This spring, the President announced he would issue an executive order regarding LGBT employment in organizations contracting with the federal government. A number of religious organizations quickly expressed concern. The policy would pose a problem for groups whose conduct standards reflect biblical teaching that reserves sexual relations for the marital union of a man and a woman. As it turns out, even raising a voice to defend religious liberty in the policy discussion would be portrayed as a problem by some.
More than 160 Christian and Jewish leaders, organized by the Institutional Religious Freedom Association (IRFA), signed a June 25 letter to President Obama calling attention to problems with the proposed executive order. They wrote:
It would be counterproductive to bar [religious organizations] from offering their services to the federal government simply because of their legally protected religious convictions; it would be wrong to require them to violate those legally protected convictions in order to be eligible to receive federal contracts. Their exclusion from federal contracting would be diametrically opposed to the Administration’s commitment to having "all hands on deck" in the fight against poverty and other dire social problems.
Michael Wear, a former Obama White House and campaign staffer, helped to produce another letter to the President signed by 14 Christian leaders, including Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Andy Crouch of Christianity Today. “Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again,” they reminded the President in their July 1 letter. “We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future. A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this.”
The executive order issued Monday by President Obama did not heed these appeals. While it did not go so far as to overturn a prior policy that allows a religious group to continue employment on the basis of its affiliation, “[l]itigation and a chilling of partnerships are predictable,” says Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of IRFA. Religious groups have contracted with the federal government to provide relief and development abroad, to provide services to the Bureau of Prisons, and to engage in research and technical assistance. How the new executive order will affect such working relationships remains to be seen.
It is already clear that one of the signatories has become the target of recriminations simply for speaking on behalf of religious liberty in this policy discussion. Michael Lindsay, president of evangelical Gordon College in Massachusetts, signed the July 1 letter along with Michael Wear and Rick Warren. Since then the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ higher education commission, through which Gordon is accredited, has announced that it will review the matter at its September meeting. Meanwhile, the town of Salem wound down early its contract with the college (which Gordon was already in the process of ending for unrelated reasons), through which it had managed the Old Town Hall as an event space.
Salem’s mayor told The Christian Post that the school’s policy “is in violation of the LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that was unanimously adopted by the Salem City Council earlier this year." Such policies on sexual orientation and gender identity have appeared in a number of communities.
The backlash against simply participating in civil discourse about an important topic of public concern is alarming—but not a first. In 2012, Angela McCaskill, associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Gallaudet, a federally chartered private university for the deaf in Washington, D.C., was put on administrative leave after it became known that she had signed a petition—along with 200,000 other Maryland residents—to put a referendum on the ballot for citizens to review a same-sex marriage law passed by the state legislature. Mere participation in the political process was enough to warrant such treatment of McCaskill, the first black, deaf woman to earn a PhD from Gallaudet and a 20-year veteran of the staff.
Similarly, the purge of Brendan Eich as Mozilla CEO this past April stemmed from a furor over his donation six years agoto the Proposition 8 campaign to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the California state constitution.
Such outrages can prompt despair, cynicism, and withdrawal. But they should not. These episodes should be catalysts to engage more vigorously and with greater perseverance in efforts to persuade through reason.
Speaking Truth, Defending Truth
Christians, whether as individuals or in groups founded on tenets of the faith, should continue to speak and to act consistent with biblical truth about marriage and sexuality. Christians—and all citizens—should also defend the freedom to speak and to act in both private and public life consistent with these truths. It is a matter of stewardship and interest in the common good of all to maintain freedom of conscience and freedom of speech against coercive policies or cultural trends.
This pursuit of civil dialogue includes expecting and calling on interlocutors to use reason—not coercion or intimidation—to make their points as well. Failing to call out uncivil approaches shortchanges the dignity of those directly involved and of the surrounding community.
Media frequently portray these policy disputes as a zero-sum game. They need not be. Christians and other concerned citizens should be a part of seeking out the facts about the available policy and legal accommodations and working through the details in particular contexts to balance competing interests.
Christian ministries and educational institutions by definition seek to integrate faith in every aspect of their work. Hiring and conduct standards are critical aspects of such mission-driven enterprises. One of the most pressing apologetic tasks in the 21st century is to articulate the transformative implications of faith in such communities, both to form members and also to inform the understanding of neighbors.
As soon as I saw Tony Dungy’s recent quotes about the Michael Sam situation, saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he “wouldn’t want to deal with” the baggage, I knew he would be publicly castigated. Dungy deviated from our culture’s de facto “Things That Are Acceptable to Say About Michael Sam” talking points. Here’s a short list of those points about Sam, drafted this year in the seventh and final round as the first openly gay player in the National Football League:
He’s a hero
And that’s about it.
Dungy was eviscerated shortly after his statement by a columnist named Dan Wetzel on YahooSports.com. I hadn’t previously heard of Dan Wetzel and, between us, he and I have won zero Super Bowls and have zero years of NFL playing or coaching experience. The subtext in that last sentence, in case you missed it, is that Dungy is qualified to speak to NFL-related issues in a way that we are not, given that he has played in the league and won multiple Super Bowl rings.
Wetzel accused Dungy of cowardice, for being on the wrong side of history. He predictably compared Sam to Jackie Robinson and compared Dungy’s couple of sentences to all the people who never wanted to integrate schools or integrate baseball or give women the right to vote. He ended the article by saying, “The good news . . . is that Tony Dungy doesn’t draft or coach players anymore.”
It was all very Huffington Post except that it was published on Yahoo Sports. And Wetzel isn’t really even the issue, as you can count on a similar article being written be many other columnists over the next 24 hours.
I had an opportunity to interview Dungy a few years ago and found him to be humble, gracious, and soft-spoken—exactly the kind of coach I would want my kid playing for. He's not perfect—just a sinner like you and me and Dan Wetzel and Michael Sam. But Dungy is the kind of coach I would want to play for in that he seemed to treat every human in his orbit with a lot of respect and grace. I don’t have to tell you how rare this is in football. Dignity can sometimes be in short supply. That’s why I’m defending him (in a small way), but in a larger way defending his right to have an opinion.
Here are several of my own opinions.
From an athletic standpoint, Michael Sam is not Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson was a singular talent who gave his team an undeniable competitive advantage. Lest we semi-saint Branch Rickey, there was a good dose of rational self-interest in his compulsion to sign Jackie Robinson in spite of the upheaval he knew it would create. By contrast, Sam is a seventh-round draft choice who may or may not make it. If Sam is Lawrence Taylor, then this is a different discussion.
A few years ago, when everybody said, “I don’t want to sign Tim Tebow because of the media circus that comes with Tim Tebow” almost nobody defended him. In fact, most of us nodded our heads in agreement (I did, even though Tebow and I share a common faith).
To me, Sam presents a similar situation. It’s a question of “Do I want to draft or sign a marginal prospect who comes with a lot of media-related baggage? Is he worth it?” The answer, with Tebow, was “No, he isn’t.” To suggest that teams or coaches are somehow morally obligated to give opportunities to certain players is a slippery slope. Must every backfield contain a Christian, a Muslim, and an atheist in order to be morally acceptable? If Tebow were Dan Marino, his discussion would have also been different.
Should all the teams that passed on Johnny Manziel because of Manziel’s lifestyle be similarly castigated?
I care about who Johnny Manziel sleeps with about as much as a care about who Michael Sam sleeps with, which is to say not at all. A lot of teams ostensibly passed on Manziel because of his partying “lifestyle,” which is Manziel’s choice and may or may not affect his employment. As of now, there are zero HuffPo-type articles talking about what a “courageous young man” Manziel is for flying to Vegas on the weekend to be photographed with a bevy of young party girls.
An article like Wetzel’s puts him in the tenuous position of moral arbiter.
I remember a time, not too terribly long ago, when Dungy was on the other side of a similar discussion. Citing the dearth of African American coaches in the league, commentators allowed only one culturally acceptable stance on whether or not teams should hire him. Now, a few years later, Dungy has proven himself in the marketplace. He became the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl, and he won an audience for his bestselling books. The NFL (in my opinion) is better for his success. The same thing may or may not happen as naturally for Sam. My point is that Sam doesn’t need (and probably doesn’t want) the media telling the culture what to think about his sexuality.
Is Rams head coach Jeff Fisher suddenly the bad guy if he decides to cut Sam? Or is he still the good guy who decided to draft him in the first place? This might be the no-win situation that Dungy would have wanted to avoid. But what Sam has, starting now, is a training camp invite and an opportunity to prove himself in the marketplace, which is, ostensibly, a very American thing to have.
Following the same format as the popular DVD series, Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places shares astonishing stories of the gospel’s advance as it follows veteran missionary Tim Keesee around the world. The book is a collection of Keesee’s journal entries as he travels, reflecting on the gospel, missions, and the global church. It’s a gospel travelogue of sorts. We follow Keesee from the former Soviet republics to the Horn of Africa to Iraq and (seemingly) everywhere in between.
But this is no ordinary travelogue, for it is particularly concerned with sharing stories of the lives and witness of Christians in some of the world’s most difficult places. Some will read the book because they have seen the DVD series by the same name. Others will pick it up because they have been to one of the places Keesee writes about, still others simply because they love missions. But perhaps many will wonder why they should read the journal entries of a missionary—after all, wouldn’t a documentary or a presentation by a missionary I know be more engaging?
I believe this book has enormous potential to mobilize an army of senders and goers, so what follows are five reasons why I would urge all Christians to read Dispatches from the Front.
1. This book will give you perspective.
Mark Twain famously remarked that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” You may have never left your home country, but as you travel with Keesee through the pages of this book you will have your eyes opened, your presuppositions challenged, and your worldview broadened. To see how other believers around the world live, suffer, worship, and die is a gift. These stories will deliver a blow to materialism. They will place Western “persecution” in context. And they will make you grateful, even while perhaps rebuking.
Perspective nurtures wisdom. Read these stories of your brothers and sisters in dramatically different contexts than yours and receive the gift of wisdom.
2. This book will cause you to hope anew in the power of the gospel.
Few things fuel gospel hope more than hearing testimonies of conversion, and in this book you will read dozens of such stories. You will hear of men and women who once worshiped false gods now bowing their knee to the only true God. You will read of some who persecuted Christians with vitriol who are now worshiping with their new brothers and sisters. You will meet prisoners, KGB agents, imams, wealthy men with power, and marginalized women with nothing of their own—all transformed by the unstoppable, boundary-shattering power of the good news.
This is one of the reasons I love what Keesee is doing through the Dispatches from the Front DVDs and now the book—it’s a hope-giving project. Many American Christians will go years without seeing someone come to Christ or without even sharing the gospel with a friend or neighbor, all while seeing their churches ebb and flow with “transfer growth.” Is the gospel really the power of God for salvation?
These stories affirm, with bursting energy, “Yes!” They show the strength of our King and the breathtaking power of his Word. They inspire us to pray and work for the bold advance of the kingdom around us. As I read of the stunning accounts of Muslims coming to Christ in Afghanistan, I was reminded that there are more Muslims in my neighborhood than I can count. And the same King and the same gospel are on the move—in Minneapolis and the Middle East—calling out a people for God’s precious name.
3. This book will expand your view of Christ’s kingdom.
Christianity’s geographical center of gravity has so shifted toward the Global South that Philip Jenkins claims the average Christian in the world today is “probably a poor, brown-skinned woman living in a third-world mega-city.” Six of the eight chapters in Dispatches from the Front find their setting in the Global South. Through these stories you will meet believers in remote villages in Cambodia, in the urban bustle of Dhaka or Delhi, or in the most unlikely places in the Horn of Africa. One of the joys of traveling to other parts of the world is the chance to see the staggering diversity of the body of Christ, and through this book we catch a glimpse of this diversity.
As it expands your view of the kingdom, the book also helps clarify the role of Western missions within the global Christian church. It does so by removing our Western-centric perspective on the world and the church and by showing us that God is at work building his church with all sorts of means independent of the West. Countries that we consider “closed” are often the places where the church is growing most rapidly. Indeed, even most missionaries (those who cross cultures to share the gospel) are not from the West! The foot soldiers of gospel advance are as diverse as they are many.
I particularly appreciated that Keesee, while giving a sense of perspective regarding the global nature of church, never does it with a heavy, shaming hand. In other words, he’s not a critic; he clarifies and encourages. While sharing the remarkable risks Christians around the world are taking for the sake of the gospel, he reminds us that Christians over there aren't greater than Christians here, because Christ is the greatest. He is the one saving, the one calling, the one equipping all kinds of people for the work of his kingdom.
4. This book will stir you to live with a clear view of eternity.
These stories soberly reminded me what it means to live in light of eternity. In view of the transience of this life and the permanence of the life to come, how then ought we live? In Dispatches from the Front we meet countless people living for another time and place, another kingdom ruled by grace.
One of the more poignant stories begins when a Christian worker in Afghanistan is shot and killed, forcing the other missionaries to go into lockdown. With them for several days, Keesee attends a worship service led by a veteran missionary who’d lost everything he owned a few years earlier. As he closed their time of worship, the missionary read a poem, giving them a clear view of the next life and thus this one:
If china, then only the kind
You wouldn’t miss under the movers’ shoes
Or the treads of a tank;
If a chair, the one that’s not too comfortable, or
You’ll regret getting up and leaving;
If clothes, then only what will fit in one suitcase;
If books, then those you know by heart;
If plans, then the ones you can give up
When it comes time for the next move,
To another street, another continent or epoch
Who told you to settle in?
Who told you this or that would last forever?
Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you’ll never
In the world
Feel at home here?
5. This book will move you to worship.
The chief reason I can commend this book to you is that it will allow you to see Christ more clearly. You will witness his sovereign power at work. His manifold grace to sinners will be displayed. You will behold a kind, strong Sovereign moving in hearts, transforming lives, casting down darkness, and exalting his own name. If you’re a Christian, Jesus will appear more beautiful to you after reading this book.
And this is where the wisdom and sovereignty of God is seen even in the writing of this book. Keesee set out to write stories about making worshipers, which is the final goal of missions. But he ends up doing so much more. For in showing us Christ—strong in salvation—we are moved to worship, which, it turns out, is also thefuel of missions. And therein lies the secret to this book: it aims to make missionaries intent to see more worshipers by causing them to worship the One who creates worshipers.
I second Justin Taylor: “This is a dangerous book to read, for you may never be the same.” For the glory of God and the joy of all peoples, may that statement be true!
Crossway Christian Church in Bay City, Michigan seized an opportunity to encourage a young church-planter.
Pedro Junior—“Jun”—Taguinod originally left Manila, Philippines to come to the United States to plant churches. When financial difficulties cut short his plans three years ago, he prepared to return home. And Crossway’s preaching pastor, John Botkin, saw the chance for his congregation to help Jun to equip pastors back in his country.
“The best way we thought we’d be able to encourage him was to simply be there,” Botkin says. Crossway began planning their first trip to the Philippines.
Jun’s home mission field of Santa Maria, Bulacan is located in an area on the outskirts of Manila. Over 25 million people reside in metro Manila, exceeding 1800 people per square mile.
Amid the myriad of people in this part of the world, religious workers and clergy are held in high regard. Botkin says, “Last year politicians in Manila invited religious leaders to pray, and Jun was able to go and pray at a public prayer rally.”
A majority of churches have young men with no formal training attempting to lead their congregations. (This problem mirrors the larger picture in the Philippines, where more than half of the nation’s almost 100 million people are below the age of 20). Bookstores are full of Christian books, according to Botkin, “however, a vast majority are prosperity-gospel related.”
Competing with a false gospel
Christians in this densely packed region, though largely conservative in beliefs, struggle to know their true identity in Christ. Impoverished conditions in greater Manila seem to have yielded ground for a false gospel, one that offers the allure of temporary satisfaction, an exchange of the Creator for the created.
“I’ve been to a lot of places in the world, and despite poor conditions people have access to media, where prosperity gospel messages thrive,” Botkin says.
Despite the widespread prosperity teaching in greater Manila, there is a hunger for solid teaching and the desire for equipping church leaders.
On the Crossway team’s most recent trip to the Philippines in March, 2014, Botkin’s hope was to encourage and equip pastors by hosting a pastors’ conference with Jun, to specifically warn against prosperity teaching.
“These pastors have very little resources—they’re in poverty themselves,” Botkin says. (When one pastor died unexpectedly, he left a family of eight behind with nothing). “We wanted to help equip pastors, which we know will influence preaching, which we know will hit the pews.”
Botkin realized that Jun could best equip pastors by supplying theological support. His team carried along 165 pounds of resources provided by The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO) for “theological famine relief.” The materials includedESV Global Study Bibles (32 copies) and books that support pulpit ministry, including: The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper (88 copies); Galatians and You, by Tim Keller (68 copies); and Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, by Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan (52 copies).
One young recipient said, “I can’t believe you actually brought these books!”
Another church Jun started has used the English Standard Version for preaching for years, but members haven’t been able to follow along, having no ESV Bibles of their own. Thanks to Crossway’s partnership with TGC-IO, each member of this church can now follow along with their own ESV Global Study Bible.
Botkin’s congregation, a small church of 60, has learned the truth of Romans 12:4, one body with many parts. He says, “God has entrusted us and challenged us to think about how we can best use the resources he’s given us to make disciples not only here, but in the Philippines as well.”
The congregation at Crossway Christian Church hopes and prays that the church in the Philippines will grow in discernment and develop a love for God’s word, to be able to know truth from error. John Botkin says that by God’s grace more and more will be undergirded by a love of the riches, depths and surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ.
“If they aren’t going out with that foundation, then the other things don’t matter.”
I got my first “job” when I was 10 years old. To keep me out of trouble and my babysitter sane, my parents made me clean the gunk out of the cracks on our back deck with a paring knife. With a simple power washer, or even a Shop-Vac, the task would have taken maybe an hour. With a paring knife, though . . . well, more than 20 years later, I’m still not done. My only respites from the digging were afternoon baseball games, where I’d constantly strike out at the plate. It was a great summer.
I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that season solidified my view of work as nothing but toil and trouble. Culturally, we often think of work as a means to an end. It’s the thing we “do” so we can have “stuff.” It’s all about us—our happiness, our needs, and our dreams.
The truth, however, is that work is so much more than a burden. It’s more than what it does for us. It’s more than a product or an end result. Work is a gift. It’s how we serve one another. In a way, it’s a beautiful demonstration of “God with us,” providing for us. As Martin Luther said, “God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so. . . . [Our vocations] are the masks of God, behind which he wants to remain concealed and do all things.”
If you ask me, the best way to think about “work” is to think about trees. Yes, trees. Consider, for example, the apple tree. Does an apple tree horde the fruit of its labor? Does it call the police when we scale its limbs or breathe its air? Hopefully, and thankfully, not. Its nature is to give. In a way, it wasn’t created for itself, but for us. Its very existence is service.
Similarly, God created us in his image to work, create, and serve. Our work is not merely about us. The fruit of our labor is meant for the needs and desires of others (Phil. 2:3-4). We are the masks of God, behind which he works to provide for others.
Many times in our work-a-day lives, we come to think of our jobs merely as providing a particular widget or service. We think of our work as one thing we do, that concerns only us, and that stands alone to serve a certain purpose. To a certain extent, this is true. A cashier, for example, scans and bags my groceries, counts my money, and (usually) smiles at me. That’s what the cashier does, and that’s why he or she is rightly compensated. But there’s more to that encounter than a simple exchange; there’s collaboration.
Consider another tree—the oak tree. The fruit of its labor is more than just acorns and wood. A farmer who clears a patch of oak trees from his field creates more space to plant his crops. That, in turn, creates more crops to sell, more food in grocery stores, more money for the farmer, and more opportunities to hire farm hands or fix equipment or send the kids to college or maybe just have a really good time at the local bowling alley.
The wood itself, of course, went to a mill, where other people used their talents to cut, shave, and sand. They were rightly compensated for their work, too. The wood then was shipped to a distributor and purchased by a craftsman. The craftsman chiseled, pounded, sanded, and stained, in order to create a dining room table—a table that will be a place of fellowship for years to come.
In this way, the fruit of the oak tree is more than just wood. The fruit of the oak tree is relationship, collaboration, fellowship, and meaning. In its presence—and absence, too—it contributes to the flourishing of the world.
This is the nature of our work, too. We don’t operate in a vacuum. Whether or not we know it, our work thrusts us into relationship with millions of people for generations to come. From street sweeper to CEO, all our work is a mighty collaboration with millions of others for the life of the world.
In this way, our work points to God’s work; it is collaborative because he is collaborative. The triune God works in community: “Let us make . . . ” (Gen. 1:26). He works with, and for, us: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). And our work bears much fruit when we abide in community with him (Jn. 15:1-17).
The fruit of cleaning out the gunk on my back deck, then, is more than unclogged cracks. It’s a clean place where our family can eat and talk. It’s a welcoming spot for neighbors to relax, play, socialize, and fellowship. It’s an inviting space for people to gather, commune, and feast. The fruit of my work is relationship.
From our vantage point the Second World War was just about over by July 30, 1945. But the 1,196 men sailing aboard the USS Indianapolis enjoyed none of our benefits of hindsight. They were planning to join the impending invasion of the Japnese mainland. But in reality they didn't even know the contents of their ship or the purpose of their mission. They didn't know that they had recently delivered the necessary uranium for the atomic bombs that would soon devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki and end the terrible war. And just after midnight on that fateful day at the end of July, they did not know they were being tracked by a Japanese submarine intent upon sinking their vaunted heavy cruiser. Indeed, U.S. Navy personnel witheld key information from the ship's captain that would have warned him that his route to the Philippines was not safe.
About 300 men perished with the ship when two of the six Japanese torpedoes hit and crippled the Indianapolis. Around 900 initially survived in the water. But in another travesty, no one reported that the ship did not arrived as expected. Over four days these men struggled for life without the aid of lifeboats. They faced dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and exposure that tortured their minds and bodies. Worst were the sharks that prowled their ranks looking to pick off stragglers. After a plane that wasn't even looking for them miraculously spotted the survivors, 317 men were saved not long before all would have likewise perished in what was already the worst naval disaster in U.S. history.
Marine Edgar Harrell was one of those survivors. His steadfast faith in Jesus Christ sustained him during unimaginable horror. He sees the hand of God's providence in his unlikely rescue and has recently told his story in the page-turning new book Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. He co-authored this book with his son, David Harrell, senior pastor-teacher of Calvary Bible Church in Joelton, Tennessee. And he spoke with me about how God preserved him at sea and how the Lord has continued to work through him in 69 years since the sinking. Listen to hear this veteran discuss the difference between praying and really praying, the controversy over whether the U.S. government knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time, and the need for all of us to prepare to die.
I made two mistakes when I taught my Sunday school class on the theology of clothing, as it relates to modesty. My first mistake was fundamental: I did not begin with the gospel. My second mistake was one of scope: I addressed modesty as a women’s issue. This was unintentional because I only had young ladies in my class that year.
Five years later, I would teach this class much differently.
Out of the Abundance of the Heart
I grew up in a Muslim country where clothing embodied faith. People literally wore their religion on their sleeves. Muslim women were allowed to expose only their hands and faces; even Muslim men followed a strict dress code. Though faith is typically regarded as a private matter here in the West, what we choose to wear still tells others who we are and whom we love.
Out of the abundance of the heart, our clothing speaks.
As our Lord Jesus declared, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person. What defiles a person, he said, proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:10-19). Thus, it is not what I put on my body that defiles me; my wayward heart defiles me. In and of themselves, cotton and polyester, leather and fur cannot make me righteous or unrighteous.
Sin and idolatry proceed from my heart. My defiled heart desires clothes for my own comfort, my own glory, for my own honor, for my name’s sake. I can be covered from head to toe and still be defiled. I can be wearing locally made, fair-trade, recycled clothes—and still be defiled. Modest dresses can be stained with pride and self-righteousness. Environmentally conscious, budget-friendly fashion can reek of greed and jealousy.
The Lord's instruction with regard to how we dress goes beyond what we wear. He is looking at the desires and intentions of our hearts. Therefore, living out a biblical understanding of how to dress does not begin with what we wear, but why we wear what we wear.
We Are All Immodest
Adam and Eve walked with God in Eden, naked and without shame. They had nothing to prove, nothing to hide. The serpent lied and said that their eyes would be opened if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. They believed the serpent, and they ate. Their eyes were indeed opened—unto death.
Apart from God, they were naked, exposed, and ashamed. Immodesty was the result of their death, their separation from God.
Apart from God, I am naked, exposed, and ashamed; I am immodest. My clothes are reminders that I am not who I ought to be. I always have something to prove, something to hide. In the words of the hymn writer, I can only pray, “Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
Garment of Mercy
In his mercy, God clothed his rebellious children. While they attempted to hide, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. But fig leaves were not enough. Even in their unrepentant state, God showed them grace. He fashioned for them garments of skin and covered his children (Genesis 3:21). In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, we hear an echo of the father’s love and mercy. When his son returned home, the father clothed his rebel child with the best robe, put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
My clothes remind me of God’s mercy toward me. I despised his rule and sought after my own glory. I tried to cover my guilt, but my best effort was as the fig leaves. The righteousness I fashioned for myself was like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). Yet when he saw me, my Father brought out his best robe. I was a beggar at his gate, and he clothed me. I was naked, and he covered me.
Jesus Christ is my perfect covering. Christ took on flesh and dwelled among us. Christ paid the penalty for my sin; he died in my place. Hidden in Christ, I am truly modest. I am modest not because of my clothes, but because Christ hems me in, behind and before (Psalms 139:5). I am no longer naked, and I am no longer ashamed.
I am to put on Christ, my armor of light (Romans 13:12-14; Galatians 3:27). Christ is my helmet of salvation. Christ is my breastplate of righteousness. Christ is my belt of truth. Christ equips my feet with shoes; he prepares me to proclaim the gospel of peace. Christ is my shield. Christ gives me the sword of the Spirit, his living Word (Ephesians 6:10-20). I am to wait for my linen, bright and pure (Revelation 19:8), when my mortality will be replaced with the garment of eternal life, where I will be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:4).
Immodesty is the beginning of why we wear clothes, but Christ is the end. We put on our clothes in remembrance of him.
Nothing to Prove, Nothing to Hide
By faith, Jesus Christ makes righteous our defiled hearts. What we put on our bodies, therefore, is a response, not a means, to God’s forgiveness. Our clothes embody our response to the gospel. Our clothes embody our worship.
This was where my Sunday school class went wrong. Apart from the gospel, no real change can happen because real change begins at the heart. Apart from understanding the shame of our nakedness, the magnitude of God’s mercy, the perfection of Christ’s death in our place, teachings about clothing and modesty can only lead to self-love, not godliness.
Out of the abundance of the heart, our clothing speaks.
If I had encouraged others to dress modestly in order to “attract the right kind of guy or girl,” I would be teaching them to dress for themselves, to dress for other people’s attention and affection. If I had encouraged them to dress modestly primarily to “not make other people stumble,” I would be teaching them that other people, rather than God, are the ones for whom we dress. But in our concern over other people’s lust, we neglect to repent from our own self-righteousness, jealousy, unforgiveness, and every other form of self-glorifying, self-satisfying sin. Apart from Christ, our own sin is what would eventually destroy us. The gospel guards our hearts for times when we feel perfectly righteous about how we dress. The gospel exposes our pride, reminding us of the ceaseless work of repentance and our relentless need for grace.
As for my second mistake, I should have made it clear that modesty is not only a women’s issue. All of God’s children need to evaluate their desires and intentions when it comes to their clothing. We were all immodest. Both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and both of them saw that they were naked. The Father, in his mercy, clothed all of his children—male and female—with the perfect sacrifice of his beloved Son. Modesty is a heart issue that affects both men and women.
Again, immodesty may be the beginning of why we wear clothes, but Christ is the end. We get dressed with nothing to prove, nothing to hide. When our clothes are beautiful, let their beauty honor Christ. When our clothes comfort and protect, let them enable us to labor for Christ. When our clothes are means of expressing ourselves, let us proclaim Christ—truthfully, beautifully, and well. Not because we have to, but because we enjoy the privilege of responding to the gospel by worshiping Christ—even in what we wear.
As a freelance writer, I often work alone. No one greets me when I come into the office or meets me at the water cooler to talk about last night’s game. In fact, right now, I’m sitting at a table outside a university library, working on my laptop, and waiting for a call. Although the table has three chairs, I’m the only one here . . . or am I?
Work Is Relational
The truth is that—even when I work alone—I’m actually in relationship with hundreds of other people. From the person who mined the bauxite that was used to make my laptop to the person who packaged my phone so that it wouldn’t be damaged in shipping, I’m interacting with hundreds of “co-workers," if you will. In this moment, we are knit together in a vast network of mutual service built on trust, honesty, sacrifice, and hope.
Work, therefore, is not merely a means of sustenance and survival. It is not just about utility, efficiency, and progress. It is, in fact, relational and personal. It is creative service because it is our opportunity to enact our creative agency on the world, so that we might cultivate the life of the world through service to others.
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As a pastor, I often feel caught in the pull of consecutive Sundays. I wish I had more days between one Sunday and the next. It’s not a preparation issue (though admittedly I never feel “ready”—whatever that means). It’s an application issue.
First and foremost, I want to preach to myself. As I wrestle with God’s Word all week, the wrestling is not just in what to say and how to say it, but in how it speaks to my life, my relationships, my habits, my character. Am I applying it? Do I believe the promises? Do I take it seriously?
So Sunday morning comes and passes, and I walk out knowing that just everyone else in the sanctuary, God will give me opportunities to practice what I just preached.
But then the next Sunday begins to call. The next passage of Scripture beckons, and the pull begins: two sermons (at least) speaking to me. If the pull from what I just preached wins out, I want to pause the week, to really soak in Sunday’s lessons or challenges or encouragements or commands. I want to get it right before moving on. But sometimes the pull from next Sunday gains the upper hand: I want the days to stretch out so I can get it down before preaching it, achieve perfection, and know of what I speak when I say that God’s Spirit can enable us to put to death sin and put on the new life in Christ.
Learning to Abide
Maybe you see the problem already. Or maybe you’re chasing the same illusion. The Christian life is not a list of boxes to check to accomplish before moving on to the next sin or the next fruit of the Spirit, achieving perfection in weekly segments. Each Sunday’s challenge or promise or encouragement or command should point us—no, should cast us—to the foot of the cross. The goal is not joy or peace or holding one’s tongue. Paul would say the goal this way: “For me, to live is Christ.”
When our life is Christ—when we drink deeply from his blood and take our fill from his body—then joy and peace and holding one’s tongue spring up out of Christ’s life through ours. This fruit spills over into the mess of this world and brings little bits of healing and wholeness to the most surprising places. It’s not that we do nothing, it’s that doing flows out of abiding. We put to death sin and live to righteousness because we identify with Christ and desire to let the life of Jesus shine through us (2 Corinthians 4:5–12).
But it’s so much easier to chase peace or joy or holding one’s tongue or being a good steward or practicing lovingkindness toward an enemy than it is to repent of self-effort and abide in Christ. Why? Because we are inherently doers. Jesus revealed that tendency when he spoke to the crowd in John 6 after he fed the 5,000 (see specifically the conversation from John 6:25–35).
The place between Sundays is not a bad place if it reminds us of two important tasks for the Christian. First, we seek a lifestyle characterized by this prayer: “LORD, do through me what I won’t do naturally in this situation,” followed by obedience to the Spirit’s promptings. Second, we develop, through continued practice, sensitivity to the Spirit such that when we fail, we immediately repent and return to the above prayer.
That is my hope for you and me as we live in the place between Sundays.
That’s the word the neurologist used as he crouched down beside my hospital bed. “This is craziness.” He was speaking partly to me, but mostly, I think, to the six other people who had filed into my room behind him: interns, residents, and my nurse.
It’s a word one would more readily associate with the absurdities of an internet company’s automated help lines (ahem, Comcast) or the antics of World Cup soccer fans than with health care, but there it was anyway: craziness.
All things considered, I suppose it was better to hear the minor stroke I had just suffered at the ripe old age of 33 characterized as “crazy” than the alternative. To hear him say, “This is just what we would have expected” would have been depressing in an entirely different way.
The doctor, enlarging on his previous theme, continued: “This was just bad luck.” I suppressed the urge to quote Dante to him (“Luck was the first of God’s creatures”—in my experience, practitioners of the hard sciences tend to have little patience with aficionados of the softer ones).
After 36 hours of observation and a slew of tests that would have made a torturer of the 15th-century Inquisition feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the practitioners of 21st-century medicine reached this conclusion: there was, it seems, no observable reason for my stroke.
There may well be no observable reason for what happened; there may, for that matter, be no unobservable reason for it, either (remember Dante?). But as I reflect on this temporary weakness God thrust me into, I think otherwise. Here are three lessons I’ve taken away from my stroke.
My Life Is Remarkably Fragile
Here’s the song that’s been going through my head since all this happened. It’s the third verse of Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise by Walter Chalmers Smith:
To all life Thou givest—to both great and small;
in all life Thou livest: the true Life of all.
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and whither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.
In comparison to the one “who alone possesses immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16) and who is the very ground of existence itself (Acts 17:28), my life is remarkably transitory. This is why Isaiah confessed, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field . . . the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6, 8).
It is surprisingly easy to forget this reality. We tend to think that we will be able to continue life as we know it for the foreseeable future, and really, what future is worth considering that is not foreseeable? But that’s the problem. Our foresight is seriously flawed. The day will come when our health will fail. The day will come when we will die. I will not live forever. My time on this earth is short. I neglect this fact to my peril. So God, in his mercy, has reminded me of it. My life is fragile and entirely in his hands.
My Life Is Entirely Unassailable
The flip-side of this coin is true too. Since my life is entirely in God’s hands, it is not only remarkably fragile, but also entirely unassailable. Although statistically a person who has suffered one stroke is at higher risk for suffering a second one, it would be a mistake for me to think of my life as a ticking time bomb. There is simply no sense in which my life is more fragile now than it was before.
In the doctoral seminar I was attending when this trouble began, we had been discussing spiritual warfare. The enemy hates the advance of the gospel and will use all means at his disposal to stop it. Sometimes, these means include physical attacks. I hadn’t thought, at the time, that I was about to become Exhibit A. But here’s the thing: while it is eminently possible that my stroke was an attack from Satan, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that Satan is powerless apart from the permission of God. He cannot attack Job without God’s permission (see Job 1–2). He cannot attack Peter without God’s permission (see Luke 22:31). The enemy may snarl and snap and sometimes even bite, but he does so as a mongrel on a chain.
It may well be that some obdurate valve in my heart will hurl another blood clot projectile that will travel through my arteries and pierce my brain like a bullet. It could happen. But if it does, it will do so only with the permission of my loving Father, whose plan I trust and whose prerogative I humbly recognize.
My Life Is Not Even a Little Bit My Own
My life does not belong to me—not even a little bit. Our indignation at unexpected trials only proves that we think our lives are just that—ours. But that’s not right, is it? My recent experience has reminded me that my life belongs to God. My heart is his. My brain is his.
On the one hand, this reality leads me to take a careful look at how I’m stewarding these things that God has put into my charge for the time being. Can I be a better steward of my life and health? Yes. Can I be a better steward of my time? Sure.
But suppose I become the most faithful steward alive, and then I have another stroke. Maybe a fatal one this time. Will I then have a right to be displeased? “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20 KJV). No, my life is not my own. I owe it doubly to God—first by right of creation, second by right of redemption. So that in all things, I must say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., July 22, 2014—Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined other religious leaders for a tour of two Texas facilities for migrant children today. </p>
<p>The tour was hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and national and state Southern Baptist leaders along with the Catholic Bishop of Brownsville visited a Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, and a Health and Human Services facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.</p>
<p>Moore comments on his experiences at the facilities: </p>
<p>“I was struck as we were walking through the facility with two things: a sense of fear and a sense of hope. A sense of fear when I asked the kids why they made the trek up to the United States. And a sense of hope: I saw many crosses and Bibles. Many people are desperately hoping for an end to the violence where they come from. What is not complex is the truth and the reality that these children are created in the image of God. They matter to God. </p>
<p>“This visit put a human face on a moral crisis for me. These children are not issues to be resolved but persons bearing dignity and needing care. The issues involved are in this crisis are complex, but our first response should be one of compassion and justice, not fear or disgust. That said, I am deeply encouraged by the response of Christians to this crisis. Pastors here are ministering to children who are alone, desperate and scared. We need to be praying for a just resolution, and quickly.”</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy entity with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell D. Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., July 21, 2014—Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented on an executive order President Barack Obama signed today to extend the ban on discrimination in hiring by federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity.</p>
<p>“While we don’t know the full implications of this executive order, I am disappointed that this administration persistently violates the freedom of conscience for religious organizations that provide necessary relief for the poor and endangered,” said Moore. “The same religious convictions that inspire their social action are the convictions now considered outside the new mainstream of sexual revolutionary fundamentalism. The ones hurt will be the most vulnerable in our society.”</p>
<p>In issuing the executive order, Obama is adding the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing order that protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also adds the category of gender identity to a previous executive order that protects federal employees from discrimination.</p>
<p>In 2002, President George W. Bush amended the non-discrimination ban to allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to hire and retain employees based on religious identity. The Bush-era provision for religiously affiliated contractors remains in place, but there are certain to be many faith-based companies and organizations that will not be protected.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy entity with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell D. Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />
<p>McALLEN, Texas, July 21, 2014—Leadership from The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will tour two Texas facilities for migrant children on July 22.</p>
<p>In a tour hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, national and state Southern Baptist leaders and the Catholic Bishop of Brownsville will visit a Customs and Border Protection facility in McAllen, Texas, and a Health and Human Services facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.</p>
<p>“As Christians, our first response to this crisis on the border must be one of compassion towards those in need, not disgust or anger,” said <span class="caps">ERLC</span> President, Dr. Russell Moore. “This situation on the border is a crisis—one that will take careful work from government leaders to help secure a porous border and an even more porous immigration policy that fuels the problem. At the same time, this crisis will take a church willing to pray, serve, and love these vulnerable ones in need.”</p>
<p>Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, also commented on the border crisis and the importance of visiting the Texas facilities. </p>
<p>“The crisis on the border of Texas has captured the attention of America,” Floyd said. “Due to my love for our country and for all people, I am visiting the border of Texas to view the situation personally and discuss ways in which the Southern Baptist Convention might be able to serve and assist during this great time of need.”</p>
<p>A press conference will follow each visit.</p>
<p><span class="caps">WHAT</span>: <br />
Southern Baptist leaders and the Bishop of Brownsville to tour <span class="caps">CBP</span> and <br />
<span class="caps">HHS</span> facilities, hold press conferences</p>
<p><span class="caps">WHO</span>: <br />
Dr. Russell Moore, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention<br />
Dr. Ronnie Floyd, President, Southern Baptist Convention<br />
Dr. Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention <br />
Bishop Daniel Flores, Catholic Bishop of Brownsville, Texas<br />
Richards is scheduled to participate in the San Antonio press conference only and additional speakers may added at a later date.</p>
<p><span class="caps">WHEN</span>: <br />
Tuesday, July 22<br />
8:30 a.m. <span class="caps">CST</span> McAllen press conference<br />
2:45 p.m. <span class="caps">CST</span> San Antonio press conference (San Antonio Press Conference Dial-in: 1-866-952-1906; Conference ID ‘Border’)</p>
<p><span class="caps">WHERE</span>:<br />
NOTE: Albert Mohler will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.
Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, outlines why the ERLC’s National Conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage is so necessary in today’s society.