Kingdom

It’s kind of hard for me to believe, but my Fruitland experience goes back 22 years. It was the summer of 1999, and I was 19. Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (has since been renamed Fruitland Baptist Bible College) was an excellent beginning choice for my higher education. My connection with Fruitland began even before my birth. My uncle James Hefner, also a Southern Baptist pastor, went to Fruitland in the 1960s. When my brother Robert and I, announced our call to vocational ministry, we chose to attend Fruitland because of our family connections, appreciation for faculty such as Dr. Kenneth Ridings and Randy Kilby, and because of its tuition affordability. That decision turned out to be life changing. 

One of greatest benefits of FBBC is the practical theology of its educational curriculum. Most of the faculty are part-time and most were or have been in full-time Christian ministry. Professors who are also pastors help the courses to be both academically sound and ministerially applicable. Students learn first-hand about pastoral ministry. 

My two years at Fruitland introduced me to mentors and professors whose influence continues in my life. As a student, the camaraderie and theological development alongside other students shaped my perspectives and practices. As for academics, the lessons of studying, reading, researching, and writing I learned at Fruitland formed the foundation for my academic endeavors all the way to my Ph.D. studies. 

Fruitland became life changing for me in more ways than academics. Fruitland is nestled in Hendersonville, NC, and while a student, I began an internship at Mud Creek Baptist Church where several members of the pastoral staff taught at Fruitland. The opportunity to learn academically while serving ministerially in part-time and then full-time ministry formed my ministry philosophy. Because of my connection to Fruitland as a student and through fellow pastors, I had the opportunity to substitute in a variety of classes and grew to love Fruitland not just for the education it provided, but for the opportunity to share what I had learned with others. 

Currently, I serve as a professor at Fruitland (Western Civilization, online and Theology, on campus). Having also taught Apologetics, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the impact Fruitland has on students and NC Baptists. It is an honor to look aspiring minsters in the eye and participate in shaping their academic development and ministerial philosophy. 

As a student I didn’t fully appreciated the connection between Fruitland and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, but now I do. Because Fruitland is an entity of the BSCNC, tuition costs have remained affordable. This was one of the primary reasons I attended Fruitland and is a factor for many current students. As an NC Baptist, I want to take this opportunity to thank my fellow NC Baptists and convention leadership for their continued investment in FBBC. I don’t know where I would be without the academic foundation it provided and the opportunities it offered.

NC Baptists, when you give, you support a school that trains ministers to have a high view of biblical authority.  When you give, you provide for the education and development of pastors who will do kingdom work for decades to come.  When you give, students learn how to communicate the unchanging gospel to an ever-changing culture. When you give, you help students develop their ministry philosophy that will impact eternity. 

For me, Fruitland is more than an entity of NC Baptists. Fruitland Baptist Bible College is the ministry lifeblood for Baptists across North and South Carolina. 

To the faculty at Fruitland, thank you for investing in the lives of students who will go on to be pastors, missionaries, and denominational leaders. 

To the leadership at the BSCNC, thank you for your continued support for FBBC to remain an academic and ministerial foundation for NC Baptists. 

To NC Baptists, thank you for giving. Your giving influences kingdom work right here in our state and throughout the world. 

This article was originally posted here for the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist paper for North Carolina. Find more information here about how to subscribe to the Biblical Recorder and get more stories like this one each month.

Photo by Trey Musk on Unsplash

Let me make a confession to you. Nearly everyday as a pastor, I face a consistent temptation. The temptation is to build my name and my reputation.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended our SBC annual meeting, followed numerous social media conversations, and interacted with church members on a regular basis. We’ve discussed what’s going on in the convention. We’ve discussed the inordinate amount of time some pastors and denominational leaders spend on social media serving as critics of others. In many of these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to think I have the answers. In evaluating these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to seek more influence. In thinking about ministry in general, I’m tempted to perceive ministry responsibilities and opportunities as a means to build my own name and reputation.

In short, I’m tempted way too often to promote myself.

In light of these temptations, God reminded me what is primary. He reminded me that I serve his kingdom, not my own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

My life is not about me. Ministry opportunities, influence, responsibilities, blessings, and privileges are not for me.

According to Jesus, I must remember that I am poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt, offering nothing to the Lord that he needs.

According to Jesus, I must remember that the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will is what matters, not my own.

According to Jesus, I must remember to seek the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness in my own life, not the glory of my own name.

In thinking on my temptations and reflecting on these truths, here are a few reminders I’m trying to practice in order to focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

  1. Remind myself everyday that I am spiritually impoverished on my own. I am not doing God a favor by serving him in ministry. He doesn’t need me. If I get to experience the kingdom of heaven and serve him, it is all by grace.
  2. Acknowledge the greatness and grace of the Lord in all my ways. Our Father is holy and great, merciful and majestic, full of glory and full of grace. Beginning our prayers and daily activities with the greatness, glory, and grace of God properly resets my perspective on whose kingdom matters.
  3. Seek the kingdom of God by evaluating actions and activities in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world. One way we are tempted to emphasize our own kingdoms over God’s kingdom is simply by determining our moments by what best suits us. As I think, pray, and discern over God’s mission, it is far easier for me to properly submit my plans to God’s plans.
  4. Confess regularly my self-absorption. Our age of social media influencers, followers, friends, likes, hearts, and connections tempts us to consider our interactions in light of ourselves. Instead of checking on my feeds, God is teaching me to confess and repent of my obsession with myself.
  5. Return praise and thanks to God for what he’s doing. When God uses you or me through our gifts, talents, abilities, and availability, we must remember that he is the One who is indispensable. He’s used fish, a plant and a worm (Jonah), donkeys (Balaam’s donkey), ants (Proverbs 6), birds (feeding Elijah), and nature (storms on the Sea of Galilee) to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t need you or me. So, let’s thank God when he uses us and return the praise to him that he is due.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? For me too often, I’m focused on my own. But my own kingdom is built on sand with straw. It is sure to fold and not last.

But the kingdom of Jesus? Well, that kingdom will last. Have a read in Daniel 2 and the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. That’s the kingdom, the story, the mission, that will truly last. And in abundant grace, God invites us to participate in the building of his kingdom.