Can a Christian Teen Survive the Prom?

Disclaimer: The following secrets are intended for devoted Christians. I would rather not argue about their legitimacy with those who have not chosen a life of consecration unto Christ our Lord.
I know. I know. Mentioning the prom is almost taboo for preachers. You can’t win. You either upset the radically committed who choose to avoid the trappings of the prom all together, or you anger the ones who go all out for prom night.
Well, those who know me know that I have typically tried to avoid religious legalism and manipulative tactics. At the same time, I have steered clear of using grace as a license to sin and tolerate worldliness. The fact is simply this… Some Christian kids who love Jesus will choose to attend the prom. Other Christian kids will see it as a stumbling block they had rather avoid.
Before I list the “secrets to surviving prom night” let me admit a couple of things. First of all, I attended the prom my senior year of high school. And my only excuse for skipping the prom my junior year is that I was representing our local FFA chapter in a national land/soil judging competition in Oklahoma City. Woo Hoo!! Hey, at least I was a state champ at something. So I attended the prom, and I was one of the few that had little regret. 
Secondly, I have never met a dedicated Christian adult that said, “I sure am glad I didn’t miss my prom!” I have heard many adults, however, that regretted going. And though I have little to regret, I’m not particularly glad that I went.
What do I remember about prom? Lots of time washing the Oldsmobile that was bigger than the house in which I now live. I put on an uncomfortable tux, took my date to the Peddler Steak House in Athens where we met a group of my friends and their dates, and dropped big money on prime rib. After dinner we headed to the prom which was in the not so attractive old gym. We stood in line for pictures, enjoyed a couple of dances, remarked how worldly much of the music was, and left for a Christian prom party at the home of a member of our youth group whose parents were in attendance as chaperones. As I recall, it was not a late night. We were all at church the next day, pretty much awake and attentive.
Therefore, knowing that Christian kids who love Jesus are going to choose to attend the prom, and knowing that what I’ve shared above carries little weight in influencing a.) young ladies who look forward to dressing up for the special night, b.) young men who look forward to styling and profiling (is that 80’s vernacular?) with a beautiful young lady on their arm, and c.) young couples who haven’t discerned the difference between love and infatuation, my shepherd’s heart compels me to at least offer some survival tips. Parents, if you read this, please pass them along and help appropriate them as much as possible. Talk about these tips. Please!
1. Absolutely no alcohol. This should be a no brainer. Not only is it sinful, it is illegal. Lots of stupid decisions are made on prom night because of alcohol. Some believe it’s enough to “know when to say when”, know when to put the brakes on. But as Pastor Johnny Hunt explains, our brake fluid leaks after the first drink. Avoid it at all cost!
2. Have Accountability. Group dates with other devoted believers are great. It’s also a good idea to have that solid Christian student who doesn’t have a date as part of the group to make group make-out sessions awkward and virtually impossible! Perhaps a post-prom party hosted by Christian parents, like the one I attended, could be helpful. And keep in mind # 1, and refuse to attend a party where alcohol is present.
3. Know the influence and impact of music on your emotions. Love songs went from saying “I want to hold your hand” in the 1960’s to “I want your sex” by the 1980’s. And it’s much worse today. Don’t expose your heart and mind to that garbage. It will affect your impulses. I jetted from the prom early because there was no way I could stay longer without being disobedient to Philippians 4:8. Sappy love songs have a way of stirring emotions meant for married couples. Keep that in mind. Be mature. Rise above that sappy junk.
4. Keep your mind fixed on Christ. If you are a devoted Christ follower, one of those I’ve directed this post to, then you are always on mission for Him. You can’t take a night off and say, “Hey Jesus, I am headed to the prom. You just stay home tonight.” Speak and act with your date and others as you would if Jesus were in the car, at the restaurant, on the dance floor, and at the party. Remember, HE IS THERE. So, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
5. Respect your date! 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 reminds us that sexual purity is not only God’s plan for you, but that you must not defraud your brother or sister in Christ in this matter. Defraudrefers not only to how you treat your date, but to how you treat his or her future spouse. So, go with the assumption that your date is someone else’s future spouse. Mine was. And do nothing with your date that you would not want someone else doing with your future spouse. Having trouble knowing what that is? See #4.
6. Practice modesty. Ladies, surveys tell us that 90% of males struggle with lust. DO NOT exploit that. You can be cute and beautiful without being revealing. Having seen a few prom dresses last weekend, I will defer to Beth Moore on this one. Click here for her powerful and humorous reminder.
7. No sleeping together! Uh, Pastor Robby, you covered that one in #5. No, seriously, I mean NO SLEEPING TOGETHER. The marriage bed is for marriage, sensual moments and literal sleeping together moments included. Don’t lay down and sleep together. Parents, do not allow it. I have hosted lock-ins where I worked feverishly to prevent this. If a young man says he can lay down with, beside, or in the arms of a beautiful girl for an extended period of time (even fully clothed) and not be tempted in mind or body, he is either a god, superman, or no man at all. If a young lady experiences such an attachment, she will be ready for marriage in the very near future and challenged to not be overcome by her vulnerabilities. Beyond that, even those who do not drink alcohol experience some of the same loss of judgement when they are tired. My solution as a dad would be STICK TO A CURFEW. But for youth pastors and/or Christian parents who host all-nighters (NOT A GOOD IDEA IF YOU ARE A DEDICATED WORSHIPER ON THE LORD’S DAY), you have essentially volunteered to stay up all night to protect dedicated Christian kids from vulnerabilities and rumors! 1 Thessalonians 5:22 reminds us to avoid every “appearance” of evil.
Well, there you go! To the legalist this was as bad as passing out birth control. I just suggested that someone could survive the prom, therefore endorsing it. Hardly. To the liberal or the one looking for license, I just robbed them of all their “harmless” intentions. But I hope there is a devoted follower of Christ, perhaps a parent or teen, who will say, “I get you. I get IT. I understand and appreciate this. Thanks, Pastor, I intend to apply it.” If it helps one survive the prom with no regrets, it’s worth upsetting the masses.

Hoosiers, Hoops, and High School

Hoosiers, Hoops, and High School

Making the most of every opportunity… – Eph. 5:16a NIV
Can you hear it? Bruce Springsteen singing “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.” That song was extremely popular when I was in high school, but I’m not sure I understood that particular phrase then. And, to be honest, I’ve always lived with the mantra “the best is yet to come.” So far that has been the case.
But I’m often reminded of some thrilling high school moments this time of year. High school basketball playoffs are in full stride. March Madness is around the corner. And the movie Hoosiers, another mid 80’s classic, is being played on the movie channels. This is one of my all-time favorite sports movies.
Now I was not a high school basketball player. Well, unless you count a one-on-one competition at FFA camp where I performed rather well. But I think I was the only one not playing in cowboy boots. Bottom line, I could not have made the team at Madison County High if it had carried a roster thirty deep. They were the 1988 State Champions, and their first 5 off the bench may have been one of the best teams in the state as well. While I did not play, it was certainly fun to watch this fast pace team go all the way to the title game at Georgia Tech’s coliseum and win it!
While I am finally getting accustomed to the purple and gold of Athens Christian School, where my children attend and play high school sports, I will always bleed red and gray and be a Red Raider. But more recently, I’ve enjoyed watching an ACS basketball team that reminds me a lot of that MCHS state Championship team from ’88. Like that team, this team has a star headed to UGA next year. And, like the ’88 Raiders, he’s not a one man show. They are a well-balanced and extremely talented team. And they are fun to watch.
I’m not sure how the next week will play out. But if I could challenge the seniors on this team to do anything, it would be to make the most of the opportunity that lies before you. And I would like to encourage all high school students not to waste these Glory Days. Oh, they will pass you by. And you can live believing that the best is yet to come. But you never get these days back.
For the Christ-follower, that means make the most of every opportunity to be the witness that God has called you to be. I certainly missed some opportunities that I regret. But I seized a few along the way. And I am thankful for that. Sell out for Christ now! Live with passion. Enjoy the journey. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do your best in academics, athletics, and the arts.


And for the fans of the movie Hoosiers, if you can’t be a Jimmy Chitwood, be a Strap Purl. Be a person of prayer, walk with God, and seize your moment when it comes! It will come. Then tell folks, “It’s the Lord, I can feel His strength!”

Michael Sam and the Moral Superiority of Homosexuality

Are homosexuals made of a higher moral fiber than the average heterosexual? That seems to be the consensus of many Americans in light of the “coming out” party of star University of Missouri football player Michael Sam.
First, let me be clear. I am a conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian that embraces the biblical standard for sex and marriage. I am well aware that there are at least a couple of factions ready to debate me on the subject of whether or not homosexuality is wrong, should be tolerated, or is a lifestyle that should be celebrated.
There is the crowd that rejects Scripture all together and the notion that any system of morality is superior to another. Then there is the neo-orthodox “Christian” existentialist faction that embraces a more liberal interpretation of the Bible, or simply concludes, as one pastor shared with me, “The Apostle Paul was wrong on some matters.”
Ultimately the debate with these two factions (or worldviews) and the plethora of sub-factions that they represent is not a debate over homosexuality. No, instead it is a discussion of the relevance, nature, and authority of Scripture. I love to engage in that debate. Like the Apostle Paul in the Athenian marketplace, I have no desire to draw swords with those who disagree with me. But I do desire, with compassion, to give an apologetic for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3)
That’s not what I’m doing with this post.
But suppose for a moment that we remove the lens of my conservative evangelical presuppositions.Let’s just say, for the sake of discussion, that I agree with one of the more liberal factions that I previously mentioned. Would I not, given these new presuppositions, conclude that homosexuality is no more or no less moral than heterosexuality? But that isn’t the vibe I’m getting from the response of the media, the majority of fans, or even the president of the United States concerning the announcement of Michael Sam.
Let me explain. I shared an apartment with a group of fellow seminarians in Raleigh, North Carolina for a few years. At first we lived in North Raleigh next to another group of heterosexual males who did not share our biblical presuppositions.
These neighbors worked hard in the Research Triangle Park area, seemed sociable, enjoyed throwing back a few beers on occasion, and could be caught checking out the girls from time to time. Like most young men, even Christians, they appeared to struggle with a lust for the OPPOSITE sex.
Eventually my roommates and I moved to a different apartment, across town near Carter-Finley Stadium. Awesome amenities – and for three of us, closer to the young ladies we would eventually marry!
However, at this new location a group of homosexual malesmoved into the same building one floor below our apartment. Obviously, they also did not share our biblical presuppositions. And, like our former neighbors,they also worked hard in the Triangle Park area, seemed sociable, and enjoyed throwing back a few beers on occasion. But instead of catching them checking out the pretty ladies in the apartment complex, they could be overheard making sexually crude comments toward one another. They appeared to struggle with a lust for the SAME sex, even outside their group.
Here’s my point. If I lay aside my evangelical Christian beliefs, I assume I would see no difference between these two groups of neighbors. In fact, I would not even be able to assume that my roommates and I were any better off for holding one another accountable in the pursuit of practicing abstinence until marriage.
So why is it that many who argue that I should lay aside such presuppositions and judgments seem to be, whether intentional or not, arguing that homosexuals are superior moralists?
Why do I make such a claim?
Heterosexual men (regardless of their view of Scripture) acknowledge that they struggle with lust for the opposite sex. The bulk of counseling material that I have read suggests that around 90% of heterosexual men admit that they struggle with lust. (I usually assume that the other 10% struggle with lying.) They will usually admit that they have no business in a locker room or dressing with beautiful females, even if some of those females do not like men. They also admit, if married, that their wives would not want women in a dressing room with them at the local spa. But heterosexual male athletes are being asked to accept homosexuals into the locker room. I guess homosexuals have it all under control.
The assumption that gay men have better control over their lust is not one I could accept even if I were not a Christian. Based on my observations, friendships, and life experiences, I would say the struggle with lust is about the same for homosexuals as it is for heterosexuals. Others would argue that homosexuals are even more promiscuous and prone to sexual addictions.
Therefore, if a woman is not a “heterophobe” for not wanting straight men in her locker room, why is a straight man a homophobe for not wanting gay men in the locker room? Obviously, the assumption is that homosexuals have a better check on their lusts.


The intention of this post is not to argue for the conservative Christian worldview. That’s another post for another day. I simply wanted to question the hypocrisy I would observe if I were not a Christian. I would either conclude that it is not homophobic to ask that gay men not share a locker room with straight men, or I would conclude that men and women should all have enough self control to share locker rooms, restrooms, showers, etc. Let’s just all become naturists, right. After all, if homosexuals can keep their lusts under control in a locker room with the same sex, heterosexuals can keep their lusts under control in a locker room with the opposite sex. Unless, of course, homosexuals are morally superior.

On Bill Nye, Ken Ham, and the Creation Debate

The highly anticipated debate between Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy took place tonight at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Like many of you I was introduced to Bill Nye on public television and other networks with scientific programming. I became familiar with Ken Ham thanks to videos that were shown in a college Sunday School class about twenty-five years ago.

I had the privilege of visiting the Creation Museum a few years ago. A tour of the museum and campus will leave believers with a greater appreciation for God’s creation, a stronger adoration of the Creator Himself, and a stronger foundation in the biblical account. It will also demonstrate to unbelievers that Christians do not have to check their brains at the door to believe in the Genesis account of creation.

The debate itself did not seem to shake either man in his respective viewpoint. Therefore, I would have to assume the majority of viewers were not converted from one side of the issue to the other. Likely, most viewers stood strong with the one who represented their position. However, I imagine that a small percentage of viewers were challenged to rethink their worldviews. Obviously, as Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit could even convict unbelievers of the truths of Scripture.

So what did I glean from this debate? 

First of all, I saw the importance of one’s presuppositions influencing conclusions. Nye came to the table with anti-supernatural presuppositions. There was really no room for God in his equations. Ham came with the belief that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, and was more likely to discover and see the evidence in favor of that claim.  Obviously I am biased, but I believe good science must be open to all possibilities. This caused Nye’s rejection of the supernatural to seem anti scientific.

Here’s a few other observation I took from the debate:

  • Nye was concerned that creationism would stifle the next generation’s interest in scientific discovery and invention. Really? History tells us that such an assumption is ludicrous. One’s world view likely only shapes the motivation for such a process of discovery. Is it humanistic or for the glory of God?
  • Building on the previous point, Nye practically “preached” a moral obligation for us to embrace his brand of science. He even suggested that the United States needs to lead in this endeavor for, among other reasons, even our economic health. But if there is no God and no eternal accountability, why are we motivated to make such an impact? And why does the US need to lead the way or be better off financially than other nations? Nye’s philosophical logic was highly contradictory. Indeed, scientists who reject the existence of God seem more intimidated by philosophical apologists, like Ravi Zacharias, who show them the amoral consequences to their belief system.
  • Nye was very honest about having no answer for the first cause. Where did the first atoms that caused the “big bang” come from? The ex nihilo issue is directly addressed by Genesis 1:1. I think that’s awesome. The most difficult question for the twenty-first century evolutionist was the first question addressed by Scripture. Random selection? (Pun intended!)
  • Ham was very comfortable discussing the creation science perspective. He also took the opportunity to openly share his faith in Christ with a clear presentation of the Gospel.
  • Ham seemed to struggle a little to explain why he reads some of the Bible literally, but not all of it. He believes in the total inspiration of Scripture, but had difficulty when Nye interpreted his position as being one who tells others what parts of the Bible they should read literally.

(Personal note here: As Christians we need to understand some basic principles of hermeneutics. Obviously Ken Ham is solid here, but didn’t have time to fully explain. Conservative Christians do not read all of the Bible literally. We believe that all of the Bible is literally true. Good hermeneutics and common sense helps us see where the literal truth is presented literally, poetically, prophetically, figuratively, etc. Like any other literature, we simply ask, “What type of literature do we have here?” As Dr. Paige Patterson points out, when the apocalyptic literature of Revelation says a woman sat on seven hills, a literal interpretation would conclude that this is an extremely large woman.)

  •  I also felt that Ken Ham, without intention, reminded us of the importance of Christological apologetics. Though he often argues that Genesis is the starting point for defending the faith, he admitted that it was his acceptance of Christ that led him to that point. Therefore, I would argue that it may be more fruitful to first defend the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Then, having established his supernatural intervention in this world, you have reestablished the presuppositions for considering the Genesis account of creation.
  • So, who won the debate? Well, the subject given for the debate was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Though I felt Ham held his ground, it was the fact that Bill Nye had a debate on his hands at all, and debated so valiantly, that answered the question with a profound, “Yes.” If Bill Nye has to give it the time of day, though he rejects it, others should at least be presented with the same arguments.

Snow Day Devotion: Grace So Glorious

Snow Day Devotion!
Okay, Trinity Family. Here is your Wednesday night at home devotion in lieu of AWANA, Emerge, and Men’s and Lady’s Bible Study! This was motivated by a post that our worship leader, Jeff Branson, made on Trinity Crew’s Facebook Group with a link to the song Grace So Gloriousby Elevation Worship.
·         If you are serving the Lord wholeheartedly, you need a constant reminder of the source of your motivation, strength, passion, and reward.
·         If you have backslidden and lost your joy, you need a constant reminder of what can restore you to that place of intimacy with Christ you once enjoyed.
·         If you are burning yourself out, and keeping others on edge, because you have to get everything right all the time, you need a constant reminder of God’s glorious, liberating grace.
·         If you realize that life is short, whether you are young or old, you need a constant reminder of how grace prepares you for eternity.
·         If you do not know the Lord and feel unworthy of His grace, you need a constant reminder of what grace really means.
So I want to challenge you on this snow day to take time to read these verses from God’s word concerning the impact of God’s grace on you both now and in eternity.
I believe the 24 elders in Revelation 4 symbolize Old and New Testament saints (perhaps represented by the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles of Christ). I also believe they are overwhelmed by God’s grace, and thus motivated to cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus!
After you read these verses, watch the video and listen to this powerful song. I love the fact that the words have the kind of biblical and theological depth we find in hymns from two centuries ago.
Let it minister to you, then share it with a friend! See you all Sunday.
Ephesians 2 (NKJV)
By Grace Through Faith
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Revelation 4 (NKJV)
10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:


11 “You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist
and were created.”

Not Reformed, Not Upset

Why I avoid the “Reformed” label, but refuse to be upset with Baptists who embrace it:
Reformed theology has emerged (or reemerged depending on who you ask) as the popular theological paradigm for young pastors in Southern Baptist life. Of course a number of older Baptist pastors have adhered to Calvinism for years. While I do not consider myself to be a 5-point Calvinist, I am not bothered by most of what I see in this current trend. 

I will not pretend to be an expert on reformed theology. But I have studied the Scriptures long enough to arrive at a theological position from which I am very comfortable addressing various aspects of the movement.
First of all, let me say that there are elements of reformed theology that I and most conservative Baptists embrace. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone has always been a statement that I advocate. I don’t need a creed or theological system to remind me of that, just my Bible. The other “solas” the reformed like to constantly recite with which I am comfortable are Sola Deo Gloria and Sola Scriptura. I am to live my life to the glory of God using the Word of God as my final authority for faith and practice. 

Because I believe the Bible I also embrace a strong conviction that God is sovereign. I may disagree with some of my Calvinist friends on the “logical” implications of sovereignty, but I cannot deny the doctrine. While often mentioned as elements of reformed theology, these are truths embraced by most Baptists and many other evangelicals.
I also believe that God is the author of salvation. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Christ came to seek and save the lost, and mankind was and is hopeless and helpless apart from His incarnation, atoning death, and bodily resurrection.  In our depravity we can’t save ourselves, and even our righteousness is as filthy rags. 

Though I do not use the “TULIP” acrostic to explain my soteriology, I could accept or reject each point depending on how it is interpreted. I will not go into each point here. But, for example, I believe in total depravity in regards to our complete inability to save ourselves, but I do believe that there is enough of the imago dei in sin fallen people who were “fearfully and wonderfully” knit together in their mother’s womb to volitionally respond to God’s grace or even do a good deed (like feed the hungry) in the unregenerate state.  

I believe that God sovereignly made us free and responsible beings. I don’t have to figure out the extent to which sovereignty trumps free will or worry that the reverse could happen, but embrace the wonderful paradoxical truths of Scripture. I could make similar observations on each of the points of Calvinism.
Let me discuss a few other areas descriptive of the reformed movement that do not cause me to lose sleep. I would not consider myself “creedal” or “confessional” on the one hand, but I have no problem with using creeds and confessions to articulate one’s faith. Every sermon outline I preach is a summary or restatement of the truths discovered through careful exposition of the biblical text. Just as a “sinner’s prayer” doesn’t actually save anyone but helps articulate an understanding of faith and repentance (the Gospel is in words), the creeds and confessions can also help us understand and articulate the faith once delivered to the saints

While I prefer to teach those principles from the Bible, I have to admit that our children’s and student ministries and various discipleship programs do provide an informal catechism, if you will. We have a way of summarizing our biblical convictions and evaluating those of others. So as long as the creeds and confessions are not seen as inerrant Scripture and do not become the proverbial tail that wags the dog, I can see their benefits. Like a sermon, their authority rests in how closely they restate biblical principle

However, my wife grew up in a liberal church that recites the creeds ritualistically, even though they did not embrace the theology behind them (virgin birth, literal resurrection, second coming, etc.). This became vain ritual for her. But I have no problem with a church being creedal if they rightly understand the nature of the creeds and confessions and use them as servants, not masters. Even the Baptist preacher who says, “No creed but the Bible,” has just embraced a five word creed. Those five words help him articulate a conviction. And that’s cool with me.
I have also rejected the “reformed” label because of its close association with covenant theology. While I am not a strict dispensationalist, I still believe that God has a plan and a purpose for Israel. I see a strong argument in scripture for a premillennial, pretribulation rapture. I also know the arguments for historical premillenialism and refuse to allow this differing hermeneutic to be a divisive issue with me. 

I see the redemptive hope of Scripture as Jesus Christ who is prophesied in the Old Testament, incarnate in the Gospels, and the foundation of the church in Acts and the Epistles. While salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, I believe baptism is an act of obedience for the believer following spiritual rebirth. I reject the idea that the Abrahamic covenant’s sign of circumcision provides grounds for the baptism of infants and children who can’t understand and articulate the gospel under the New Covenant. 

Someone might think that these convictions should cause me to be more upset with the current reformed movement in Baptist life. I have discovered, however, through conversations with those who embrace the “Reformed Baptist” label that most of them reject or do not even understand covenant theology and have opted for more of a modified Baptist version or “New Covenant Theology” that isn’t so far from my semi-dispensational approach. Again, when I lay those labels aside and discuss the Bible with the Baptist reformed I do not find that our differences concern me as long as they believe in believer’s baptism by immersion following salvation. 
Perhaps I should be most concerned about the impact of reformed theology on missions and evangelism. However, the reformed Baptists that I have met are some of the most zealous people for the gospel. Again, I may reject what they perceive to be some of the implications of sovereign grace, predestination, and election in relation to man being free and responsible (response-able). 

By the way, I DO use these words because they are in Scripture. I point out to my Calvinist friends that these words often refer to sanctification as much as they do salvation. This implies that a lost person has as much of a choice to respond to the gospel as a saved person has a choice to live holy. From the other side of that coin, to assume that anyone is predestined for hell, and that nothing can be done about it, would be to assume that the saved who commit immoral acts were predestined to that adultery, dishonesty, or whatever sin they committed. Why? Because we were not just predestined for salvation, but to be conformed to the image of Christ, positionally at salvation and practically through spiritual growth. 

But, to get back on topic, most of the Baptists I have met who embrace the reformed label are so committed to the obedience of Scripture that they are characterized by a passionate commitment to consecrated living and obedience to the Great Commission.
Let me also say that while I refuse to be upset with Baptists who embrace the reformed label, I always try to warn people of steps in a direction that could place people on a slippery slope to a form of extremism. We see that with theological liberalism. We caution the embrace of many forms of biblical criticism knowing that with the right presuppositions various critical methodologies can give us a better understanding of the Bible. But many have followed forms of higher criticism into a destructive redaction of the Bible. 

In the same way, reformed theology can be a step into the direction of hyper-Calvinism by those who struggle with understanding the paradoxical truths of sovereignty and free will. Indeed, many Calvinists attempt to teach these doctrines with balance, but the balance is often lost somewhere between the preacher and the hearer. And so the hearers begin to question whether they should pray, witness, or give to missions. They may even question their own salvation in the midst of the confusion.  

Some attempt to relay the message but only trend further down the slope into fatalism. They are frustrated, not because their preacher was hyper-Calvinist, but because a form of hyper-Calvinism was all they could process when the preacher or teacher failed to clearly articulate the deep paradoxical concepts they sought to tackle. 

The preacher perhaps embraced something short of hyper-Calvinist, but was weak in articulation and confused the doggie dung out of the congregation. This may be the biggest reason I believe pastors more Calvinist than me should consider rejecting the “reformed” label as well, simply to avoid division and confusion. I will continue to teach the Bible from the Bible. This means I will proclaim the truths of grace, election, sovereignty, depravity, free will, and responsibility with the same balance and frequency that the Scriptures bring to the table.
Finally, I realize that some have perceived a certain arrogance in the Baptist reformed movement. This isn’t true of all Calvinists, but stereotypes exist because there is usually at least some truth behind them. Does that bother me? Not really. Why not? Well, it’s probably because I struggle with the same arrogance. 

Articulating reformed theology takes a lot of study, and can involve a lot of hard work defending. Most evangelical church members are relatively lazy in their study of theology and apologetics. So the well-studied Calvinist can come across as a bit of a “know it all” to the non-Calvinists who have not delved so deeply. Indeed they may sometimes assume that everyone would be reformed if they would dig a little deeper. 

What comes across in their tone is kind of a “if you were as smart as me and able to grasp the deep things of God, you would get this” attitude. That’s why I joke that more of my reformed friends want to be professors in the college and seminary instead of pastors (Actually, as I think about it, that is a true statement). Calvinism seems to work better for them in the classroom than in the pulpit. 

Well, I grew up Southern Baptist. I attended a Pentecostal Holiness college and dug deep into Wesleyan and Charismatic theology. I have attended a couple of Southern Baptist seminaries where I’ve had Calvinist and non-Calvinist professors. By the Way, the non-Calvinist Baptist professors could have been considered hyper-Calvinist at the Pentecostal college I attended. Maybe that’s why I realize we are not that far apart

My experience forced me to dig deeper and know why I believe what I believe. Honestly, I’m convinced that I am right. When I drive, everyone who passes me is a maniac, and everyone who drives slower than me is an idiot. Really, I often feel that way. 

And on this subject, I personally struggle with the arrogance of thinking that I must be more intelligent than those who can’t escape the full embrace of reformed theology. And that same arrogance says, “But I’m intelligent enough and secure enough in my beliefs to not feel threatened, bothered, worried, or intimidated because the latest theological fad is to embrace the ‘reformed’ label.” 

I know. I know. It is more than a fad. But like I said, I struggle with arrogance, too. I often use passive-aggressive, sarcastic remarks when debating with those predestined to be reformed. Oops, see? If both sides of the argument were as spiritual and intelligent as me, they would quit being so angry with each other. Oops, again! See what I mean? ARROGANT! The fact that I find few who stand with me in this “not exactly Calvinist, but not mad at Calvinists, position” makes me feel intellectually superior or more spiritually mature sometimes. Okay, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek and over the top. But, just ask my wife, I struggle with the “I know I’m right” attitude enough to be forgiving of a little of that showing up in my Calvinist friends. I bet most of you do, too.
To all my Southern Baptist friends: I was present to vote for the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. I am humbly grateful that we stand on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. If you join me in embracing those solid biblical statements supporting and flowing from the authority of Scripture, and you have a passion to win the lost of this world to Christ, then we have enough in common to lay aside our labels, or fears of those who wear a few, and work together for the Great Commission. Let’s get on with it! And along the way, let’s have a sense of humor, not anger, as we debate the other issues.


Note: Forgive me for using “reformed theology” and “Calvinism” synonymously. I realize that one is just a significant element of the other.

Zimmerman/Martin Case, Jackie Robinson, and the Elusiveness of Objectivity and Sympathy

I went to see the movie, 42, with my son on a rainy stormy night this week. The Jackie Robinson story appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First, I love baseball… with a passion. My sandlot days are over, but I still get jazzed slinging the ball around the yard and catching a great baseball movie or game with my son. Second, I hate racism. The portrayal of ignorant racists, white’s who were learning to change, and a black baseball player who worked to present himself as a gentleman in an environment that would have crushed most men provided a most inspirational true story.
It just so happened that I was watching this movie at a time that our nation was debating the verdict of the Zimmerman trial. I have been slow to comment on this trial because I have felt that I would be speaking out of ignorance. As much as I have followed the case (or have had the media plaster it in my face), I simply felt that I would be arrogant to say that I know what happened on that tragic night. I’ve been frustrated with the fact that Zimmerman didn’t just let the police handle the situation, and that Martin didn’t just jog on out of the neighborhood. I have been in both situations, and it usually (not always) takes two to make things go bad. I’ve been frustrated that one side argues that Zimmerman simply “stood his ground”, a right I support in theory. I’ve been equally put off by those who try to portray Martin as a ninety pound thirteen year old on the way home from Sunday School. Let’s face it, both men were stronger than their representatives made them out to be. And evidence was allowed that Martin had marijuana in his system. So, I was surprised that the prosecution did not come up with some lesser charges that were sure to stick. But as much as I hate racism, I was not surprised that the jury found reasonable doubt with the charges they were deliberating.
The difficulty in all of this – the verdict and public response, I reasoned, was remaining objective. Can conservative, 2nd Amendment-supporting, white men like me lay aside our preconceived notions and think objectively as we respond? Can we simply look at the facts of the case? Objectivity is the goal in getting a fair verdict and offering a fair public response, right? Can African Americans who have heard the slurs, heard the car doors lock as white people drive past them down the street, and who have heard much more horrific true stories from their parents and grandparents… can they lay aside their fears and preconceived notions and also look at the simple facts and evidence of the case objectively? Or will emotions influence their interpretation of the evidence? Can liberals respond without an agenda in mind? And, forgive me ladies (this might do me in!), can a jury of all women think objectively and logically without allowing their emotions to cause them to vote by how they feel rather than by looking at the evidence alone? This was my angle. Can any of us be objective? We can’t do away with our past, our experiences, our core convictions, our passions, or even our cultural baggage. But can we possibly be aware of these things and not allow them to blind us from an objective response? Objectivity!! That’s what we lack… right?
Back to the movie. There was an insightful scene in 42 in which Branch Rickey’s (Dodgers’ owner played by Harrison Ford) assistant, Harold, came into the owner’s office irate and nearly violent, which was out of character. He was angry about the way Jackie Robinson was being treated (watch the movie for the details – PG-13). Rickey responded by giving him a lesson in etymology. Specifically, he explained to him that he was feeling “sympathy.” Sympathy is the transliteration of a Greek compound word, literally meaning “to suffer with.” As this scene unfolded, I realized what I may have been personally missing in all of my frustration. Indeed, it’s something most of us may be lacking. Certainly the role of the jury requires and demands objectivity. However, lawyers will continue to do jury selection by eliminating those who cannot sympathize with their side of the case, which may ironically eliminate objectivity from many verdicts. Objectivity is so elusive.
But what I’ve seen lacking more than objectivity in our nation, and in my own heart, is the ability to sympathize and suffer with the ones with whom we disagree. Even if I believe the verdict was consistent with the evidence presented, can I sympathize with a dissenter who will march for what they perceive is a lack of justice? Can those who disagree with the verdict sympathize with a jury that was given a job description and sought and swore to do it to the best of their ability? Will those who march be able to sympathize with those who believe justice was served, without considering them to be racist? Can we sympathize with a mother who lost a son? Can we sympathize with a man who wanted to make his neighborhood safer and never thought his actions could result in someone’s death, regardless of how it happened?
Let’s carry this into other hot zones. Can I be staunchly and objectively pro-life and still sympathize with a young lady who had an abortion when she simply did not know what to do? Can someone be pro-choice and sympathize with the core conviction pro-lifers have, not to rob a woman of a choice, but to protect what they are convinced is an innocent life in the womb? Can I believe with all my heart that God has provided standards for sex, marriage, and holiness and still sympathize with those whose minds, hearts, and emotions tell them it is OK, even a must, to behave differently? I’m not saying I must agree with everyone. By no means am I suggesting we all compromise our beliefs to shout with Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” I’m just saying that I am going to try to show some sympathy and understanding. And I pray that it will open doors of opportunity and build bridges for me to be able to explain why I believe what I believe, hopefully correcting the preconceived notions others might have about this conservative, white, evangelical Christian who wants to love and point everyone, regardless of race, to Jesus Christ, His Infallible Word, and life abundant and everlasting in Him!
We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with the feelings of our infirmities…” – Hebrews 4:15a

Attend Church While on Vacation?

Summer is a crazy, chaotic, wonderful, and sometimes inconsistent season for churches. On the one hand, VBS, kids camps, youth retreats, and mission trips can make summer a very fruitful time of the year for both evangelism and discipleship. On the other hand, family vacations, trips to the lake, and baseball tournaments can lead to the dreaded “summer slump.” The down side of the summer slump is not the deflated egos of pastors because of low church attendance. Nor is it the inconsistency with various ministries because the leaders are getting a much needed break. It’s not necessarily even the dip in offerings. At Trinity we have learned to go with the flow during the summer. We have meaningful camps, mission trips, and special services that we rally around. We realize that everyone simply will not be available for each of the activities. And that’s OK.

The downside of the summer slump IS the fact that a lake trip, followed by a beach vacation, leading to an All-Star tournament, just before the weekend trip to the mountains, can cause members of our fellowship to sometimes miss a number of weeks of body-life with their church family. This can lead to becoming spiritually drained, forming habits of not attending worship, and possibly a feeling of disconnect with God and His church. When fall comes around, many flock back to the flock. But some have simply slipped away because they have a new routine.
While there are a number of ways to preempt this tendency, including prayerful planning with the intention of not missing consecutive Sundays (or more than 3 of 10 summer Sundays, etc.), there is a strategy that I have tried to implement over the years. That strategy is to simply choose a place of worship on the Lord’s Day whenever and wherever we travel out of town over a weekend. There are churches at the beach and churches in the mountains. Places of worship are always near in this nation. Sure, you can worship on your own or with your family. But why not choose to attend a house of worship and be mutually encouraged with other believers? You will likely be a blessing to them, and you will probably receive a bigger blessing. Thanks to the internet and your flashy phone or tablet, you will be able to check out the churches and worship times wherever you go. If it turns out that the church was theologically off, unwelcoming, or made you feel awkward, you will appreciate your own church even more… and learn what NOT to do. But if the church is on fire and blesses your socks off, you will be refreshed AND bring home some wonderful insight to share with your church leadership.
Give it try! Don’t go on a vacation from corporate worship. Attend church on vacation!