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Thoughts On My Right To Kill My Son

Jan. 23, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Two years ago my wife was five months pregnant. We were headed for an ultrasound to see the baby and have the doctors check to make sure everything was progressing nicely. We had done this three times before and were excited. All of our children were healthy and it never crossed our minds that the ultrasound would even take a long time. As we met with the doctor and ultrasound technician they referred to what they saw as "your child." They must have said it 50x during the ultrasound as they referred to "your child's hand," "your child's heart," etc. 

But then something changed. IMG_0192

Another doctor was brought into the room and for five minutes he stared at the baby's heart. The room was completely silent. I could tell my wife was becoming upset, but I was oblivious and thought she was overreacting. The doctor began to tell us that there was a tumor on our child's heart and started to run down all the scenarios we were now faced with. 

Then the doctor said to us: "If the fetus is abnormal and that is management problem for you, you have options." 

Let that one sink in for a moment.

The slight change in wording tells the story. I was in too much shock to respond, but later it dawned on me what he had done. The child my wife was carrying was only a child if we wanted to keep it. There were over 4,000 abortions in the US the day we were given the option to add one more. We had the right to determine whether this child would be allowed to live. If we did not want the baby, it was only a fetus.

There is of course, deep down, a selfish side in all of us. We tell ourselves we would never do "x" in any situation. Then you find yourself in that situation and your mind wanders. Kids limit us in many ways. A child with special needs - my life as I knew it would have been over. It was in that moment I understood for the first time in a real way that parenting is a joyful giving up of your time. Of course the rewards are great, but while having met many wonderful families with special needs kids, I wondered if I would be up for the task. Would I, despite my theology, be willing to murder my son? Would I reason that it wouldn't be a good life for him or that other children would be so negatively impacted, that my decision was really about management?

Three weeks later we came back for another ultrasound. The growth on the heart was not a tumor, but a normal variant. In the doctor's eyes, our child was a baby again. In our eyes, nothing had changed. I was never given the chance to truly choose life in a hard situation, but then again, it was never my choice to begin with.

I have pondered this event many times now that my son is approaching three. I am still in shock over it. Not a surprised kind of shocked. More of sadness and disgust. As my wife and I have considered that conversation multiple times over the years, we have felt a large pull to help the Right to Life movement. We however are handcuffed (in a wonderful way) right now with five children and are not able to do very much. Here are a few things for busy people to fight for the life of children not yet born:

1. Pray. Pray for the moms who are considering the abortion, the families who want to adopt the children and the doctors who want to murder them.

2. Engage. Take part in the Right to Life March. Engage your pro-choice friends in sane and calm arguments. Scott Klusendorf's book The Case for Life might really help you in this regard. The best argument to start is a simple one: Ask what the person you are debating what they think the mother is carrying. How they answer that question will guide your conversation. You never know how winning one person over to the pro-life side may impact the life of a child.

3. Make some money. Figure out a way to make more in order to buy an ultrasound machine for a pregnancy center or help a couple with the costs of an adoption. Continue to debunk the myth that Christians stop caring for babies after they are born.

4. Think about adoption. I have friends who adopted a child of a young teenager who, despite her parents wishes, carried the baby to term.

5. Love your own kids. They are sweet little image bearers in need of a great and merciful Savior. I don't want to be known as an advocate for an unborn child and not an advocate and provider for my own!

Is there more that could be done? Yes! Do we have the emotionial and practical time to do anything else? No. But it is a start.

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Are Ph.D.’s Necessary for Theological Education on the Mission Field?

Jan. 20, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

While pursuing my doctoral studies, I was often asked this question by well- meaning people: “Why are you getting a Ph.D. if you are only going back to work in Africa?” This question assumes that effective ministry in Africa does not require a Ph.D. This is a false assumption. Here are four reasons I believe more people should pursue Ph.D.’s before engaging in theological education overseas.

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1.  Guarding the truth of the gospel entrusted to us. Paul says to Timothy, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘Knowledge’” (1 Timothy 6:20). The deposit entrusted to Timothy is the gospel and he was to guard it against what is falsely called “knowledge” (false teaching). The gospel in most mission settings remains undefined and false teachings are rampant. We know that the gospel has its roots in the OT (cf. Gal 3:8). Jesus made the point that his life and ministry could only be understood from the OT context (Luke 24:25-27). In order to understand the gospel and guard it against false teaching, as well as preserve it for future generations, one needs to study the Scriptures well. The pursuit of a Ph.D. enables the church to continue to guard the gospel. While Masters degrees are sufficient for ministry, they do not necessarily prepare one for the kind of research and writing needed to guard the gospel and defend it against errors. A Ph.D. prepares for this task. We need people gifted in research and writing to help the church on the mission field to fully understand the gospel and pass it on to others, so that it will not lose its message, and so that people will neither add to nor subtract from it. While seminary education at the M.Div. level is good, we remain dependent on the work of those who have invested their lives in research and writing as a means of serving the church.

2.  Evangelical Christianity is lacking in higher education on the mission field. Judging by the publications available in a context like Africa, it is clear that evangelicals have a long ways to go in keeping up with the theological debate that has been ongoing since 1960. There are endless number of books on African theology, Afrocentric hermeneutics, liberation hermeneutics, feminist hermeneutics, black theology etc. Many of these volumes carry teachings that are contrary to Scripture. Yet, there is no ready response to the arguments made by these liberal scholars. We end up with publications on African theology and interpretation that are not helpful for the church. Why the absence of a response? The authors of such books are Ph.D. holders, trained in the West, who have returned to Africa to make their contributions. They are the face of African theology from a liberal perspective. How is the evangelical church going to respond to this situation? It will take African evangelicals who have pursued graduate studies and are able to research and write in response. At the very least, we need Ph.D.’s on the mission field to respond to the growing scholarly contribution of liberal Ph.D. holders. We cannot possibly expect pastors, many of whom are holders of a bachelors degree, having been trained by missionaries with masters degrees or less, to engage the highly trained liberal scholars on the continent. Can we?

3.  The church in America proves that Ph.D.’s are needed if there are to be strong churches on the mission field. What do I mean? If there were no Ph.D. holders in America, what would the state of the church be? God has graciously provided us with gifted men and women who have invested their lives in studies so that they are able to do research and write on matters of Scripture. Their work and their publications are used by pastors and lay people for preaching and teaching in the local church. Take all of these men and women out and the evangelical Christian literature will shrink. Those with Ph.D.’s are helping the church to continue to hold to the truth of their faith. Commentaries, articles, and devotional materials are written by many who have pursued higher education. Seminary graduates, pastors, and other Ph.D. holders depend on such works for ministry. If this is necessary for the church in America, how much more for the church on the mission field?

4.  Leadership development. There continues to be a cry for well-trained leaders for the churches on the mission field. This absence of leaders is embarrassing given the long history of missionary presence in those areas. Yet, one can understand why such scarcity of leaders exists. It takes well-trained leaders to provide leaders of such quality. The absence of Ph.D. holders on the mission field meant that less-qualified missionaries were left with the task of building the church and preparing future leaders for the churches. That is an impossible task. If leaders of high quality and education are to exist in any context, it will require others with higher education to prepare them. How can a missionary with a master’s degree possible prepare scholars for the church in his area of service? Such scholars are sorely needed.

I would hope that the question will no longer be, “Why are you pursuing a Ph.D. if you are only going back to Africa” but rather, “Why are you going to Africa without a Ph.D.?” The church on the mission field needs Ph.D. holders who will prepare future leaders of the world-wide church, who are able to guard the deposit entrusted to them.

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Dear Brothers, Disciple the Nations

Oct. 29, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Dear Pastor-

I know you are busy, but I am want to plead with you - disciple the nations.

There is one formally trained pastors for every 450,000 people outside of the United States.  That does not mean that all of them are not trained.  There are plenty of people who have been trained without going to school. 

I have met many good men around the world who have a significant portion of Scripture memorized and have very little understanding of what it means.  I have heard sermons that do not resemble anything Christian (of course, this happens in the United States!).  I know a pastor of 20 years who asked a friend, "When was Jesus converted?"  I have seen churches who act as if the OT was written after the NT.  When a church does not have a pastor that can rightly handle Scripture, that church is in peril.

Consider the beast of the earth and sea in Revelation - a terrible picture of how Satan attacks the church.  The first beast kills the saints.  This seems clear enough and there are large Christian organizations that focus on relieving our brothers and sisters in hard places.  The other beast deceives the saints, looking like a lamb but speaking like a dragon.  You only know it is a beast by what it says, not what it looks like.  

Now, which attack is harder to deal with?  It seems pretty clear when Satan is attacking the church by sending saints to heaven.  We can see it happening with our own eyes and mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters.  But when it comes to false teaching/teachers, we can hardly agree!  

So brothers, let's get people overseas who will disciple the nations.  Pastors - free up your week of meetings and go teach people how to preach.  Turn off your blog and Google reader to teach our brothers biblical theology and give them the tools to understand the Scriptures.  If you are reading this you have probably read more books on theology this month than most pastors I train in their lifetime. They need our help.  

I know being missional is important, but you can not ignore the explosion of Christian faith (however shallow) in the global south.  I know that some of you are reasoning that their are different nationalities right in your neighborhood and that is your way of reaching the nations.  But honestly, these people who live in the US have access to solid training.  You have lay elders who are more equipped theologically for ministry than most pastors overseas.  I think you can pass off some duties and take 2-3 weeks a year to impact entire congregations.

Just one last thing.  Don't go big.  Huge conferences won't help that much.  Who is taught preaching by a weekend conference with 5000 pastors?  Only those who already have a solid foundation to work from. Instead, take 10-15 guys and commit to them for a few years and help them understand their Bibles.  The impact will be felt in ways much greater than if you went to paint a house or dig a well. You have other church members that can do those things.  Go and teach.

Darren

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Context: Almost No One in Your Church Can Read

Aug. 6, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

What if only 13% of your church members were proficient readers?

As you prepared to serve this congregation, how would you craft the material you are teaching so that it could be understood?  Would you quote authors?  Would you reference books - especially since most of the books you read (assuming you are part of the 13%) are not being read by those you are teaching.  At what grade level would your vocabulary be as you spoke?

My guess is that if you were planning for a short-term trip in a cross-cultural context and heard this statistic you would take great care in your approach to teaching.  

But what if I told you that this statistic is from the Department of Education in the United States?   

Now ask yourself: Would you take the same care in preparing the message?  Would you argue that Christians need to think hard and therefore speak about issues and use vocabulary that are beyond your people in order to try to press them into deeper intellecutal waters?

It is a difficult dillemna, but one thing seems certain.  When Americans teach overseas, I have never heard them complain about the intellectual level of the people they are training.  Yet, I have heard many American pastors bemoan the fact that their own people have a hard time grasping what they believe is important. 

Are you considering your people when you teach in the place where you are from?

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Remembering the Day I Was Fired

Apr. 15, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

In the spring of 2008 I was brought into the principal’s office. I had been teaching at a Christian school for two years, where I had started working after I graduated from seminary. The first 18 months had gone really well and I truly enjoyed what I was doing. I had seen kids come to Christ, enjoyed teaching the students, loved coaching the basketball team and was privileged to serve as a board member. At home, my wife and I had just welcomed our second child into the home we bought in 2006. However, the last six months had been pretty difficult and in the morning of a spring day I was asked to resign. We all know what that means - I was being fired. 

It is hard now to recapture exactly what happened. I write with six years of perspective. The day will forever be ingrained in my mind. Getting called in. Sitting with friends who were letting me go. Telling my wife I was being fired from my first vocational ministry job. I had heard that only 1 in 5 people graduating from seminary were in vocational ministry after five years. Would I be a casualty? Would people think less of me and wonder whether I was competent or qualified to serve in a role I had been trained to do? Most of what I say below would apply to all types of firing, but I am speaking specifically about being fired from a vocational ministry position for reasons other than significant moral failure or cut backs - I’m talking about the hard and unclear cases.

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The allegations, whatever they are, are probably not 100% false

The last six months of my job were difficult. I needed to wade through all that was being said about me and learn. Even if 99% of it was false, some of it was probably true and even if it was minor I needed to mature. Do some pastors get sifted by their people even though they are 100% in the right? Yes, but it is rare. I have sat with many people who have been let go from ministry positions, and as they have told me their stories I have usually been able to see why the whole thing went south, even if they can not see it yet. It took me some time, but I Iearned quite a bit about leadership, personal interaction, clarity in speaking, keeping better attention to details and much more.

Submit to Authority

Almost everyone is under the authority of someone else. It is easy to submit when you agree with the decisions being made, but the true test of submission is whether you can submit to decisions you do not agree with. I am not talking about submitting to immoral decisions. Over the course of a job we are bound to disagree with someone making decisions in leadership. I am sure I could have reasoned that what was happening was unjust. Maybe I could have reasoned they were my enemies and pray the imprecatory Psalms over them. Maybe I could count it as persecution. Maybe I could have planted seeds of discord in the staff, parents and students and try a divide and conquer strategy. 

Or not.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Does Romans 13:1 only apply to the government rulers? I don’t think so.

Let no bitter root grow

Being fired by a Christian brother or sister is a terrible experience. I was sitting in a room with four people who took little pleasure in letting me go. They knew what it meant for my young family. Some of them were and still are close friends. I had actually taught or coached three of the four’s children. We had a relationship. They were parents, spouses and friends. They had prayed for me and the person who made the decision thought he was making the best possible decision.

There were also the colleagues - those who liked me and were on “my side” and those that were not. Again - all believers for whom Christ had died. For me, Hebrews 12:14-15 came to mind: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Even for the people who treated me terribly, I was responsible before God to be at peace with others and not let bitterness grow. 

Six years later I can say that I have prayed with all four of the people that were in the room with me and keep in contact with two of them. As for the others who pushed for me to leave, I have prayed for reconciliation but life has taken us different places and I have no idea where they are. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9).

As a man and the only one who receives income for work, this was especially important for my family. I needed to provide a safe and calm environment for my wife and kids. They needed me to not be angry, anxious or full of contempt. They needed me to lead.

If it keeps happening, you really need some perspective from others your trust

I got some good advice from a wise man when this happened. He told me that if this only happened once it was not a big deal. If it happened again it was a cause for concern. If it happened 3-4 times it was a big red flag.

If you constantly find yourself being let go from ministry positions it is probably a sign that you need some perspective and feedback. It could be that you are not cut out or gifted for the type of jobs you are applying for. You may be taking jobs beyond your competency. You might need to learn to actually love people and not just on your own terms. It could be that you don’t know how to discern a situation that is a good fit for you. Whatever it is, find some friends and get some perspective. 

The Lord will take care of you, even if it’s your own fault

I had an immediate problem in that I had no job in April of 2008, which was beyond the hiring cycle for most churches and schools. It’s difficult to not be anxious when you walk into your home you purchased right before the market crash, look into the eyes of your wife who had just had a baby and tell her you were fired. Would the Holy Spirit carry me through?

In June of that year, I pitched the idea of Training Leaders International to a pastor at the church I attended. In July, I began an interim pastorate that lasted two years. And though the Lord extracted quite a bit of flesh from me, TLI was launched and now serves pastors around the world. 

The firing taught me a lot about myself, which the Lord used to shape me. The pastorate was one of the greatest blessings of my life. These two events are what prepared me to found and lead TLI. The truth is, TLI would not exist if I had not been fired, nor would I have been ready to lead it. So Lord - thank you for firing me from a job I loved.

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