spectrum are some who are enthusiastic supporters of and jumped on his train early on. These were mostly folks who immediately said the country was not electing a pastor-in-chief and saw no issue separating their faith from their vote.
In between were folks like me who genuinely find Mr. Trump to be a person for whom voting, in any conceivable circumstance before this election cycle, was unthinkable. And yet with the choices placed in front of us after the primary season, there was Mr. Trump still standing opposite Mrs. Clinton. With only a few exceptions in my personal experience, that binary was inescapable and the thought of a third-party candidate did not seem to be a viable consideration. Reasons for that view are certainly debatable and I do not claim to be right on that conclusion. I mention it only in the interest of transparency because after much consideration and prayer, that was the conclusion I came to.
Mind you, to be fair most of these #NeverTrump evangelicals condemned Mrs. Clinton at one time or another, albeit tepidly in many instances, though not all did so. In fact, a prominent pastor in the Washington D.C. area openly stated plans to vote for her in spite of her strong support for abortion on demand, at any time during pregnancy, for any reason or no reason whatsoever WHILE calling for a change in the law to permit the use of American tax dollars to fund it. For someone like myself who is single issue dispositive when it comes to abortion, such a position from a fellow brother in Christ was unthinkable until this election cycle. I thought the one thing all evangelicals agreed on was that abortion was an issue on which we collectively could not, would not compromise. Clearly, there are those in our tribe who feel other issues can and have surpassed the importance of protecting the unborn.
So, what happens next? From my vantage point, a return to the place where we can respectfully disagree is in order. Right now, our lack of unity is a threat that cannot be ignored. If we are going to be a voice of influence in the culture, we will have to do so together. If we are going to reach the lost in our communities, we are going to have to do so together. If we are going to see disciples made, we are going to have to do so together. The leaders of our state organizations and our denominational entities at the national level will have to show that unity is a priority. That will require humility that heretofore has been conspicuously in the final weeks leading up to the election.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 US Election Results by County

By Ali Zifan (This file was derived from:  USA Counties.svg) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I found this map interesting and thought others might as well. I do not plan on blogging here on the election but those connected to me on social media may see some articles on the topic from various perspectives shared.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Did Jesus Visit Hell?

After a good discussion on my Facebook page on this topic, I thought it would make a good blog post. Also, since my blogging this year leaves a great deal to be desired, it is also a good excuse to get something new posted here. 

The primary text that we were discussing was 1 Peter 3:19. Thus the question at hand is simple: when and where did Jesus go after His death on the cross and who were the spirits in prison that Jesus proclaimed to (v. 19).

There is a bit to unpack here so let me get right to it. First, let's take a look at what we know from 1 Peter 3:18-22a.

1) Jesus was addressing spirits
2) These spirits were imprisoned
3) They were imprisoned because of their sin before the Flood
4) Jesus went to there to make a proclamation

Next, we need to understand what spirits Jesus was addressing. The Greek word in the text translated "spirits" is pneumasin, a form of the word pneuma, which means spirit, breath, wind. If you happen to use a Strong's Concordance (doing so is beneficial to almost everyone), your Strong's number is G4151. This term is used in Matthew 27:50 for Jesus' spirit and John 14:17 when referring to the Holy Spirit. Angels are also referred to using this term in Hebrews 1:14. We also know that human beings possess a spirit (Hebrews 4:12) but are not ourselves spirits (see also 1 Corinthians 2:11 which mentions the spiritual part of man). Jesus clearly was not speaking to human beings. It also bears mentioning that there is not a "second chance" for men after death since that would contradict Hebrews 9:27 which Jesus would not do.

So the spirits in question cannot be human beings and they certainly are not holy angels since God would not imprison holy angels because...well, they are holy and haven't sinned. That leaves us with another spirit: demons. However, they doesn't mean all demons. In fact, given the demonic activity recorded in the New Testament, we know all of the demons cannot be imprisoned and therefore Jesus' spirit audience in prison must be a specific group of demons. We know from Jude 6 that there were some angels who sinned and are imprisoned and awaiting judgment. We also know about other wicked angels who are also bound (see Rev. 9:1-15; 2Peter 2:4).

So I think this answers who these spirits were but where was this prison Jesus visited to make His proclamation? Actually, we know exactly where Jesus went because He told us! Remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43? Jesus yielded His spirit to the Father and went to Paradise. Paradise is part of Sheol, or Hades, which is a general reference to the place of the dead. Paradise, or Abraham's bosom, and the place of torment experienced by the rich man (see Luke 16:19-31) are in the same place. While there, Jesus proclaimed to the spirits imprisoned there (1 Peter 3:19). He then took the believers who were in Paradise with him to Heaven (Ephesians 4:8-10).

Monday, August 01, 2016

Church Growth Through Sunday School

I am an education guy! I earnestly believe education has the power to change people in profound ways and alter the course of their lives for the better. Combining education with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the change in the lives of people is eternal. I was encouraged to receive Michael Broadwater’s email on April 27th of this year informing us that our theme over the course of the next few years in the Valdosta Baptist Association will be “Pathway to Church Growth.” Like you, I am excited about our upcoming meeting in October where we will hear about starting the coming year with “Personal Soul Winning: From the Pulpit to the Pew.”

I immediately began to consider how the Education and Evangelism ministries of Northside could support these emphases. Sunday School should be doing three things: reaching people, teaching people, and ministering to people. That sounds pretty simple and in reality, it is! I have yet to hear of a Sunday School class that does not minister to the needs of their members upon learning about those needs. Meals, hospital visits, or just sitting with someone dealing with the trials of life, Sunday School classes are wonderful about meeting the needs of members of their classes.

Sunday School is the discipleship ministry of our church. There may be other Bible studies in addition to Sunday School or your church may call this ministry something else such as small groups but the function is the same. We gather together regularly to systematically learn more about the word of God. I am excited to be working with Michael on innovative ways we can deliver Sunday School training to more of our VBA churches to help increase the effectiveness of the teaching aspect of this vital part of our education ministries.

What about the third part of Sunday School: reaching people? This is a critical part of our Sunday School ministry that can become neglected. There is the part that focuses on reaching in towards our own people who have not been to church recently (or simply missed last week) we need to tend to. There is also the reaching out to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. and inviting them church. In a typical Southern Baptist church, the Sunday morning worship service remains the primary way people come into our churches but it shouldn’t be the only way. Roughly, eight out of ten people will come to church if personally invited by someone they know!

I am humbled by the privilege of serving as your VBA Sunday School Director and look forward to getting to know the ministers of our association.

**This article originally appeared in the August newsletter for the Valdosta Baptist Association (VBA) which is published monthly. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

The 990 Principle

In my role as an education pastor, I spend a good bit of time thinking about how the church can more effectively communicate the truth of God’s word through the education/discipleship ministry of the church. One of the things I consider to be critical is the use of a quality curriculum across all age groups in the church in the primary delivery medium, most often referred to as Sunday School or small groups. There are a number of things that contribute to this view but let me share something that has shaped my thinking on this topic.

Here in Georgia, state law requires schools to provide 990 hours of instruction in each school year to high school students. Different states have different hour requirements, some simply use instructional days, etc. but you get the idea. At any rate, this got me to thinking about how many instructional hours our Sunday School teachers have each year. The average church has Sunday School 48 weeks out of the year. Some are a week or two more and some perhaps a week or two less but 48 Sundays per year is a good figure to work with. Each Sunday, the average teacher has about 30 minutes of actual instructional time during the hour. Again, some will be a little more than this and a few may be a little less but 30 minutes each week is fairly normal.

Calculating 30 minutes times 48 Sunday’s in a calendar year equals 24 hours of teaching God’s word in our Sunday School classes each year, assuming perfect attendance. Receiving 24 hours of biblical instruction each year, it would take 41 years 3 months to reach 990 hours of instruction, again assuming perfect Sunday School attendance. Let that sink in for a minute…over 41 years to receive the same amount of instruction that Georgia high school students receive in a single school year, with summers off!

With that realization, what I am calling The 990 Principle, the need for quality curriculum that assists Sunday School teachers of all skill levels in delivering a stimulating lesson from God’s word each week is absolutely essential. Teachers need focused material that provides the background and context of the passage being studied as well as a thorough understanding of the text itself. Along the way, built in opportunities for discussion greatly enhances retention of the concepts being learned and in my view is an essential part of any quality study. Additionally, the curriculum must provide a strong life application component. People need to leave the class with a solid understanding of how to apply what they have learned to their lives or the entire exercise is for naught.

Our church uses Explore the Bible, a dated curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources, which is a book-by-book Bible study designed for small groups and Sunday School classes that takes participants deep into the context of God’s word and challenges them to live it out in their daily lives. This particular curriculum allows our church to align all of our adults and students to study the same passage of Scripture while kids study the same book and underlying concepts. Doing this allows families to easily study God’s word together through the week as part of their regular routine without forcing parents to learn their own material and then a different lesson that their kids are studying. For me, that is a win-win!

A closing thought: 24 hours of Bible instruction per year is not nearly enough when considering how churches go about developing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sunday School/small groups are a critical part of the education ministry of the local church but it should not be the only part. Frequent men’s Bible studies, women’s Bible studies, etc. are also important and should be a normal part of the life of the church.

The link above provides the instructional requirements in all 50 states in the U.S. so find your state and see how many years it will take for your education ministry to reach that number through the primary delivery medium in your church. I am looking forward to your comments on this post!