Parapets & Gun Control

When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. -Deuteronomy 22:8

Unless you are a builder or an architect, you probably have never heard of the word parapet. A parapet is a barrier that marks the boundaries of a roof. Its purpose is to protect human life. Specifically, parapets are designed to keep people from unintentionally falling off a roof. Parapets set a boundary between life and serious harm. During certain seasons in biblical times, inhabitants would sleep on their rooftops[1]. The Israelites did not have air conditioning units in their homes, so houses would often become muggy and stifling during the summer.

How many times have you stepped on a lego or stubbed your toe in the morning? Now, imagine what it would be like to wake up on your rooftop and unintentionally step off. Parapets were designed for this very purpose. Because our God cares for His creation, He commanded the Israelites to construct a parapet on their rooftops, so that they may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on their home.

Some might wonder why God would include a building code in the list of laws given for the Israelites. Was God really that particular? But this law was not given for fashion or exterior design, it was given to preserve life. Our God is the supreme life giver. Jesus even refers to Himself as “the life”[2]. God created both man and woman in His image[3], he sustains them by his sovereign power[4], and he commands his creation to seek one another’s welfare by choosing life[5]

So what does this command mean for us? I believe it teaches us to value the importance of preserving human life at any cost. God wants his people to be keenly aware of how their freedoms affect the lives of others. As citizens of Gods kingdom, we should always put the needs of others in front of our own, especially if those needs preserve life within the community.

Gun control.

Like most topics in these divisive times, having a conversation on gun rights or gun control is incredibly polarizing. A common misconception is that you are either for the absolute ownership of all firearms, or you believe that all weapons should be banned and forcibly removed. This topic has become so incendiary that neither side wants a conversation; they simply want action, i.e. their way. And when conversation does not take place, both sides slander their opponents while speaking past one another.

Full disclosure: I am a gun owner, having inherited a couple firearms from my grandfather who was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Most of my family hunts. Our holiday seasons consisted of gearing up for an early morning in the woods, telling stories and reminiscing over previous hunts. Although I rarely hunt anymore, I would have no problem doing so if the need for food was there.

However, I believe it is time for Christians to sit down and seriously consider whether we have turned our guns into idols. Try to answer these questions honestly.

  • Am I more concerned about my freedom to own guns than I am about the increasing gun violence in our nation?
  • Is gun ownership up for debate, or has gun ownership become a sacred, almost religious right for me?

I have been wrestling with these questions for a few years now, and to be honest, gun ownership was a sacred idol of mine for many years. In my walk with Christ I have discovered many idols and letting them go or even questioning their validity is a very tough task. As Christians we must realize that we are citizens of Gods kingdom first, and the United States second. This means that there are going to be times when we prioritize the rights of others ahead of our own. This may feel very foreign to us…perhaps even un-American, but this distinction is what separates believers from the world.[6]

Here are the facts on gun violence in the United States.

  • 306 school shootings since 2013.
  • Seven children and teens (age 19 or under) are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day.
  • On average, 50 women are shot and killed every month by their partners.
  • 96 Americans are killed by guns every day.
  • On average there are 13,000 gun homicides per year.
  • There have been at least 60 unintentional shootings by children in 2018.[7]

I propose that instead of immediately getting defensive, we reason with one another and explore every avenue that leads to a safer existence for mankind. This can be hard for us, because even our freedoms as American citizens can become idolatrous. For example, if I have the freedom to purchase, own and possess a powerful semi-automatic weapon with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, all within 24 hours; if that freedom causes more harm than good within society, should I fight for those freedoms?

Please note that I am not arguing against gun ownership. I am simply asking Christians to value what God values: human life. If stricter gun laws can be proven to reduce gun violence, why would Christians not consider them? Why would Christians fight for the inclusion of novelty weapons, such as the AR-15, if their inclusion made it easier for mass shootings to take place? The refusal of many within the church to even consider these options reveals to the world how distorted our priorities are.

I am sure there were many Israelite’s who did not want to construct parapets on their rooftops. Perhaps many considered this law as an infringement of their personal freedom. But as we look back in time, we know what was most important: the preservation of human life. Perhaps we should do the same today.

A special thanks to Dr. Dan Doriani, professor of Christian Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary for providing and giving permission to use the parapet illustration. Also thanks to Sam Rogers, PHD candidate at the University of Manchester for editing the final draft.

[1] 1st Samuel 9:26

[2] John 14:6

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Colossians 1:16

[5] Deuteronomy 30:19

[6] Matthew 20:16

[7] All statistics gathered from http://everytownresearch.org as of 4/10/2018

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New Life in St. Louis

Our family has been in St. Louis for almost 6 months now, which is truly remarkable. I remember wondering last year how God would provide for us if we chose to pursue seminary. We were living in a large parsonage with a decent salary in a safe-small town. The thought of packing everything up and moving to a small apartment in the big city was daunting (and unappealing to be honest!)

But God did what He does best.

He opened doors.

He provided.

To say that we stepped out on faith is to give us too much credit. There were days when my thinking was “This is really happening! We are going to be fine!” and others when I wondered how much longer I could keep this charade up.

On top of it all I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I did not realize how anxious and depressed I had become at my previous church. I experienced bullying and manipulation to an extreme degree; and since I am naturally a people pleaser, I overworked myself attempting to gain the favor of others. I placed the church in front of my family. My marriage began to suffer. I was increasingly becoming more and more bitter, and I knew that God was calling me out of the ministry.

But then God brought us here. I received a substantial scholarship from the seminary, plus found a job working at a small machine shop ran by a solid Christian family. I worked there for a few months then the seminary offered me a position as a resident manager. That position came with a salary plus free rent; which was a substantial burden lifted from our family. We have received unexpected financial support from family and friends. I have started to receive counseling from Godly pastors and others who have experienced church hurt.

Everywhere I turn God reminds me of His faithfulness. In many ways, these past few months have taught me what it means to be a Christian.

To love, obey and trust God throughout every circumstance; even when the road is hard, and the end is not in sight. He knows what He is doing. Our God is sovereign. King Jesus promises to never leave me nor forsake me, and every trial in life is for His glory and our good.

Trust Him.

My Wedding Ring (Baptism part 1)

The greatest joy of being a children’s pastor for 7 years was watching young kids come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Second to that was the honor and privilege of baptizing them into the kingdom of God. Baptism is an important and necessary sacrament commanded by our Lord Himself (Matt 28) for all believers. However, baptism is arguably the most misunderstood sacrament/ordinance within the church.

Questions abound regarding the significance of this ancient rite:

  • What is its purpose?
  • Does baptism save us?
  • What does it symbolize?
  • Can a Christian refuse baptism?
  • How shall we perform baptism?
  • Should a person be re-baptized?
  • Can a person be a christian without baptism?
  • At what age should a person be baptized?
  • Can non-believers be baptized?
  • Should a transferring member of another church be re-baptized?
  • Should children of believing parents be baptized?
  • Should any child be baptized?
  • Should the terminally ill be baptized?

These are just a few of the many questions people have regarding baptism.

My understanding of baptism has been evolving for several months now, and I would like to share with you all my thoughts on this blessed sacrament. My hope is that this post will be the first of many discussing the purpose and importance of baptism.

To begin, let’s talk about my wedding ring! Now to be honest, I had to have my titanium wedding ring cut off last year for my job at a metal shop. So now I’m wearing a blue rubber band specifically designed for welders, mechanics, etc.

But I digress…

When explaining baptism in the past, I always pointed to my wedding ring as an example of what baptism symbolizes: one persons commitment to another. Just as my wedding ring publicly declares that I am a married man, baptism is a public demonstration of the commitment a believer has made to Christ. So when a person is baptized, they must profess their faith publicly by going before the church making their profession known. I even heard it explained that baptism is like the press conference an athlete conducts to declare which school he or she will play for.

In short, baptism symbolizes a persons faith in Christ. A close pastor friend of mine informed me that he tells every youth initiate for baptism that if they were not willing to be baptized in the middle of their high school, they were not ready to receive the sign of baptism. Take a look at how the BFM 2000 defines baptism:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

What can we learn from this understanding of baptism? I argue that it is incredibly man-centered. It is all about the commitment you make to Christ. Baptism is the promise that you declare publicly before God and His church. It is an outward demonstration of your inward faith. Perhaps this is why so many Christians are baptized and re-baptized within the church.

If baptism is all about our commitment to God, then what happens when we screw up? What happens when a believer falls away from the Lord for a season? What happens when a believers outward lifestyle does not represent an inward faith?

Well we recommit our lives to Christ and receive baptism again.

And again.

And again.

I am speaking from experience. I was baptized at the ages of 7 and 12, and to be honest I’ve been tempted to be baptized again since then. But why? Because my understanding of baptism was man-centered. It’s all about what I have to do in order to get my life right with God. I need to recommit and have a fresh start!

Now, this wrestling with baptism is not something many of my baptist friends will readily confess. They will argue that my after mentioned line of reasoning reveals a faulty understanding of salvation, and they are right! However, this faulty understanding is unavoidable when a believer believes baptism to be the seal of their faith in God. Baptism becomes a work in that it represents what we have done for Christ i.e. chosen Him!

Let’s return again to my wedding ring. What is its purpose? It symbolizes the commitment my wife made to me on our wedding day. On May 28th, 2011, I entered into a covenantal agreement with my wife. We promised ourselves to one another, and then sealed those promises with rings.

The primary purpose of my wedding ring is not to publicly declare to the world that I am a married man. Certainly that is one of its lesser purposes. My wedding rings primary purpose is to remind me of the promise my wife gave to me on our wedding day. It symbolizes the promise of herself to me. It is a constant reminder that I am loved, and that she is devoted to me through thick and thin-till death due us part.

Perhaps baptism should be understood in the same manner. What if baptism was not all about our promises to God…but rather His promise to us? I’m not advocating for a redefinition of what baptism is, but rather a fuller one. One that is centered on what God has done for us, and not vice versa. Lord willing I will discuss this further in the future.

Blessings.

A New Chapter

childrens ministry

As a kid growing up, I never saw myself being a Children’s pastor. When I was a child, I did not have a Children’s pastor. In fact, Children’s ministry is a relatively new phenomenon within the church. I was your average church kid; attending services whenever the doors were open. Participating in Vacation Bible School and summer church camps. The churches of my youth were always small; so we didn’t have elaborate services or monthly events throughout the year. But we did have Sunday School and RA’s. I remember learning the importance of studying the Bible and prayer. I remember being baptized at Second Baptist Church in West Memphis. I remember the faithful men and women who instructed me during my youth, teaching and quizzing me on the Bible. Learning all the familiar stories repeatedly. Discovering that God loved me so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sins.

When I became a Children’s pastor in June of 2012, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was determined to do one thing: teach the Bible, the whole counsel of God, to children. I had very little experience teaching children, and I did not know how to communicate information to the various stages of adolescence. I remember going back to my notes from Adolescent Development, which was a class I took in college that I had absolutely no interest in. The church in Walnut Ridge was incredibly patient with me however, always encouraging and offering wisdom and advice when needed. When I look back on my time in Walnut Ridge, I am reminded of the verse in 1st Corinthians that says “God uses the weak to shame the strong.” For whatever reason God blessed my ministry and I was able to see firsthand the fruits of my labor.

When I came to Hampton, I felt like a Children’s Ministry professional. I had a few years of experience and had learned a lot in Walnut Ridge (mostly from trial and error!) My position at Hampton came with new responsibilities. I was the Associate Pastor and Minister to Children, which although I was never given an official job description, I was basically told that I would be assisting the Senior pastor with his pastoral responsibilities. I was blessed with the opportunity to preach more; whether that be at church, ministerial alliance events, the nutrition center or the local jail. I administered the Lord’s supper for the first time, and regularly visited church members in the hospital. These responsibilities increased when our church went 9 months without a pastor. In fact, the church decided to ordain me into the gospel ministry last September. All the while God continued to bless my ministry to children, even though I felt like I was being pulled into too many directions.

These past 6 months, I’ve been sensing that it’s time to move on from children’s ministry. Although I thoroughly love sharing the gospel with children, I feel like it’s time for me to continue my education as I prepare for pastoral ministry. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been taking a class here or there online through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I’ve been going at a snail’s pace due to the cost and lack of time. A couple weeks back one of the seminaries I’ve been researching offered a tremendous scholarship for their MDiv program, and after seeking the Lords wisdom and praying with family and friends, we have decided to accept their offer. Our last Sunday with our church family in Hampton in November 12th, and we will be loading up and moving the following week. Starting in January I will be a full-time student at Covenant Theological Seminary located just outside St. Louis.

Looking back on my time in Children’s ministry, it’s been clear that God has used these past five years to draw me closer to Himself, to humble me, to give me a clearer understanding of His Word, and to prepare me for the peaks and valleys of pastoral ministry. In many ways, I feel like God has taught me more than I have ever taught children these past five years. I thank God for all the people God has placed in my family’s life during our time in Children’s ministry; and I am indebted to the churches who have loved and supported us throughout the years.

cm2

Covenant Seminary is the official seminary of the Presbyterian Church of America. I know this will catch many of you by surprise. A few years back I was encouraged by a friend to study the scriptures for myself to determine what God’s word truly teaches. At that time in my life I was bouncing around the theological spectrum; listening to everyone and studying nothing. 

That being said, I have fallen in love with the doctrines of grace and reformed theology. In recent months I’ve been studying the Westminster Confession of Faith; the confession used by conservative Presbyterian denominations. Although I am not Presbyterian, I do believe the Lord may be leading me in that direction. I plan on writing about the differences between reformed and baptistic theology in the future for anyone interested. 

I am thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s the denomination that led me to faith in Jesus Christ. Its the denomination that ordained me into the gospel ministry. I believe that the denomination is healthy and is heading in the right direction. 

Sometimes God calls us to do things that don’t make sense…but it will eventually. Right now I’m trusting in the promises of God. Please be in prayer for my family as we prepare to move. 

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Review

Ok, confession. I can be a very argumentative person. I’m not entirely sure why, but I absolutely love being right. Sometimes I HAVE to be right…and if I am not proven to be right, everyone must know my opinion and that I am well versed in argumentation. In the past, I’ve been the guy on Facebook blowing up someone’s news feed because they posted something I did not like or agree with.

What’s worse is that I love playing the devil’s advocate. Part of being a skilled debater is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every argument, and then using it to your advantage. There have been times that I have argued for something that I did not necessarily agree with. Pretty sick, huh? Just writing this makes me feel like a weirdo! Talk about a strange personality trait.

Image result for somebody is wrong on the internet

But here’s the deal: I am not alone. Anyone who has ever posted something controversial on Facebook or Twitter knows that the internet is filled with opinionated people. We live in the age of outrage. From the news to social media, we are bombarded with stories designed to incite us into taking sides. Republicans v.s. Democrats. Patriots v.s. communists. Christians v.s. atheists. Secular v.s. Judaeo-Christian. Liberals v.s. conservatives. Rich v.s. poor. Black v.s. white. Big government v.s. small government. Hollywood v.s. working class. And so on and so forth.

What’s worse is that media outlets know this, because by instilling an “us v.s. them” mindset, their ratings will improve by creating loyal factions who become just as closed-minded and argumentative as they are. Rarely do they offer anything of substance or create avenues of healthy dialogue; they simply resort to strawman arguments and caricaturing the “other” side. People with opposing viewpoints immediately become enemies who are brainwashed from opposing news outlets.

The evidence for this is revealed every time you turn on the television or open your Facebook app. We live in incredibly divided times. Americans are divided on so many issues, and instead of civility, dialogue, healthy discourse and mutual respect, there is constant fear-mongering and ad hominem.

When my copy of Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls arrived in the mail, I could not wait to dive in. The subtitle for Saul’s book is “A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides.” I felt like the book was written especially for me. Saul’s begins his book by asking this question:

“I decided to write this book because I am tired. Tired of taking sides, that is. Are you?”

Jesus Outside the Lines has 10 chapters; the first four dealing with controversial issues within the church, the last six covering areas of disagreement between believers and non-believers. Scott summarizes his first four chapters by quoting St. Augustine who famously quipped “In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty.” Must Christians choose between…

  1. Being Republican or Democrat?
  2. Protecting the rights of the unborn or loving the poor?
  3. Going to church and having a public faith or sitting at home and being a Christian privately?
  4. Being poor or rich for its own sake?

In a very Keller-esque fashion (Scott served alongside Tim Keller at Redeemer church in Manhattan for many years), the answers to these questions aren’t as clear cut as their made out to be. Saul’s advocates taking a middle way: gathering the best ideas from every tribe and moving forward in love and respect. For example, it is entirely possible for a Christian to be a democrat. Just like it is entirely possible to care for the unborn AND care for the poor at the same time. It is possible to have a vibrant personal faith WITHIN the bounds of the church Jesus died for. The problems arise when we begin demonizing those we disagree with. It’s easy for us to forget that the church is a complex, multi-ethnic, trans-continental body that has existed for over two millennia. Does this mean that everything is debatable or up for grabs? Absolutely not. It does mean that not every Christian around the world will look, believe and act like you. I enjoyed the first four chapters of Saul’s book the best, finding them convicting, encouraging and challenging.

The last six chapters of Saul’s book deals with problems many believers have when dealing with their lost neighbors and objections many unbelievers have regarding the church. In fact, these last chapters function something like an apologetic; reminiscent once again of the work Tim Keller has done (See Reason for God). These chapters focus on the following concerns/objections:

  1. Should the church judge the world?
  2. Does God love or hate?
  3. Why are Christians so hypocritical?
  4. Why does God hate sex?
  5. Religion or fantasy?
  6. The Bible is full of imperfect people.

Overall, I found this book edifying and good for my soul. I would recommend it for my friends who are tired of taking sides (and being a jerk about it). You can purchase your copy here.