By / Dec 2

As a young woman, I felt the call to serve God overseas in a Muslim country. Like many students in a thriving college ministry in the early 2000s, the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was heard often and taken seriously. I remember being faced, for the first time, with the reality that God did not exist to bless me and make my life better, but that he blessed me so that his name would be glorified among the nations. 

I signed up to spend six weeks in a Central Asian country where my team and I would teach English at universities and build relationships with students outside of class. Our hopes were that God would allow us to share the gospel with them. Prior to leaving on this trip, I was actually quite terrified. I felt anything but courageous. I was leaving the comfort and safety of my Midwest existence and heading to a country whose religion caused fear in the hearts of many post-9/11 Americans. However, I was not scared of being in a Muslim country or being with Muslims; I was scared of God. 

Learning to rest in the gospel 

During my college years and for several years afterward, I had a poor understanding of the gospel. I thought I needed Jesus to get to the cross, but after I received salvation, it was up to me to be good and perfect and holy. This meant that I pursued the “most holy” thing I could do, which was going overseas for the sake of the gospel. And when I was there and struggling with a lack of desire to do what I’d been sent to do, I became fearful of what God thought of me. Surely, he would not love me unless I committed right then and there to spend the rest of my life living in the Middle East. 

Later on in life, my husband, 8-month-old daughter, and I headed overseas again. This time we were spending two years with the IMB working with a Muslim people group in Europe. I was less fearful this time, but I still held onto a low-level fear that God was somehow inexplicably disappointed in me each day. It wasn’t until I read a parenting book on grace that I finally understood that I was the heathen, not just those I was going to share the gospel with. Once I realized that I was in need of grace and understood that God had already freely given me grace for my sins, I was set free from the fear that had caused me to keep God at arm’s length. 

Today, we are living in time that causes a lot of fear for many Christians. I think many of us have either assumed or been taught, albeit subconsciously, that it’s up to us to be holy and prove our righteousness before men and God. Scripture even tells us to be holy as God is holy. But if we look at the whole Bible, we see how much emphasis is placed on God’s saving work on our behalf. 

Responding to the fears of our day

As we near the end of 2020, you may be feeling that the world has completely turned upside down. You could be fearful of a pandemic or a new government in the United States. You may be worried about job loss and the economic future of our country. Our subconscious Christian culture may have told us that these things should cause us to fight for our rights. But, I would like to suggest a different way to react to these things that, for many, are truly scary. 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God.

When I look back on my time overseas, I remember how scary it felt to share the gospel with a post-modern European who believed that all truth was relative and anyone who believes in a Middle Eastern carpenter who walked the Earth 2000 years ago is crazy. The largest mosque in Europe was just a few blocks from our apartment, and every Friday I saw droves of North Africans fill the neighboring streets so they could attend Friday prayers. At times, the spiritual lostness was so overwhelming I felt paralyzed to even know what to say.

I can even look to my life here in the states and see when fear has crept into my heart. I pray for my neighbors and the friends of my children. But what if God gives me an opportunity to really talk about my faith? Will I freeze up in fear, or will I trust that God can give me words to say?

What I’ve learned most about fear and courage in my 37 years of life is best defined by my friend Lori McDaniel who says there are four ways to deal with fear: 

  1. Pretend I have none: denial
  2. Remain in it: paralyzed
  3. Hand letter it and post on social media: facade
  4. Absorb God’s Word and move forward: trust 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God. Tell God what you are fearful about, not social media. Instead of getting angry and attacking someone on the other aisle of your beliefs, take your anger and frustration to God. He wants to hear what you have to say, and he wants to show you in his Word how he will take care of you. God can and will give us all the courage to be salt and light in this broken world. No matter what happens in the remainder of 2020, 2021, and the rest of our lives, we can be sure that God is on his throne, completely in control of everything happening. Be strong and courageous in the truth that God is God and you are not. 

Russell Moore’s latest book, “Courage to Stand,” is about how courage means embracing your fears. Check out his book here

We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

By / Nov 18

One of the most discouraging things in my walk with Jesus has been seeing Christian leaders fall. At this point in my life, I’ve seen it happen so many times that it is hardly surprising anymore. In fact, at times I feel numb to it. It seems like every year, and sometimes every week, there is news of a different Christian leader, on some level, who has fallen into moral failure. Most recently, it was the lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who was dismissed from the church earlier this month due to an extramarital affair. Following the news of his firing, social media was filled with a range of responses. Some mocked Lentz for his brand of cool Christianity. Others expressed their disapproval and regret to see another Christian leader fall. But many who had been influenced by Lentz expressed emotions of hurt and confusion. 

Moral failure

Seeing some of those responses, particularly those reflecting pain and doubt in the wake of seeing a spiritual leader fall, made me think again about the issue of moral failure. Moral failure brings about a great deal of fallout. It marks the end of ministries. It marks the end of marriages. It devastates families. As the apostle Paul said it “makes shipwreck” of faith, but not only of the faith of the one who fell (1 Tim. 1:19). 

In the aftermath of a leader’s moral failure, great damage is done to those who looked to that person for guidance. This is because Christian leaders have much more than benign influence. For those under their spiritual care, such leaders are living pictures of Jesus. In their lives, words, and actions, they model what it means to follow Christ. And whether they intend to or not, their lives serve as a sort of validation of the gospel. Seeing some live in a way that demonstrates the authenticity of conversion and new birth verifies that Christianity itself is based upon something real and true.

It’s no wonder seeing a spiritual leader fall is so painful. At the very least, as a result of their fall, many begin to second-guess the things you learned from them. Were those things really true? Or were they simply expedient in some way you didn’t recognize before because you never thought to question them? And sometimes the result is much worse, leading not merely to doubts about the lessons that person taught but the faith he or she represented. Few things are more jarring than seeing someone who has shown Jesus to you fall into sins that repudiate the very things you most admired about them. 

Christian faithfulness

I’ve seen Christian leaders try to hedge against this problem by speaking regularly about their own brokenness. Reminding those under your care about your own humanity and fallenness is, in general, a good practice. A Christian leader who never admits to struggling with sin isn’t doing any favors to those they are leading for a number of reasons. All of us are broken and struggle with sin. And inevitably, even the most faithful among us will still fall short in ways that disappoint and cause pain to those around us. But simply reminding others of our own sinfulness is neither a remedy for our sin nor a bulwark against its effects. 

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness.

There is a reason the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was an apostle. He was not a superhero. By instructing those believers to follow him, he was not setting up a precedent that the rest of us are just supposed to ignore. Instead, he was showing us what it looks like to follow the example of Jesus who instructed us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a follower. And though we are all called to be followers of Jesus, we learn what that looks like through the example of believers who are ahead of us in the faith.

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness. Christian leadership is a burden. This is the reason that James says that “not many of you should be teachers” (3:1). But those who assume the burden of Christian leadership really are expected to walk in a manner worthy of imitation. Our sinful nature does not lessen that burden. And knowing that, we should commit to memory the words of Hebrews 12, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Keep watch

If the stories I know of Christian leaders guilty of significant moral failure are any example, none of us should assume that we are safe from future sin because our lives seem to be on track right now. The Scriptures are filled with warnings about the insidious nature of sin. Peter tells us that the devil prowls as a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul not only tells us to keep a close watch over our lives and doctrine, but admonishes us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:12). The point could not be more apparent: we are always in danger of falling into sin.

You might be tempted to explain away the moral failure of others. But what happened to Carl Lentz can just as easily happen to you. It may come in a different form, but temptation is coming for you all the same (Gen. 4:7). Sin is no respecter of persons. And the devil seeks your destruction. I’ve had to remind myself that numbness is not the answer to revelations of moral failure among believers. Nor is judgement. Instead, I have resolved that each time I hear about another leader’s failure, I will pray for them and pray for me. I will not ask how they could do such a thing, but ask that God would protect me from that which most tempts me. 

It is a weighty thing that the lives and faith of many believers are bound up with a leader’s ability to fight against sin. But they are. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders owe it to Jesus and to his people to fight against sin with all they have.

By / Oct 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct. 6, 2020—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, released his latest book today, “The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul,” published by B&H Publishing Group.

In “The Courage to Stand,” Moore calls readers to a Christ-empowered courage by pointing the way to real freedom from fear—the way of the cross. In the book, Moore defines the way of the cross as integrity through brokenness, community through loneliness, power through weakness and a future through irrelevance.

Throughout “The Courage to Stand,” Moore inspires readers to discover real freedom from fear by addressing issues such as: 

  • Courage and Crisis
  • Courage and Anxiety
  • Courage and Integrity
  • Courage and Justice
  • Courage and the Future

“The way of courage, as defined by the gospel, is not the pagan virtue of steeliness and fearlessness, much less our ambient culture’s picture of winning and displaying, or strength and swagger. The call to courage is terrifying because the call to courage is a call to be crucified,” Moore says.

During a time when people are experiencing angst about the future, Moore illuminates for readers in “The Courage to Stand” how fear is rooted in the idea that we might lose our belonging in whatever tribe in which we seek safety, or simply, that we might have to stand alone. He calls readers to a Christ-centered courage that equips us to face our fear and keep walking toward the voice that calls us homeward. 

About Russell Moore

Moore is the author of several books including The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home,” which was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year. This prestigious award was also conferred upon Moore’s book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel,” by Christianity Today in 2016. In addition to these titles, he has also written “Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches” and “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ.”

The Wall Street Journal called Moore “vigorous, cheerful and fiercely articulate.” He was named in 2017 to Politico Magazine’s list of top fifty influence-makers in Washington and has been profiled by such publications as the Washington Post, the New Yorker and the Weekly Standard. A native Mississippian, Moore and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.

By / Nov 26

For Thanksgiving travels, we wanted to bring you a message on the twin values of civility and courage ERLC president Russell Moore recently gave at Veritas Church in Iowa City. This event was part of the ERLC's Faith and Healthy Democracy project that seeks to help Christians better understand our chaotic public square and engage our current cultural moment.  

Resources from the Conversation

By / Feb 3

Several years ago, one of our children had developed a pattern of lying whenever he was caught doing something wrong. My wife, Judi, asked me, “What are we going to do about this?” I immediately retorted, “I’m going to ratchet up the discipline and put a stop to this!” Then she said, “Sure, we have to discipline him for it, but what positive steps can we take to address it? I think he lies because he lacks courage. Why don’t we focus on positively training him toward courage and bravery?” After I had contemplated how much more perceptive her thoughts were than mine, I was struck that what she was saying made perfect sense. So we began a plan to teach and train him toward courage and bravery, and we saw quick results.

Judi’s thoughts were in line with what C.S. Lewis said about courage when he wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” You would think that books on parenting would be replete with helpful information on how to cultivate courage in your children. And for Christian parenting books that are at least 50 years old, that is true. But in recent Christian parenting books, raising courageous children is rarely mentioned. In fact, good manners, mild behavior, good grades, and above all safety, have become the preeminent contemporary parenting virtues.

“I would rather learn that you perished at sea than that you dishonored the missionary society you are going to serve,” are the words William Knibb’s mother shouted from the window as the twenty-one-year-old left his home in Kettering, England, and headed toward the port to board a ship for Jamaica. Knibb said the words of his mother instilled in him the courage to fiercely preach the gospel and fight the slave trade during his tenure in Jamaica as a missionary. As I read older biographies of men who left for war, those kinds of sentiments were almost commonplace. Mother’s would tell their sons, “I would rather you die with courage on the battlefield than for you to live as a coward.” Those kinds of words sound strange, irresponsible even, to modern ears where self-protecting safety is seen as the highest virtue.

In parenting seminars, I will often ask parents to estimate how often in a year they tell their children to be careful and safe. Once they settle on an estimated number in their mind, I ask them to also estimate how many times in a year they challenge their children to be courageous, brave, bold, or to take an action for the sake of someone else that might put them in harm’s way. The response is almost always the same; they tell their kids constantly to be careful and safe, and rarely ever tell them to be self-sacrificially courageous and brave. There are enormous deleterious consequences in raising a generation of people who believe that there is nothing more important than their personal comfort and safety.

Many parents are aghast by thought of teaching their children that there are times they should put themselves in harm’s way and consider it inherently reckless. The distinction between recklessness and courage is an easy one to make. Recklessness has no higher purpose than the danger itself, whereas courageousness is self-sacrificial for a higher, others-centered, good. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting on the premise that there is something more important than fear. Or as the great American theologian, John Wayne, put it, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” and I would add, saddling up for the self-sacrificial good of others.

Here are some simple suggestions for parents to help in raising courageous kids:

1. Start early

A toddler who hides behind a parent’s leg when someone speaks to them, or looks at the ground, may not simply be shy—it might be that they are selfish, lacking in others-centered courage and thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. As you discern this in your child, make it an issue—a discipline issue, if necessary. Train toward courage, and celebrate courageous actions, from the very beginning of child training.

2. You are not  special

Do not saddle your children with empty, yet feel-good, flattery about their inherent specialness. Teach them, that, yes, they are made in God’s image, but like you, they are ordinary, they have some strengths, and they have plenty of weaknesses as well. The real question is what they do with their strengths and weaknesses. Tell your children that inherent giftedness and intellect are overrated and overvalued. It is self-sacrificial courageous actions are truly special.

3. Courage is more important than your safety

Paul tells Timothy, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Simply put, if the gospel is true, a safety-first, safety-centric worldview is a lie. A world where nothing is worth suffering and dying for is a world in which it is difficult to discern what is worth living for. Teach your children that love itself is an aggressive act that is often costly and demands courage. Defending the defenseless, speaking truth in love, and helping those in need, will often put them in harm’s way.

4. Just fight theory

Though this might seem disagreeable to some, I tell my sons that I do not only believe in just war theory, I also believe in just fight theory. For instance, if one of my sons is walking down the street with his sister and a boy walks up and tells her, “You are ugly, and I hate you,” and my son punches him in the nose, I would never say, “Don’t you ever hit anyone again, and I mean ever.” He may have overreacted to the situation, but his instinct to defend his sister is a good and right one, and it is my job as a parent to clarify both the good and the bad. I teach my sons to turn the other cheek when it involves them, but if someone harms their sister or mother, they need to be God’s instrument to turn that person’s cheek.

5. Celebrate courage and bravery

Make courage and bravery a major part of your family vocabulary. Read about and talk about courageous people in history. When your child does something that demands courage, celebrate it with a special meal or treat. Train toward courage. If your child does not naturally talk to people, assign them to initiate a conversation with five people at church each week, and hold them accountable to do it. At the end of the week, ask each family member to share something they did that week that they did not want to do in their gut, but they did it anyway because it was right and helpful to someone else.

To live as if nothing is more important than personal safety is to live an empty, selfish, and ultimately dissatisfying life. That kind of entitlement mentality only leads to self-referential pride and discontentment. Jesus is our model and embodiment of true self-sacrificial courage. His meekness was not weakness, his humility was not moral feebleness, and his courage was costly. No one can be both safe and large-hearted.

We often complain about the selfish culture, while at the same time teaching our children that nothing is more important than them and their safety. As C.S. Lewis observed, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of the virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are ashamed to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” We dream about our children leading noble and courageous lives, while we train them daily toward cowardice.