This fall, I had the opportunity to preach in chapel and share a message I had worked on from James 3 about the Power of the Tongue...
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My phone rang with an unknown number.
On the other end of the call, Dr. Jason Allen, the new president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spent some time talking about the vision he had about gathering a team for a high-risk revitalization project in Kansas City.
“We have 5 years to show the SBC why we need a seminary in this region!” he explained. “And I want it to center on the reason a seminary exists – to be for the church. Will you join us in the work?”
As a full time pastor who left teaching at a sister seminary because I wanted to embrace this very ideal, my heart soared. Our seminaries and Southern Baptist entities are at their best when we see them connect to the heartbeat and baseline of our cooperative work, the local church.
But therein was the tension. I loved the local church I pastored. God gave my family such an amazing congregation to be a part of. I enjoyed preaching the Word and shepherding the people. I delighted in regular baptisms. I cherished new ethnic church plants and ministry to refugees. How could we possibly leave?
Over the course of several months God began to set in motion things that only in retrospect make sense. In our prayer and Bible reading, my wife and I began to sense God was making a change in our ministry assignment. When we finally agreed, we did so knowing we were fully trusting the Lord.
And we are ecstatic about what God has done as we trusted him. Only once in a lifetime do some have the opportunity to be a part of something that can only be explained through the direct work of the Holy Spirit. There have been days of struggle for sure, but what an amazing place to serve where God is at work.
November 1, 2018 marked our 5 year anniversary at Midwestern. Time really does fly past. Our kids have grown, our ministry has expanded, and God continues to provide in ways we could only have imagined.
Reflecting on this, I thought about 7 key things that we have experienced at Midwestern that shape how I think about academic leadership.
Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones, Removing the Stain of Racism From the Southern Baptist Convention.
A much needed volume to speak to the pervasive issue of race in our broader culture and the SBC particularly. The chapters connect pastors and church leaders to the Gospel mandates that fundamentally re-order our thinking when it comes to the challenges of race. The historical overview of the SBC’s willingness to formally address the problem of racism is worth the cost of the book alone.
It’s an annual event our house - the celebration of the day our children became part of our family forever. “Gotcha Day” or “Adoption Day” features ice cream, pictures, favorite meals, and a recounting of their unique adoption story.
Like most families, we share these moments online. But this year, our celebration angered individuals in the recently emboldened alt-right movement. The alt-right or “white nationalists” as some call them, are a grouping of far-right individuals that truly believe the best solutions for our country comes from separating races. Some have blamed the rise of the alt-right on the current political climate, others on the rapid expansion of politically-correct cultural change. Whatever the rationale, the trolls from the alt-right assured my racially mixed family that I was a disgrace to whites everywhere and that I was most assuredly “going to hell” for violating God’s racial laws. Even worse, according to these individuals, I was "cucked."
Perhaps you aren’t familiar with this term, but it tends to be a favorite of the alt-right to refer to Christians who take a stand for racial equality. Historically the term “cuck,” or “cucked,” implied a lack of masculinity and virility – particularly to a husband of an adulterous wife or to men who unwittingly invest parental effort in raising children not connected to them genetically. Creating familial relationships through adoption that bridge the racial divide are case-in-point. Even integrating churches or ministries that work with refugees are seen as cowering to the Political Culture and therefore, weak. Churches taking Biblical stands on these issues become demonstrative of “Cuckservative Christianity,” “Cuckianity,” or “Cucked Christianity.”
For the alt-right, white nationalist, race is tied to cultural expression so that certain races inherently possess cultural markers. For those cultures to then flourish and reach their natural ends, the races should be separated and become their own nations. For many, the white, European race needs to reclaim its uniqueness and primacy and therefore protect its cultural heritage. It’s the grand reversal of the identity politics of the left.
This isn’t a new idea launched during a 2016 political campaign. Incredibly prescient, Carol M. Swain identified this Nationalist impulse present in American culture over 15 years ago. Her book, The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration deserves a close read by anyone seeking answers to the longer history of this movement. Swain, quotes Dan Gayman, leader of the Church of Israel, a Christian Identity/white nationalist movement located in Missouri, “Most white Americans believe in their hearts in the doctrine of racial separatism even if they are too intimidated by its current disfavor in the media and elsewhere to openly acknowledge their beliefs.”
In a post-2016 election cycle that empowered many of radicalized groups on both sides of the aisle, the cultural filter Gayman referenced has lifted. It’s gone. The attacks have gone mainstream.
Swain argued that a variety of economic as well as cultural currents could ultimately lead to the challenges we are facing today. Her suggestion? The solution has to come from the church.
Because the Gospel doesn’t change. Because the need for all of humanity to be reconciled to God doesn’t change. Because once we trust Christ, our identity changes fundamentally as part of the family of God – we are all adopted sons and daughters and share in the inheritance of the Gospel!
But this concept is often missed by many in America. The Gospel decimates our broken and sinful concepts of race! Jesus' victory on the cross ended the hostility between Jew/Greek, male/female, black/white/Hispanic/Asian. It doesn’t erase our ethnic heritage or unique attributes – this is not an “I don’t see race” proclamation. Instead, it is a new vision that despite these differences, we are placed into a new family where we become one because of Christ. Ephesians 2:14 is especially poignant: “For He (Christ) himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” We are one in Christ. Period.
But every Sunday, we bring our wretched, broken souls into the gathering place of our churches carrying discrimination against each other or those outside of our doors. How should pastors respond to this reality?
Christians must hold to the higher standard that all believers are one, new race in Christ. This is our identity that supersedes all other markers. When it comes to a question of the alt-right, they are wrong. Attitudes of racial superiority or even discrimination are morally wrong according to what we are told in Scripture. Pastors and churches must guard against this cultural moment and continue to point people to the cross where we are made new.
 Dan Gayman as cited in Carol Swain, The New White Nationalism in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 57.
 Swain, 381.
Navigating the waters of the tech world requires help from godly resources. At Midwestern, we have an incredible tech team led by David Meyer. I thought I would pick his brain a bit about parenting, technology and resources we can all use for our families.
David, I’d like to start with a brief bio – tell us a little about yourself and your family…
I have been married to my awesome wife for 12 years and we have 3 wonderful children, Emily 16, Kaylee 10, and Evan 8. We belong to Lenexa Baptist Church and have been attending regularly for about 8 years. I have been in the technology field for over 25 years. I have worked in all aspects of the IT field, from the help desk to IT Director. My current role is Director of IT for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am going on my 3rd year with MBTS.
You work in a world of technology at an institution that is passionately “For the Church.” How do you connect your tech role with ministry?
I feel as though God has me in this role to help those who are struggling and frustrated due to technology related issues. I see this as an opportunity to show God’s love and to witness to those around me. When someone comes to IT, people generally are not contacting me for something positive, but rather when they have a problem that needs to be solved. I always believe there are two ways to look at it, positive or negative, and I choose to take a positive approach to problem solving so the client has the best experience possible. I see this as an opportunity to serve. 1Cor 10:31 - "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Help us out - How best should pastors apply technology in their congregations and personal lives?
Never before has technology been in a state of accelerated growth and advancement. This is both troubling and uplifting at the same time. Troubling in the context of material and ease of which to obtain it, uplifting on how many can be reached and by the ease and means of doing so. Pastors should embrace technology as a tool and means to convey the good news to others. I also feel that pastors should be aware of the need for tools to protect themselves from the troubling side of technology, to use them, and to share them with their congregations. I believe individuals in the church, especially parents, are searching for reliable safety features to compliment the advancement of technology.
Should Christian parents be encouraging their kids to pursue careers in technology?
Yes, absolutely! Christian parents should encourage the technology fields as a means of a potential career. Every component in our society will be touched by technology to some degree. Going forward, this is only going to increase and we need good, strong Christian young people driving that force to reach as many as possible for God’s glory. The stronger our force, the greater the development of tools and available communication will be, as well the ability to spread the Gospel.
What are the biggest dangers in the tech world today?
As mentioned previously, access is truly the number one danger in our world today. Never before have we been so challenged in protecting our core Christian values and beliefs. Pornography is literally everywhere and freely accessible with very little effort via technology. Predators can use the same tools to manipulate and trick our kids by hiding behind masked identities and or expose them to inappropriate material. We truly live in a very dangerous time in terms of technology but at the same time never before with such an opportunity to utilize it in a positive and meaningful way as well.
What safeguards should pastors and thought leaders be placing in their lives to avoid these dangers?
Personally, I have chosen to use layers of safeguards in the use of technology for myself and my family. I would suggest pastors and others to do the same.
On a more personal level, what do you do to help your family live with the ubiquity of tech in the 21st century?
It’s all part of the layers I mentioned before.
If you could caution all parents about one thing in technology, what would it be?
The one thing in technology that I would caution parents about is secrecy, especially with the “deep web” which is something many parents know very little, if anything, about. The “deep web” consists of hidden world from public search engines. Without going into technical details, Child pornography, arms trafficking, drugs, hired assassins, prostitutes, terrorism, etc., all make the Deep Web the largest black market ever to exist. There are applications that have a special keystroke and/or function to activate it known only by the user that installed it. Our kids are very tech savvy today and it is a constant “cat and mouse game” for us to stay ahead of the curve. We have to talk to our kids and make them aware of the dangers that are out there and what to look for so they don’t stumble across something they shouldn’t, or be tempted to hide things from us – if something has to be hidden, it is probably not a good thing. It is also important that we talk to them about what to do in case they do encounter something questionable. Just like drugs, there is a very real threat with technology and peer pressure is ever present. The safeguards I mentioned above are the key and the best chance of ensuring our family’s safety.
How can churches come alongside families to help them deal with the technology concerns of our day?
I believe that the church can come alongside families by inviting experts in these areas of technology to teach classes specific on the threats our kids face, what to look for, and how to prevent problems. Parents and church leaders cannot sit this one out. We must be vigilant in keeping up with this ever changing technology; we can be assured that our children are. I believe it would be prudent for the leaders of churches to review the different tools available and combine efforts with the companies to purchase and provide those at an affordable and realistic price to families. If offered in this way there may be a nonprofit pricing tier that could provide substantial savings. It would be a win/win for the company and for families if procured.
Thanks, David, for your service to our school, for your encouragement to me as a dad and your investment in us today!
If you want more information from David, follow him on Facebook or LinkedIn
If you could take unwanted web material and filter it in your home, would you? What if it were really easy to do so?
I’ve talked with countless parents frustrated about how hard it is to help shield their kids from unwanted material on the web. You can pursue DNS blockers or router solutions, but often there is a certain level of technical know-how that is assumed before you can implement these safeguars. Additionally, they can be “fiddly,” as one parent put it.
Circle Media began with the hope of making tools available for families to easily manage their home’s web content and have more extensive conversations with children growing up in a digital universe. An initial Kickstarter campaign by Circle Media never quite got off the ground, but Disney saw an opportunity and got behind a re-vamped product.
Circle is a small cube that plugs into your existing router hardware. You set up the rest from your phone. In a very simple to navigate app, each device that accesses the web in your home is relegated to a specific user and then each user is assigned a category: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult and “none”. Every time a new device accesses your network, you are asked to assign that device to a person or to a filter level. This helps even as your kids mature and their peers bring iPhones or other devices to your home.
When a user surfs over to content that is deemed inappropriate, they are met with a screen that says “You’ve been filtered” and offers alternative, age-appropriate (and often Disney sourced) material. Each filter level even allows for platform-specific filtering like Facebook, YouTube or Snapchat can be completely filtered out. Additionally, you can allow sites, but have Circle filter out ads, require Google Safe Search and YouTube Restricted – all welcome additions for families who care what their kids see and experience online.
Parents are also given tools that restrict access to wifi during specific times or after a certain time limit has been reached. If your kids attempt to access the web at night alone in their rooms (never a good idea), the web is completely disconnected until the next morning at a specific time. Additionally, Parents can manually “pause” the internet on any device in the system which is perfect for those families who like to have their children “earn” time on electronics only after chores are completed.
This is an incredibly helpful device that simplified so much of what we needed to manage in our home. Even with 6 people who are accessing the router at a single time, we have never experienced a major slow down in web speed either (thank you, Google Fiber).
With so many positives, there are a few difficulties, though.
Overall, Circle has become an integral part of how we aid our family to think wisely about how each person accesses information. If you are a concerned parent or even an adult who struggles with pornography, Circle can be a quick and easy solution that helps manage the wifi content in your home.
We strongly recommend it.
Does it ever feel as if your fight against the hoards of unwanted internet content is a losing battle? Not only does the constant barrage of near pornographic images in advertisements and media continually wear on me personally, but I have concerns about my teens and pre-teens who are learning to swim in this same culture.
A few years back I wrote on the encroaching of porn in social media venues. I discovered how hashtag searching within ubiquitous sites like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter could enable your children to access a plethora of images, videos and links to the very dark world of pornography. While these sites are doing an increasingly better job of filtering the content, the sheer volume of posts still means that new issues arise by the minute.
Adding to the challenge for us are the massive number of apps that appear on the scene regularly. Take Snapchat whose meteoric rise in the under 20 demographic has much to do with two factors: the images/videos disappear after a certain time and their parents don’t use the app. And it seems there’s a new app every day.
What’s a family to do?
We could propose a moratorium on technology and retreat into some form of supposed Luddite utopia. Ultimately, that’s not the best response as many jobs or even beneficial things require that same connectivity.
Our family has chosen to tackle this problem with accountability. We know full well that we aren’t perfect, nor are there perfect solutions to this issue. However, we have found some tools that help us navigate the issues we face.
Unfortunately, not all of these safeguards will keep your children (or yourself) safe. Last week as I read news on a variety of sites, it seemed as if most of the advertisements belonged in a specific issue of Sports Illustrated. As I was looking at a vehicle listing on Craigslist, I clicked on an additional link about the buyer that sent you into his “personals” ad. I wanted to throw up. I had no idea that people would publically try to negotiate sexual liaisons so graphically on Craigslist.
The battle is real. The casualties in the battle are real.
As parents and families, it’s smart for us to work together for the good of each other – even if the culture doesn’t understand.
Never give up the fight!
 http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/snapchat-statistics/ And, while parents may not use the site frequently, those photos don’t actually disappear. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/10/snapchat-photos-dont-delete-saved-on-phone_n_3248567.html
The first rule of Crossfit is…
Many of you already know the answer to this statement.
The first rule of Crossfit is always talk about Crossfit.
It seems as if my social media is regularly inundated with Crossfitters letting me know a new PR, AMRAP score or EMOM they just finished in their WOD which they RX’d. (See glossary below)
As someone who discovered the joy of Crossfitting at 5:30am with a crazy group of people who like to challenge themselves daily, I can understand the desire to let everyone know what you just accomplished! Besides, Crossfit helped me shed almost 40lbs, get in the best shape of my life, and be more productive.
I have no problems letting people know how Crossfit changed my life.
Shift gears with me, though.
As a Christian who leads a Baptist College in the Midwest, I continue to observe a very specific challenge. As Christians we claim to believe the most incredible truth of redemption from sin through the shed blood of Jesus! This transformative truth shapes every aspect of the Christian life, yet many Christians are almost silent about this identity in their life. You’d think that if my relationship with Jesus truly defined my life, I couldn’t stop talking about it.
Like a Crossfitter, I wouldn’t be quiet about the salvation I found.
Why don’t Christians share about Jesus? Some have suggested:
Here’s my challenge for you…
Just talk about Jesus.
Salt your conversation with things that God is doing in your life – what you are learning in your study of the Bible, how your relationship with Christ gives you confidence in hard times or even how God answered prayer.
This is not a cry for people to be “preachy,” but to be genuine, real and sincere. People know the difference. Your story of what God is doing in your life as you seek to follow Jesus is very powerful. If you consistently mention things that God does in your life in an authentic way, it’s amazing how many times you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel with co-workers, neighbors and friends.
Be who you are in Christ.
Perhaps we could propose a new rule… The first rule of being a follower of Christ is to talk about Jesus!
 Crossfit has its own lingo…
PR = Personal Record
AMRAP = As Many Rounds As Possible during a given time
EMOM = A movement performed Every Minute on the Minute
WOD = Workout of the Day
RX = A movement done at the prescribed weight and repetitions/duration
It’s a story I hear over and again…
“I can’t begin to tell you how much my student loans are killing me.”
“I have to leave my church position because I don’t make enough to pay my student loan bill.”
“I’d love to get more ministry training, but I can’t because I haven’t gotten close to paying off my first degree.”
What if your church could change a significant challenge for many pastors and staff members who serve your congregation and show how much you appreciate what they do?
Why don’t you invest in your pastor?
Bless them by paying their student loans!
No. I’m not feeling the Bern. But student loans are killing our pastors and staff more than you know.
Employers around the US are discovering that to attract the best talent and keep that talent working for the good of the company, student loan repayment programs can be a huge draw. CNN Money did a great article on how companies like PwC will give students up to $1,000 a year for up to 6 years of employment. Others give lump sum payoffs based on tenure. Even states like Kansas know the value of this by offering Rural Opportunity Zones.
You may be thinking, “My company doesn’t offer that benefit” or “I think they should have to work it off themselves.” You might be correct, but let’s do some simple math:
By the standards most search committees set for their pastor searches, a young pastor in his 20s or 30s may be carrying $30,000-$60,000 in student loans as they come to your church. This burden is distracting in the least and financially cataclysmic for others.
A Recommendation for Churches:
Here’s my recommendation for churches to invest in the best candidates knowing that such an arrangement benefits your congregation:
Help your pastor or staff member understand the beauty of debt-free living! You can make a difference in the life of the pastor who invests so deeply in your life and your community!
 Our tuition for residential students at MBTS who are members of Southern Baptist Churches is less than $20,000 total cost thanks to the generosity of the members of SBC churches contributing to the Cooperative Program! http://www.mbts.edu/news-resources/current-students/tuition-and-fees/ Programs at elite Evangelical schools like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School are in excess of $61,000 for program’s total tuition cost. http://divinity.tiu.edu/admissions-financial-aid/tuition-fees/ Neither of these dollar amounts account for books, program fees or living costs.
 According to the Institute for College Access and Success, 7 in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,950 per borrower. http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data-2015
“Cheer up Church. You’re worse off than you think.”
These poignant lyrics from singer/songwriter Charlie Peacock echoed in my mind this morning as I read the news. From crazy election results, to sin proudly on display, one cannot escape the seemingly relentless movement of hearts turned away from God.
The only answer to this horrible situation is the grace of God.
Asked to explain the lyrics of the song, Peacock wrote, “The truth is… I am worse off than I think or know. It is amazing that God knows the extent of my rebellion against Him (even if I really don't) and He still loves me and pursues me and is committed to making me like his Son Jesus. When I take this to heart a smile appears on my face. I cheer up.” Our lives are not dominated by circumstances, but rather the reality of God’s grace poured out on our life.
This worked itself out lyrically in the song, “Cheer Up, Church”
“It's just like God to make a hero from a sinner
It's just like God to choose the loser not the winner
It's just like God to tell a story through the weak
To let the Gospel speak through the life of a man
Who'll be the first to say,
‘Cheer up, Church
You're worse off than you think
Cheer up, Church
You're standing at the brink
Don't despair, do not fear, Grace is near’"
As Evangelical Christianity continues to move to the outer boundaries of the culture, this is an opportunity for us to remember our might is not in politics nor in cultural prowess. It’s in the Gospel.
Cheer up, church! It’s worse than you think! But the Gospel never changes and Jesus is still on the throne. His grace is always near.
Listen to the song on Spotify
Listen to the song on Youtube
 When Peacock wrote the lyrics for this song, he was remembering the life of a friend, Jack Miller, former pastor and a professor at Westminster Seminary. “Cheer up, you are worse off than you think,” was a perpetual reminder Dr. Miller gave to believers. http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/music/ask-charlie-cheer-up-church-youre-worse-off-than-you-think-541044.html
John Mark Yeats