Friday, July 06, 2012

RE: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

I saw this article on Sojourners – a site that I don’t regularly visit – and thought it would be worthy of a comment or two. The idea of this article is that Christians shouldn’t say certain things (particularly when you’re speaking to non-Christians0 because they may or may not be true, and even if they are true – don’t say them because they don’t make sense.

  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” The commentator, Christian Piatt, shows his lack of biblical understanding from the very first point. I’m actually very grateful that he does so with his first point because it helps me to better understand the rest of his comments. He says, “I’m not sure where [this phrase] came from either, but it’s definitely not in the Bible.” He then goes on to state that the closest thing he could find is from Ecclesiastes 3. I must admit, that while I was reading this first point of his, I really wondered whether he took any time to actually search the Bible for this idea or if he just thought about it for a few seconds while he happened to be listening to the Byrds.

    I say that jokingly because the concept of God’s sovereignty is so prevalent throughout the Bible and it is so central to Paul’s writings, that it is difficult to think of any Christian – especially one who puts thought and energy into writing articles about and or for Christians – who would not quickly find Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes 1all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

    Granted, if you did a quick google word search for verses containing “everything” “happens” and “reason”, you might not find Rom 8:28 (at least not in every translation), but if you have even a small level of biblical literacy, you’d be able to find it with just a bit of looking. But even if you didn’t come to Romans 8:28 but you took the time to think of some of the more well known stories in the Bible, then you should remember a story where a young boy was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, abused, was sexually assaulted, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten about, and then rose to become the prime minister of Egypt. And in Joseph’s climactic conversation with his brothers, he says that while they meant him harm, God intended their actions for good so as to save many people, including their family, from the famine that was to come (Gen 50:20). And if you didn’t think of Joseph, what about Peter’s commentary about the crucifixion of Jesus where God’s purpose was to use sinful people in wicked acts to accomplish the greatest thing in the history of the universe (Acts 2:23)? This concept is very clearly taught in Scripture. To not be able to find it is to show your own blindness.

    So now, I’m left with a question of how to interpret the rest of this list. Maybe there should be another option, but I can only think of two options for interpreting what Mr. Piatt is writing in this post:

    A. He’s ignorant of what the Bible says, and therefore you can forget about him really understanding what he thinks it means.

    Or

    B. He’s being deceptive and not dealing honestly with these objectionable phrases.

    I’m going to proceed with the understanding that he’s ignorant, because it’s the option that puts him in the best light, and I have no reason currently to impugn his motives or honesty. Perhaps my judgment would change if I was more familiar with him, but for now – he just seems plain ignorant of the content of the Bible, and therefore I’m very skeptical about any attempt he makes at providing an understanding or interpretation for what it means.

    Without going into much more discussion on this one point – Christians should not – for any reason – abandon the use of this truth. Phrase it how you’d like; personally I prefer quoting Romans 8:28. But whatever you do, don’t abandon God’s sovereignty. Use wisdom when to speak and when to be silent so that you can speak later, but don’t put aside this truth.

    Finally, Mr. Piatt brings up the rape victim. To address this objection – yes, there is a reason that this horrible thing happened. God had a reason. But saying that there’s a reason doesn’t mean that I know what that exact reason is, nor should I try to tell you what I think His reason was. Job was never given the reason for what he went through. It is not the job of the Christian to pontificate as to the purpose of God specifically in this tragedy, but by using Scripture and the supreme example of the greatest tragedy of all time – the arrest, mock trial, beating, humiliation, and torturous death of the only truly innocent person who ever lived – and try to show that there is truth that God has purpose in tragedy. So weep with the rape victim. Listen to that person, and be careful of the words you interject into the conversation. But, when the question of ‘why’ is brought up – be very careful that you don’t ever say that God had no purpose or that He didn’t know about it or couldn’t stop it. There is a reason, but neither of you will know that reason fully until after this life is over.

  2. “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?” Piatt’s response is that this is an utterly unanswerable question, and if you ask it – you’re only interested in fire insurance propaganda, not faith. Now if you don’t believe that the Bible speaks with certainty about heaven or hell, or that the God isn’t concerned with sin, righteousness, judgment, or vindication then I could see how this would be a foolish question. You’d be wrong, and terribly wrong at that, but I can understand how you’d think that this is a foolish question. I would bring up 1 John, and how 1 John 5:13 indicates that you can be sure that you have eternal life. Paul, in many of his letters, describes those who will not, in any uncertain terms, inherit eternal life. So to Mr. Piatt’s charge that you can’t be certain, again – he’s just wrong, very wrong.

    But if I were talking to Christian Piatt personally, I’d ask him if the rapist he referred to in #1 deserves to be held accountable for what he did. And what happens to the untold numbers of horrible crimes (murder, rape, etc) that go unsolved even in today’s CSI society? Should the rapist and murder be let off the hook by God or get away totally because they were not caught by human justice? The only answer should be that the guilty need to be held accountable, and that is exactly what God does and will do because He is holy and demands righteousness and because He is loving and will punish the one who abuses and mistreats another. The ultimate source of justice for the rape victim is not vigilante justice or even the courts of justice in that land, but it is God Himself who will fully and finally deal with the offender.

    So, does the rapist have an eternity ahead of him? If so, Mr. Piatt, what type of eternity is that? I hope that your answer for this isn’t as vacuous as it would need to be in order to be consistent with your objection to this phrase. The Bible paints a clear picture for what everyone is to expect after death – it is foolish and unloving to bastardize the Scripture to a point where there is no answer for this question or where the question itself is silly. Shame on you, Christian Piatt.

    Don’t ever abandon this question. It is vital, and helps get to the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ by exposing the problem (sin & death) and the solution (Christ Himself, and salvation in and through Him).

  3. “He/she is in a better place.” – I may agree with Mr. Piatt here. Don’t just throw this out as the comment you make about anyone. If the person who died is not a Christian – just be a loving shoulder and an ear for the grief of the one who is morning. If the person who died was a Christian, then you will be able to rejoice that the departed person is now in glory with Jesus. Do it with wisdom and gentleness knowing that not every instance is when this type of statement is to be made, but don’t abandon it.

    Tweak it, don’t throw it out.

  4. “Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?” – What better way to get to hear the story of the other person than having a conversation. I guarantee you that their story will come up and will be central to this conversation. Now, I wouldn’t personally start a conversation with this question, but the Christian evangelist has the highest good in mind for the being witnessed to. So making that the focal point of a conversation evangelistic is a personal agenda, that’s true. But running into the street to pull a toddler out of the way of a speeding car is also personal agenda. Just because the toddler doesn’t see the need to get out of the street doesn’t make your agenda any less urgent or your care for love and care any more or less fake.

    Keep Christ and faith as priority one in any evangelistic conversation.

  5. “You should come to church with me on Sunday.” The Church service is not the evangelism tool of the church, I would never lead with this. This would be the follow-up to a conversation - not all of them, but perhaps with some of them - that starts with #4.
  6. “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” – I agree. This is a poorly phrased question that uses jargon that is understood by many Christians, but is confusing to anyone else. Now, given the proper context and explanation, it’s easy to understand what this question means, but there are much better ways to ask someone this same question. Perhaps this: Have you trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness of your sins and received His righteousness so that you will be able to stand before a holy God? Just a suggestion.
  7. “Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior?” – Piatt’s comments against this phrase are ridiculous and continue to show either his dishonesty or his biblical illiteracy. I would change “accept” to “receive”, and I would then go on to discuss exactly how Biblically necessary and contemporarily relevant the concept of Jesus as Lord is. (Romans 10:6-15; Phil 2:6-16)
  8. “This could be the end of days.” I’ve never heard anyone use these words – in print or in conversation. I wouldn’t lead an evangelistic conversation by giving out “Left Behind”, but I wouldn’t run from the truth that Christ is coming back.
  9. “Jesus died for your sins.” This is likely not a good way to start a conversation, and on that I may agree with Mr. Piatt. And whether or not you “buy into the concept of substitutionary atonement” really speaks about whether or not you’re really a Christian. To reject substitutionary atonement is to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to read the Bible as a coherent whole while allowing it to define what it means without seeing penal substitution as the main issue dealt with on the cross. And it is exactly this – that Jesus died for my sins – that allows me to delve deeper and go into a meaningful and rich conversation about what Christianity is all about.

    Never stop saying, believing, or preaching this one.

  10. “Will all our visitors please stand?” – Yeah…drop this one. I agree.

If Christian Piatt is a leader of a church (he’s listed as a co-founder of a church), then he should be ashamed of himself. His knowledge of the Bible (or lack thereof) as displayed in this article is utterly deficient. If the average Christian has this level of knowledge, it is an opportunity to teach and guide and help to understand things better. But when someone who teaches or leads in the church displays this same lack of biblical knowledge, he should be ashamed and should shut his mouth. Furthermore, because Christian Piatt is unable to even locate the primary biblical texts that describe something as widely written about (both in the Bible and in other writings) as God’s sovereignty, perhaps he should refrain from comments about other doctrinal matters like he bashed in #1 (obviously), but also in #2, #3, #4, #6, #7, and #9.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

James White, Islam, Central Baptist Seminary, and the MacDonald Lectures: Brief Reflections


Unlike the title, I hope that this will be brief.

I am a regular listener to Dr. White’s radio-ish program (I don’t think he’s on any actual radio stations, but it’s a radio talk-show type format), the Dividing Line and so I was very familiar with much of the content of Dr. White’s lectures. To be fair, of the four different times he spoke (a total of six sessions over three days), I was able to make it to the four sessions held on Monday and Tuesday morning. So if there was other content in the two evening sessions, I will be able to benefit from that when I can download and listen to them.

Because of my familiarity with Dr. White’s ministry, I was familiar with many of the individuals he cited or showed video of and so it was very easy for me to stick with him in his lecture. Even though much of his content wasn’t new to me, it was very beneficial to have it presented in the lecture format that it was because it was a streamlined presentation that allowed the hours of uninterrupted time to address one subject. And other than the many good reminders, re-enforcements, and encouragements that greatly blessed me, I was really struck with one illustration that Dr. White brought out.

One of the apologetic angles that he uses involves examining what the Qur’an says about Christianity – specifically the doctrines of the Trinity and the resurrection – and compares it to what Christians actually believe, both now and during the time when the Qur’an was written. His basic argument is that if the author of the Qur’an is God, then God should have no trouble correctly articulating and refuting what Christians actually believe. But since the Qur’an depicts the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as being composed of Allah, Jesus, and Mary, this shows that its author didn’t know what the doctrine of the Trinity is. And therefore, this should – at the very least – cause the contemplative Muslim to ask questions related to the inspiration of the Qur’an.

This part of the argument was not new, but again it was good to see and hear it in a fuller way. However, I’m not sure if this was an offhand reference or part of the normal presentation, but Dr. White made a comparison to a Biblical “here’s what they believe, but here’s why what we believe is better” argument. That is the argument found in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an argument for the supremecy of Jesus, His priesthood and His sacrifice, and a case for why Christians should not to revert back to the Jewish sacrificial system. Whether someone agrees with the conclusions that are found in Hebrews is not the point (at least right now in this article), the point is that the author of the book of Hebrews understood and accurately described the religious sacrificial and priestly system of Judaism. And if one holy book claiming to be from God can accurately represent a competing false religious system while another cannot. That makes the insufficient and inaccurate information about the Trinity that is found in the Qur’an more troubling for the thoughtful reader.


Monday, January 30, 2012

The Danger of Friendship with Heretics – Thoughts Following T.D. Jakes’ Trinitarian Confession at the Elephant Room 2

Over the course of my relatively short life, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege of being friends or having some level of positive relationship with both men and women who don’t always agree with me (shocking, I know). Almost all of my Christian friends and I would likely disagree on some aspect of doctrine or application. This sort of tolerable and brotherly disagreement is to be expected inside of close friendships and your own local church body, I suppose.

There are other Christian friends of mine whose doctrinal differences are so important, so far reaching to all areas of faith and life that church fellowship is all but impossible. In fact, my oldest and best friend and I likely could not handle going to one another’s home church for too long. He’s a dear brother in Christ, a trustworthy proponent of the gospel message, and a very good friend, but for better or worse, as men of conviction we could not be members of the same local church fellowship.

The above two scenarios are examples of Christian brethren disagreeing on things while still being Christian brothers and sisters. However, there is another scenario where this is not the case, and I have (or have had) several relationships where I would categorically describe my friend as a heretic, apostate, false teacher, or a combination of some or all of those labels. These same friends may make the same categorical characterizations of me too (that’s only fitting, and I’m not offended by that) if they have any room in their theological framework for someone to disagree to the point of being a heretic.

Usually when I have a close friend, or when I am otherwise closely connected to someone who falls into this final category, it has been my desire and obligation to seek to confront the other person with the hope of winning a brother/sister by “snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Direct confrontation with the desire and goal of correction and restoration is the only truly loving action that one can take. As one who has actually confronted friends (who, like me, confesses faith in and salvation from Christ) on issues of such a foundational nature as those doctrines that literally define the Christian faith, I have a little experience and knowledge of what I am writing.

I can think of a few instances where I desired – almost to the point of feeling compelled – to confront someone regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith. This was, again, not a Christian confronting a professing pagan, Hindu, Muslim or follower of some other world religion. I was confronting a professing Christian. But this same person’s confession of faith was, in my estimation, so sub-bibilcal that it was not actually a Christian faith. Denying doctrines on the same level as the exclusivity of Jesus Christ was what was to be the focus of our discussion. And therefore, I was genuinely concerned for the salvation of these individuals.

Working up to my meeting (usually I was able to have more than one face to face interaction), I attempted to prepare for all of the relevant issues that I wanted to address as well as any issues or rabbit trails that I thought would be brought up by my friend. In every instance, there were the pre-meeting jitters of nervousness – concerning both a desire to not go through with this confrontation as well as a desire to not make a complete fool of myself and so badly represent the faith that I was trying to defend. There were real stakes to these discussions. No quick quips or vacuous slogans would suffice. The friend I was going to meet was, in every instance, intelligent, thoughtful, deliberate, and well read enough to make me feel rather inadequate. Plus, regardless of where or how our relationship began (co-worker, family member, church member, or whatever), I genuinely liked or loved these people.

Shortly after the initial discussion with my friend (and this is the case for almost every time that I’m recalling), I can remember thinking to myself, “is the difference that we have really that significant?” Or I would think, “maybe I was wrong in my estimation of the severity of his/her error.” Or, more to the point, “maybe this isn’t enough to get bent out of shape over.” I believe that in every one of these initial meetings where both myself and my friend had remained convinced of our separate and mutually exclusive conclusions, I left the meeting with some doubt or downplaying of my own concerns.

Upon reflection and further counsel with other believers following these interchanges, the concerns that had initially brought me to the point of confrontation were re-validated and the answers or defenses given by my friend were still seen to be as hollow now as they had been during our meeting. I had not wavered on my concerns because of the argument given by my friend for his side of the argument, but I had still hesitated...for hours or days even…at least on the severity of the situation at hand.

This hesitation didn’t come because there was substantive clarity given to the issue at hand where we both were shown to be on the same page. Even if a cursory statement of belief was made that we both could agree to, that didn’t (or wouldn’t) help. With the larger issue at hand, that cursory statement of faith didn’t help at all to deal with the issue at hand. For instance, if the issue were one of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, a simple affirmation by both parties that “Jesus saves” or “Jesus saves the repentant sinner who comes to Him in faith” does not put the issue to rest because it doesn’t address the other issues. For instance, one issue would need to be specifically addressed would be the validity of other methods or means of salvation in other religions (or whatever).

So what was the reason that I hesitated or wavered on my conviction of the eternal importance of our differences? Well, the major one (at least) is that I really, really liked this person. In every instance, I really liked the individual that I talked to. And the confrontation only did more to make me really like this person. He was very nice and friendly and not at all a fire-breathing anti-Christian raving lunatic. He was polite. He and I had a pleasant exchange. We laughed at different times in our conversation when one of us would say something funny. And we found that we agreed on various other important issues – philosophical, social, and theological.

This was dangerous. The danger was in liking my friend and theological combatant too much…or at least more than I valued the truth and integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His revealed Word enough to press forward with a difficult, and often uncomfortable line of questions and discussion. Had I been around a dozen or more men who, like myself, liked my friend and could agree with him on so many other issues, laugh together at funny things, and express simple skin-deep affirmations about the issues at hand, then perhaps even today I would not count that conversation as one that falls into this extreme category where division is heresy.

And here is where maybe, just maybe, I can have an insight into why Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald (and others) gave T.D. Jakes the right hand of fellowship at the Elephant Room Conference and essentially said that the doctrine of the Trinity – while confession is required to have full access to our gathering – is really not definitional of the Christian faith so much so that a denial of it is to deny Christian faith and posses something that is entirely non-Christian. The conversation this surrounded the interchange between Driscoll, MacDonald, and Jakes left me with the distinct impression that oneness theology may be wrong, but it’s no more wrong and no more of a problem than disagreements about whether women can be elders or the method of baptism.

Furthermore, in many of the comments about the Elephant Room 2 written/spoken by the participants or panel members, there was a general attitude of “Man, Bishop Jakes is a really great guy.” He was nice, friendly, personable, and otherwise a person that you can get along with. And I wonder if that level of friendship skewed the opinion of Driscoll, MacDonald, and the rest of the men in the same way that I experienced during my interaction with my heretic friends.

Whether or not T.D. Jakes is a Trinitarian or not – I honestly don’t know. He said “yes” to Mark Driscoll’s line of questions, but even his clarifying comments left me wanting further clarification. I can tell you this, that if a former member (much less a leader, and much much less a Bishop) of an anti-Trinitarian church wanted to speak at or become a member at my local church, there would have been more pointed questions about affirmations of the Trinity and denials of the oneness understanding. Lovingly and firmly asked, to be sure. But they would have been asked.

Throw my 2 cents into the whole discussion…but that’s what it is.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random thoughts Related to Reverence

“Establish Your Word to Your servant as that which produces reverence for You.” (Psalm 119:38)


One of the objections that I have had in the past regarding worship services is that there seems to be a lack of reverence in the worshipers or in the place of worship. This idea may have come from the laid back atmosphere in many churches where every 3rd person seems to have a cup of starbucks or caribou coffee or is too busy tweeting something to really put all of one’s focus on God.

When I was in college, our choir toured in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic and visited (and sang in) many cathedrals. It impressed me then, and still does today, that everything - from the design of the building itself to the interior art work - was done intentionally to communicate something about God, the parishioner, or something else important. Comparing that to the large multi-purpose facilities where the worship hall doubles for a basketball court makes for quite a stark contrast.

And while I think that it is a good idea, a very good idea, to ask the question of what our building (the actual structure), the layout of our services, the seating, or whatever says about God, about us, and about what we are doing, I don’t think that we need to burn down our current building and start over (well, not for this reason, anyway). I also don’t think that the answer is that we need to have Cathedral-ish buildings complete with statues and stained glass windows (although, those should make a comeback). Likewise, I don’t want to wholly dismiss or deride the idea of large multi-purpose facilities as houses of corporate worship. We need to be willing to both ask the question and then provide an answer to that question about what the building communicates about who we are, who God is, and what we’re doing. Because whether or not we intend to say anything by what we do or how we do it – we do.

As for reverence, well that is something that no building can instill in a person. A building may be able to the reverence that is already in a person, but I’m not sure how much it would truly detract from that same individual. True reverence comes from the Word as the Lord establishes it in us and to us. And it is that reverence that can transform any building - from a cramped and broken down barn in rural Russia or a Cathedral in the middle of Europe, to a multi-purpose building in the US – into a beautiful and reverential place of corporate worship.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Walking in Righteousness

“Oh, that my ways may be established to keep your statutes, then I will not be ashamed when I look upon all of Your commandments.” (Ps 119:5-6)

So many times in life, the choices that I face and the cares of the journey can consume and overwhelm me. The opportunity to bring shame to the name of my Savior in how I work through those times is very real, and while my desire is never to give mockers cause to profane the name of the Lord, sometimes my lack of action, or my foolish action, gives them that very opportunity.

I have been thinking about these verses in Psalm 119 for quite a while, and by God’s providence I am also studying/teaching through 1st John in Sunday school. One of the issues in 1 John is the discerning between those who walk in the darkness and those who walk in the light (1 John 1:6-10). John describes these two groups in various ways and he gives examples for characterizes either category. The consistent theme is the distinction between Christians and non-Christians; between possessors and mere-professors.

This distinction is key when, at the end of the 2nd chapter and continuing to the 3rd, John describes the various groups as those who practice righteousness or those who practice sin and lawlessness. While only Jesus truly practiced righteousness perfectly, the Christian is to be characterized by righteousness where as false professors are not. It was this idea of practicing, or habitually continuing in, righteousness that drew my attention to Psalm 119:5-6.

I will not ever perfectly practice righteousness, and while my status before God is not determined by that, it is very comforting to see and know that if my heart and desire is to be conformed to Christ then He will establish my ways. So even when I sin and do give cause for others to mock my savior, this will not be what characterizes my life. And more than that, my heart and mind will (hopefully) be quickly made aware of my sin so that I might run to my savior, who is my advocate and my propitiation, so that as I respond to my own sinful behavior, I might display the righteousness and glory of God in and through my own sin and failing.

“I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. I will keep your statutes; do not forsake me utterly.” (Psalm 119:7-8)


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Night Reflections

We have been studying the gospel of John in the Sunday school class I teach, and this week we looked at John 15:19-27. In this text we are shown how the fallen world system and its people will relate to the disciples of Christ and that we can know what to expect because of the way that they treated Christ Himself. In my lesson preparation, I was struck by a few things that made this a very beneficial study for me.

The first thing that helped was outlining the passage according to the relationships between those in view. Now, this may not be the best outline, but it helped put things into perspective.

1. Disciples Relationship:

a. To the world (18-21)

b. To Christ (20-21,27)

2. Christ’s Relationship:

c. To the Father (21,23-24)

d. To the Spirit (26)

3. Unbeliever’s Relationship to the word and work of Christ (22,24-25)

a. Spoken to them (22)

b. Worked among them (24)



To say the least, the world was antagonistic to Christ. So a Christian following in the footsteps of Christ will be loving, kind, and Christ-like…and the world will be hostile towards the Christian to the degree that we are conformed to the image of Christ. This is not a reason to be cavalier and thoughtless about preaching the gospel which must have as its precursor a no-nonsense look at sin. We must be wise and sensitive in how we do this, but we must not be timid to the point of not bringing up sin.

This was a good reminder and encouragement to me.

The second thing that was really an encouragement was something that I had not seen in this text before. It came directly from outlining the section according to the relationships in view. Putting it simply: the descriptions of how the Christians relate to the world or the world relates to them are rooted in the intra-action of the Triune God.

The Trinity is not a theological issue that is divorced from everyday life and experience, it is essential for properly understanding our relationship to the world as it is laid out in this text.

To God alone be the Glory!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

humbled by an (almost) 8-year-old

“1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:1-3)

In our home, nap time is a critically important time for everyone. With four children under eight (and one on the way), it is no understatement to say that it is almost more important for parental sanity than it is for the demeanor and physical needs of our younger children. A difficult situation presented itself about a year ago when our eldest no longer needed a regular nap in order to make it through the day.

My wife did a few things to augment Micah’s (my eldest child) nap time, one of which was to make sure that he would read his Bible for either a certain length of time or until he finished a full chapter before reading other books, playing Angry Birds on my iPod, or whatever. So this has been his pattern for quite some time. For a while he was trying to read through the Bible in a year, but he found that too big of a challenge for his reading abilities. But rather than get discouraged, he continued to read and usually chose his sections on his own.

I began noticing that he would tell us that he read Psalm 117 quite regularly. It wasn’t until he informed me that Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the whole Bible (only two verses) that I began to get a little suspicious.

“Hey, if I’ve got to read one chapter (even a few times each day), why not make it the shortest one so that I can do other fun stuff.” That was what I imagined his thought process to be – it would likely have been my own in his position. So, one day last week I decided to talk to Micah about it and told him that he should read more than the shortest chapter.

To my shock – and my extreme joy – he said that he’s been memorizing it. So, I opened up his Bible, and asked him to recite it for me. And he did. And he did it almost word for word perfectly. Not for Awana shares, trips to the kids’ prize box, or any other external reward offered to him – but because he wanted to.

Praise the LORD, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117)

And when I asked him about this, he said that he’d already moved on to the next shortest chapter (another Psalm) and was working to memorize it.

What sheer joy this brings to my heart.

As a father, my hope and desire is for my children’s salvation. My hope and desire is that their new birth would be evident by many things, one of which is their desire to know God, His Word, and to serve Him.

I am overjoyed at my son’s initiative, implementation, and continuation of his own devotional plan that fits his personality and his abilities.

I am deeply humbled and challenged by my son’s initiative, implementation, and continuation of his own devotional plan – especially as it comes to memorization – because it shows me just how much better I could be doing.

Soli Deo Gloria





Friday, March 18, 2011

why my ministry will never be relevant for ‘today’s’ pop culture

relevant – as I understand the cultural/Christian working definition it is the assertion that for a church to be relevant the messages need to be sound-bitable and have catchy titles that relate to the people while using movies, TV shows, sports events, or current events as spring boards to communicate them.

Here are a few reasons for why I can’t imagine ever being able to be relevant like that:

1. Quite frankly – simply thinking about trying to keep up with all of the stuff that’s out there makes me tired. But I’d not only have to keep up with what’s out there, I’d have to do that and be able to craft a Bible study, sermon, or Sunday school lesson out of what was going on. With the time and effort that I (try to) put in to any given lesson for pre-school kids, college students, or whomever, I can’t imagine adding a whole other critical process into the mix.
2. $$$ Cha-ching $$$ - To be up on the culture like that, and to truly be relevant, I’d have to:
a. watch movies the week they come out (or at worst, in the first two weeks), and that’s $10 or so if I go by myself and don’t have any snacks
b. watch some (if not all) of the popular shows on TV, and to do that I’d need to have some high-end TV package…and they aren’t cheap
c. listen to the current most popular music in who knows how many genre’s (I’m sure that even my genre category titles are a decade out of date), and downloading songs gets expensive even at $0.99 or $1.99 each
d. read all of the books, papers, blogs, that come out on any number of subjects (tech, theology, philosophy, current events, etc). Even with a Kindle, that’s very pricey and time consuming.
e. listen/watch all of the popular to the talking heads (serious or satire) who keep me up to date with current events around the globe and what I should think about them
f. keep track of which celebrity was arrested for doing what, or which one yelled at their kids on a voice mail, or who is getting a divorce and why, or whatever…and that costs me ounces of sanity with each dumb story

I’m sure I missed some, but I couldn’t afford one or two of those, much less all of them.

3. Time? Who’s got the time? – I’m a husband, a father, a committed member of my church, a deacon, a (part-time) seminary student, and…oh yeah, I work full time too. And that’s just the stuff that I’m obligated to do – privileged to do too, yes, but if I don’t work hard on any one of those things up there, there are pretty serious consequences.

Now you may agree or disagree with the lists that I’ve given above, and you likely have things you could add to them. Some might say that I’m stretching ‘being relevant’ to an extreme, but I don’t think so. In order to be relevant in my ministry I would have to be very diverse in what I take in. There’s not just one stream of modern pop-culture in my world, country, city, or area. What’s relevant to the single-mom who’s a new Christian is different from what’s relevant to the 80-year-old widow who has been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. What’s relevant to the out-of-work father is different than what’s relevant to his teen-age kids who always have their iPod headphones on. And not everyone is interested in or will watch every TV show or movie (or any TV show or movie), so I need to know what is going on in the romantic comedies, the sit coms, the adventure stories, the sci-fi epics, the family programming, and the sports events.

Because the moment I claim to be relevant but I miss where group A or person B is at or what they like – I’ve lost them. Or if I get them the next time, I’ve lost another group who could care less about this other thing.

The only way to be relevant to the hippie, the druggie, the church choir member, the pastor, the child, the father, the president of the United States, Ghengis Kahn, Stalin, Hitler, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, the Pope, or whoever is to get to the root that everyone has in common. And that’s not found in pop culture. That’s not the latest gadget. That’s not the latest book. That’s not the economic crisis or a natural disaster. It’s this: man is sinful and wretched, God completely holy and loving, and sinful man deserves God’s wrath, so the God Jesus lived and died as a sinless man and bore the wrath of God for sinners. And by repentance of sin and faith in Christ, a sinful man’s unrighteousness is replaced with the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, and now the redeemed sinner lives in light of God’s grace and love and imperfectly strives to honor the one who saved him.

Soli Deo Gloria.




Thursday, July 01, 2010

Even in a Sandbox while Playing With Frogs…

People who have known my wife and I during her many pregnancies find it fun to guess the name of the soon-to-be-arriving addition to our family. After our first two sons, Micah and Noah, people began to see a pattern and would have fun guessing names. Well one of the criteria that I would consider is what the name means or who has had the same name in the past. And when it came down to selecting Noah’s name, I was not primarily thinking about his name-sake’s building, populating, and sailing of the ark, but I was thinking about how Peter described Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5).

My one and only main hope for all of my children is that the Lord saves them. All of the other hopes of a father are there – health, safety, success in life – but that one is primary. And by the grace of God, both of my oldest boys have made positive professions of faith. Last year Micah and I witnessed to one of his little neighborhood friends. Micah was helpful and active in the conversation, and that was very encouraging. Today I was talking to my wife and she relayed a story that she learned about today but it must have occurred yesterday. Hannah (almost 3) relayed the story that Noah had gone up to a neighbor boy and said the following, “You believe in fake gods but you need to believe in Jesus.” Now this friend is a little Hindu boy, and during our Bible time in the evenings we’ve talked about many things – one of which is that some people and some of our friends don’t believe in the real God.

Upon hearing this, she checked it out with Noah and found that the story was, in fact, true. Stephanie then encouraged Noah to be direct, but ask his friend if he knew that Jesus could forgive his sins if he repented and believed in Him. Noah’s reacted by saying, “Okay, I’m going to do that right now!” He marched outside, went to the fence, and talked to his friend. Now his friend reacted like most people do and didn’t want to hear about Christ, and I was pleased to hear that Noah was not downcast at this rejection by his friend.

So – back to the name – I’ve always hoped and prayed that Noah would not only believe in Christ but that he too would be a preacher of righteousness. Not that I have a 30 year plan laid out for him to get him into a pulpit somewhere, but my desire is that he would be a preacher of righteousness wherever he is. Whether he ends up in working in a factory or sitting behind a desk of a large corporation or anything else; wherever he goes, my desire is that he be a preacher of righteousness while he’s there…even, and especially, in a sandbox while playing with frogs.

Soli Deo Gloria




Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson