One Effort To Prevent Failure In Ministry

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Every fall and spring I have the joy and responsibility of addressing new students as they enter the College of Southeastern and Southeastern Seminary. I am always excited to do this, but I also have a real sense of burden. Why? Because I know some will never see graduation and some will not last in ministry. Almost all begin with great hopes, dreams and aspirations. “I am going to change the world for Christ.” “My life in vocational ministry is going to make an impact for eternity.” Tragically along the way they get sidelined, fall by the wayside, drop out of the race. The older I get the more acutely aware I am of the fact: it is one thing to start well, but it is another thing to finish well. So, each fall and spring I share the following with our new students. I hope you will be encouraged. I hope together, we finish our race well for the glory of God and the good of His Church.

Being Faithful To The High Calling Of Christ

(“How to Survive Seminary and Make it in the Ministry”)

 Philippians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 10:31

1. Maintain your quiet time, and be active in a local church. Southeastern is not a substitute for community life in the Body of Christ.

Psalm 46:10; Mark 1:35

2. Guard your marriage/family. This is one of Satan’s favorite areas to launch an attack.

Psalm 127; 128; Song of Solomon 2:15; Ephesians 5:21-6:4

3. Pursue holiness by a) protecting your thought life, b) maintaining your integrity, and c) avoiding the places of temptation and evil.

Proverbs 23:7; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Philippians 2:5; Ephesians 4:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:22

4. Remember we are a covenant community that takes seriously our covenant commitments.   Honor your word and keep your promises.

Matthew 5:33-37; 1 John 2:5

5. Watch your finances and always act responsibly and with integrity. This is the number one killer of most students who have to drop out of school.

Romans 13:8

6. Remember you are here primarily to learn, not to teach. However, at SEBTS, we all believe we can learn from one another.

II Timothy 2:1-2

  • Few things are more valuable than a teachable spirit.
  • Study now what you will find difficult to study later.
  • Commit now to continue to study what you are studying now. (Greek, Hebrew, Theology, Philosophy, History, Apologetics)

7. Learn to work with, and get along with, people (develop your “people skills”). In other words, seek to balance both what you believe and how you live.

Ephesians 4:1-6

8. Be responsible and wise in your ministry service for the Lord, following the biblical model of a “shepherd” or “servant” leader.

Mark 8:31-38; 10:32-45; 1 Peter 5:1-4

9. Put no limitations on how and where our King might use you. Ask the Lord to give you the ability to truly pray, “Lord, why should I stay?”

Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20

10. Find a passion for the Great Commission. This is, after all, the final marching orders of King Jesus.

Matthew 28:16-20

Is It True Jesus Never Addressed Same Sex Marriage?

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[Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on August 8, 2012.]

Today it is popular among those promoting same sex marriage to say that Jesus never addressed the issue, that He was silent on the subject.  Those who affirm the historical and traditional understanding of marriage between a man and woman often are admonished to go and read more carefully the Bible.  If we do so we are told we will see that Jesus never addressed the issue.  So, the question that I want to raise is, “Is this assertion correct?”  Is it indeed the fact that Jesus never addresses the issue of same sex marriage?

When one goes to the gospels to see exactly what Jesus did say, one will discover that He addressed very clearly both the issues of sex and marriage.  He addresses both their use and misuse.  And, as He speaks to both subjects, He makes it plain that issues of the heart are of critical importance.

First, what did Jesus say about sex?  Jesus believed that sex is a good gift from a great God.  Jesus is pro-sex!  He also believed that sex was a good gift to be enjoyed within a monogamous, heterosexual covenant of marriage.  On this He is crystal clear.  In Mark 7 Jesus addresses the fact that all sin is ultimately an issue of the heart.  Jesus was never after behavioral modification.  Jesus was always after heart transformation.  Change the heart and you truly change the person. Thus when He lists a catalog of sins in Mark 7: 21-22, He makes it clear that all of these sins are ultimately matters of the heart. It is the idols of the heart that Jesus is out to eradicate.  Among those sins of the heart that often give way to sinful actions He would include both sexual immorality and adultery (Mark 7:21).  The phrase “sexual immorality,” in a biblical context, would speak of any sexual behavior outside the covenant of marriage between a man and woman.  Therefore, Jesus viewed pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexual behavior as sinful.  And, He knew that the cure for each is a transformation of the heart made possible by the good news of the gospel.  The gospel changes us so that now we are enabled to do not what we want, but what God wants.  Here we find real freedom and joy.

Second, what about the issue of marriage?  Is it truly the case that Jesus never spoke to the issue in terms of gender?  The answer is a simple no.  He gives His perspective on this when He addresses the issue in Matthew 19:4-6.  There, speaking to the institution of marriage, Jesus is clear when He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  That Jesus was committed to heterosexual marriage could not be more evident. A man is to leave his parents and be joined to a woman who becomes his wife. This is heterosexual marriage.  That He also was committed to the permanence and fidelity of marriage is clear as well.

So, how might we sum up the issue?  First, Jesus came to deliver all people from all sin.  Such sin, He was convinced, originated in and was ultimately a matter of the heart.  Second, Jesus made it clear that sex is a good gift from a great God, and this good gift is to be enjoyed within heterosexual covenantal marriage.  It is simply undeniable that Jesus assumed heterosexual marriage as God’s design and plan.  Third, Jesus sees all sexual activity outside this covenant as sinful.  Fourth, it is a very dangerous and illegitimate interpretive strategy to bracket the words of Jesus and read into them the meaning you would like to find.  We must not isolate Jesus from His affirmation of the Old Testament as the Word of God nor divorce Him from His 1st century Jewish context.  Fifth, and this is really good news, Jesus loves both the heterosexual sinner and the homosexual sinner and promises free forgiveness and complete deliverance to each and everyone who comes to Him.  John 7 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery.  The religious legalists want to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and prevents her murder.  He then looks upon the woman and, with grace and tenderness, He tells her that He does not condemn her.  Then He says to her, “go and sin no more.”  In Matthew 11:28 Jesus speaks to everyone of us weighed down under the terrible weight and burden of sin.  Listen to these tender words of the Savior, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  This is the hope that is found in Jesus.  This is the hope found in the gospel.  Whether one is guilty of heterosexual or homosexual sin, one will find grace, forgiveness and freedom at the foot of the cross where the ground is always level.

When I came to fully trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 20, I determined that I wanted to think like Jesus and live like Jesus for the rest of my life.  When it comes to sex I want to think like Jesus.  When it comes to marriage I want to think like Jesus.  That means I will affirm covenantal heterosexual marriage.  It also means loving each and every person regardless of their lifestyle choices.  It means, as His representative, proclaiming His gospel and extending the transforming grace of the gospel to others that takes us where we are, but wonderfully and amazingly, does not leave us there.  That is a hope and a promise that followers of Jesus gladly extend to everyone, because we have been recipients of that same amazing grace.

A Letter From the President: Reflections On Ten Wonderful Years

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On January 15th of this year I celebrated my 10th year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  For Charlotte and me, this is almost impossible to believe!  And yet at the same time, we have experienced so many things.  As I pen this letter from Istanbul, Turkey, where we have the joy of being with students that God has called to the nations, I am aware that during these 10 years we have buried three parents, welcomed three daughters-in-law, added 10 grandchildren, and celebrated 35 years of marriage and ministry together.  On a personal level, God has blessed us with a full and joyful life.  With the psalmist I delight to sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).

I can also sing that same verse as I think about all the ways our Lord has blessed the school I have the honor and privilege of serving.  An exhaustive list would require a book!  However, let me highlight a few of the good things our great God has done in the past decade.

1)   The Lord led us to a very clear “mission statement” that says who we are.  The shorthand version is “Southeastern is a Great Commission Seminary.”  Ask anyone on our campus who we are, and that is the answer you will receive.  The longer version simply says, “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.”  This statement guides us in all that we do.  I believe it has helped a really good seminary to become an even better seminary.  It keeps us focused on the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

2)   The Lord has grown our school from just over 2400 to over 3100 students, and the future looks even brighter.  What a blessing!

3)   We have gone from having one endowed faculty chair to seven!  This is a double blessing in that it honors wonderful servants of God and helps the seminary financially.  I would love to see this number double in the next 10 years.

4)   The Lord has graced us with as fine of a faculty as you will find anywhere in the world.  Our students have the joy of studying under godly men and women who are churchmen, brilliant scholars, and followers of King Jesus who have a deep love for the church and a passion for the nations.  Three of my own sons and a daughter-in-law have studied or are studying here.  As a dad, I could not ask for a better place of training for my children.

5)   We built the Prince Facilities building and Patterson Hall.  Both buildings have been a tremendous asset to Southeastern in terms of how we care for the campus and teach our students.

6)   The Lord has blessed me with an incredible leadership team that has taken Southeastern to the next level.  Bruce Ashford, Jamie Dew, Ryan Hutchinson, Mark Liederbach, Chuck Lawless and Art Rainer excel in their areas of responsibility.  They make me look better than I am!  And, they are my brothers and friends who challenge me to be more like Jesus.

7)   Under the leadership of John Ewart, we launched EQUIP which allows the seminary and local churches to partner in doing theological education.  The brilliant New Testament Scholar Don Carson said this model was a utopian dream.  By God’s grace, we are making it a reality.

8)   Shortly before his death, we instituted the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture.  Initially directed by Bruce Little, it is now led by Ken Keathley.  This Center is simply stellar in engaging the cultural issues that the church must face and address with biblical truth and conviction.  I know Dr. Bush is smiling from heaven in all the Center is accomplishing.

9)   We were able to receive and house the letters and papers of Francis Schaeffer, one of evangelicalism’s leading apologists in the 20th century.  Words are not adequate to express what a gift this is.  Bruce Little rightly deserves a huge “thank you” for making this happen.

10)  Finally, and I could continue for a long time, the Lord Jesus has blessed our campus with a spirit of love, joy and gratitude.  My friend Mark Dever calls us “the happy campus.”  I think he is right.  Visitors often comment about the happy, joyful servant spirit they find on this campus.  It bears much fruit.  We know that over 90% of prospective students who visit our campus will choose Southeastern as their seminary or college.  Why?  Because students, staff, faculty and administration are happy to be here and we just can’t hide it.  And, we don’t want to!

On a number of occasions I have been asked if I aspired to be a seminary president.  The fact is when God called me into ministry in 1977 on the Papago Indian Reservation in Sells, Arizona, this boy from Georgia did not know what a seminary was.  I did not know they even existed.  No, all I have ever wanted to do since that day is please the Lord Jesus, preach the Bible, serve the church, and share the gospel.  I am the most surprised of all that I get to do what I do.  I am a blessed man far beyond what I could ever hope, imagine or deserve.  Thank you King Jesus for these wonderful years.  If it is your will, I look forward to many more.