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
The holiday season is in full swing at my house. Christmas Trees, Nativity scenes, Advent calendars and even Santa Claus.
Shocking, I know.
The ubiquitous red-suited bearer of gifts still hangs around my home as part of the Christmas fun in our family. Some parents seem to want to move away from this tradition as Santa Claus becomes so intertwined with the secular Christmas narrative that in order to view Christ, we must also jettison Kris Kringle and his assorted paraphernalia.
To be fair, during the Reformation and following through to the Puritans, old St. Nick wasn’t seen as a positive thing. He was “popish” and to be avoided. The 1645 Directory of Public Worship for the Presbyterian Church stated it rather bluntly, “Festival days, vulgarly called Holy days, having no Warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.” It seems in many respects that the original war on Christmas was staged by the Protestant church.
But we are inheritors of the Victorian Romanticism that brought all of this back to the center of popular culture. Thus, for over 150 years, Santa plays a major part every December in our stories of the season.
So what’s a parent to do?
I have a few suggestions that may help you be able to communicate the story of Christmas clearly without allowing Santa to get in the way.
Celebrate Jesus – Using Advent tools and family devotions, talk about Jesus EVERY day of the Christmas season. Don’t let up. The culture isn’t, and you shouldn’t either. Tools from your church or other congregations can help you keep this focus for your family. This year, my family is using the advent family guide from the Austin Stone found in their app. Our friends at The Gospel Project also put one together called, _The Expected One .
Discover the Real Guy – Santa is based on a real pastor and church leader. Ok, so you have to peel back quite a few layers to get to his story, but we always told our kids the story of St. Nicholas. As one of the most celebrated saints in both the Eastern and Western churches, it’s not hard to find information about him. However, over the years, fantastical stories have been added to the historical record, but we do know this:
- St. Nick served as the bishop of Myra on the southern coast of modern day Turkey. He grew up in a wealthy family who died when Nicholas was young. Heeding Jesus’ words of caution to the rich young ruler, Nicholas lived a life of generosity and gave his inherited wealth away. Under Diocletian (284-305), an emperor who heavily persecuted Christians, Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Later, under Constantine, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 and defended the orthodox teaching of the Scriptures. He died sometime around 340.
- The most famous story attributed to him relates to a poor family who didn’t have enough money to pay for their daughters’ dowry. This would have prevented the daughters from marrying so Nicholas anonymously tossed a bag of gold in through an open window to pay for the oldest daughter’s dowry. It just so happened that the bag ended up in a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. While there is no solid historical evidence of this event, it is attested to very early and has persisted through the centuries.
- The best story relating to Nicholas happened during the proceedings of the Nicene council. When Arius shared his heretical views stating that Jesus was not equal to God, Nicholas became so irritated that someone would deny the clear teaching of Scripture, he jumped up from where he was sitting and slapped Arius across the face. He was thrown in jail for the offense, but was eventually restored to his position as Bishop after the council ended.
- His feast day was celebrated on December 6. In Europe, this was the day to give gifts to others so not to obscure the worship of Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas.
For a great overview of this, see this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/nick.html
Have Fun - Allow your kids to have fun with the stories about Santa. Call them "games" or "tall tales" or "fun stories." Point them back to the history of St. Nick as a real person. Talk about his generosity or his courage to stand firm for the faith. But please heed this: Always Tell the Truth – If your young child asks if Santa is real, tell the truth. Do not allow them to miss out on the truth of Jesus once they discover the “truth” of Santa. Again, in our family, we often talked about the “game of Santa” or pointed them to history. We didn’t want them to miss out on the greatest joy – Jesus.
Read Luke 2 as a Family – One of my fondest memories was my grandfather gathering all of us around the Christmas tree and reading about the birth of Christ. We would all sit and listen as, once again, the incarnation was made real. My grandfather would then explain how God gave the greatest gift – Jesus. Accordingly, that is why we shared presents with one another. We would pray and then open presents. While I didn’t always get what was going on, there was a clear signal being sent by my grandfather on the priority of Jesus during this season.
Share Christ - Gear your family to use this as an important season for Evangelism. Many people can feel disconnected during this season, but you can point them to the ultimate fulfillment of every hope and the true giver of Joy in the person of Jesus Christ. We are leading our kids to invite people to our Gospel-focused Christmas Eve services and encouraging them to talk to their friends about Jesus! This is Christmas!
So what about you? Do you have thoughts about how to deal with Santa this season?
 See Chris Durston’s Fascinating article, “The Puritan War on Christmas” in History Today Vol. 35 (12) Dec. 1985. http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/puritan-war-christmas
The local Baptist association is dead.
At least that’s what I’ve heard.
By now I’ve already angered some and others are nodding in approval. Historically Baptist associations served as a connection point for most of our congregations. The association served churches by helping them stay doctrinally strong, encouraging shared evangelistic outreach, and helping churches in various stages of their life cycle – plant, renewal or death. I think they are a valuable part of our Baptist communion.
But it doesn’t take long to discover that participation in the local association is waning. On some levels, its not surprising. Associations that served churches where I pastored often demanded much in the way of resources but gave back very little to member congregations. Some even had leaders who acted like Bishops with control over our church – not a smart move if you are working with Baptists!
Sitting in my local Chamber of Commerce meeting the other day, I began to realize something. What if our associations began to work more strategically and carefully. What if they took on some of the components typical of the local Chamber while they sought to serve the church and advance the Gospel?
While I am sure there are more ideas here, I propose at least 6 major emphases that can revitalize many of our associations while we do the work set out for us in our community. Some of these are for the association and its leaders. Some of the ideas are for the member churches. We can only succeed if we work together!
Some have proposed that the day of the local association may well be over. Spending time in my local Chamber of Commerce convinces me otherwise so long as our Baptist associations begin to cast a compelling vision for the future and serve the member churches as they engage the community. We could see a new day! Get your church and yourself involved in your local association for the good of the Kingdom!
For nearly two millennia, the church stood rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.. The church offered the freedom of the cross to people groups that openly accepted the Gospel as well as to cultures that fully rejected the claims of Christ.
For nearly two millennia, the church has contemplated and been faced with it all:
The list goes on. It’s all there. As Solomon once stated, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Since the very beginning, the church has spoken to the challenges of their day by driving believers back to the ultimate authority – the Scriptures. In certain eras, the church engaged the needs of the day effectively. In other eras, the church itself became so enmeshed with the cultural norms of the day, prophetic voices arose not with new message, but one as old as the church itself – to return to the Word of God.
Each generation received a missiological mantel to engage the cultural issues of their day. They presented Truth. The Truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior over and again. As a pilgrim people who have not yet reached their homeland, voice after voice in the church championed the claims of Scripture to encourage positive aspects of culture or prophetically condemn the atrocities of the era.
For Christians, we engage the situations of the day standing not alone, but amid the throngs of generations. This “great cloud of witnesses” provide encouragement, balanced insight and a deeper context than the flash-fire of the present. It gives us the ability to wrestle with ideas along with our forbears – even when the process is less than neat and clean.
Consider the question of abortion. Evangelicals continue to hold the ground on issues of life in the womb. Not only in the Scriptures is all life upheld as precious in God’s sight, but the church carried this teaching forward. In the early 3rdcentury, Tertullian writes his apologetic work, Treatise on the Soul, arguing for a clear understanding of life beginning at conception. By the 6th Ecumenical Council in 680 the question of abortion was re-iterated leading Eastern churches to affirm in 692 that those who abort a baby or produce drugs that lead to an abortion are committing murder.
Sound like issues we might face?
Read more about ways you can stand on the shoulders of prior generations as you engage yours. You can read the full article at Canon and Culture or by clicking here.
Earlier today, Russ Moore linked to a video over at LifeNews.com that shows Planned Parenthood's top doctor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola describing how she carefully harvests a baby during an abortion in order to make the organs available for those who need the specimens. Of course, for a price.
Quickly after posting, Facebook blocked the story, but friends, you need to see this.
It is unacceptable.
It is reprehensible.
It is illegal.
These are children.
Facebook blocked it, but I wanted you to see this to know just where we have come.
I'll be in my office weeping.
UPDATE: As of this afternoon, the post has been unblocked.
WARNING: I fully intend to frustrate many parents with this post.
Here’s the thing – Integrity is hard to maintain. We embrace its value and even promote living with absolute integrity as individuals. As parents we strive to model the way we are supposed to live in front of our kids.
So why do we allow our kids to bypass EULA restrictions to gain access to a popular app? (EULA = End User License Agreement)
This issue came to a head this past week as my son was asking me to download the game, “Clash of Clans” on the family iPad so he could play. He has multiple friends at school and church who play so I didn’t think much of it. After doing a little digging around, I figured out what parameters I needed to establish (in-game purchases set to “off”) and started the download.
And that’s when the EULA notice popped open –
Uh Oh! 13 years of age minimum! My son is 11.
I know no one reads the EULAs. They are huge legal documents. Indemnify this. Exclude that. More lawyer-speak. And we are off on a nap.
This time was different. The app through iTunes on our iPad actually requires you to agree to this specific age restriction before allowing play. To allow my son access meant lying about his age.
And now we are back to the integrity issue.
I want my son to tell the truth. I want him to walk with integrity. Lying about your age is a huge issue. Yet as Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft notes, “Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age,”
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most other social media websites have age restrictions set at 13 to avoid Federal legal mandates that require them to do more to police content and discussions. These are to be heeded by parents as well as children.
In some respects, as parents allow children to access these sites with their permission, they are giving their children an illegal “fake” digital ID. No self-respecting parent would give their kids a fake ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes, but we are allowing our children to access and participate in digital media not designed for them and prohibited by the distributers of the software. We cave – often because everyone else is.
In addition, children’s fake birthdates (set to a much older age) are stuck in their profiles. The only way to change a child’s date in Facebook or Instagram is to cancel the account and start over – something an active social media person is loathe to do. And this is outside of the challenges that come from the dark-side of the internet as people view profiles of your now, much “older” child.
So what’s a parent to do?
· Respect the EULA – Show integrity to your children by not allowing them to participate.
· Inform other parents – sometimes parents are simply unaware that there are age restrictions.
· Reinforce the concept of integrity with your kids – Help them see you won’t tolerate rule breaking now or later.
· Equip your kids with answers – When their friends ask why they can’t play, make sure your son or daughter has good answers to the “why”.
This is not an easy situation. My son hated my answer. We looked for other editions that may have provided a different EULA option, but in the end, my son will be waiting another couple of years before making his social media and online gaming debut.
I had the privilege of preaching in chapel this week at Midwestern. Our campus is doing a study of 2 Timothy each Tuesday (you can find the series here.)
The Southern Baptist TEXAN asked me to list ways you and your church can support adoptive families before, during and after the adoption process. Here's the run-down from their article published in the February issue of their paper:
How Christians Can Help
This particular edition had fantastic articles on adoption that you should check out. Click here for more!
John Mark Yeats