Saturday, January 28, 2006

I received a phone call tonight.

This phone call was one of those that you expect, but none the less dread. My grandfather has been sick with serious cancer for many years. We knew that this would come - actually, we thought that it would've come a few years ago (praise and thanks to God that it didn't!) - but knowing it would happen and the actual event are very, very different.

I remember being at college when I heard for the first time that grampa had level 4 cancer. I had known and loved my grandparents for as long as I can remember, and so news of this dire nature was shocking and very sad. I can remember when I was a kid and going to visit, working in the wood shop, going to the coffee shop (I had a soda or juice), building tree forts, feeding the sheep, playing in the hayloft and so many more great memories made possible and influenced by my grandpa and grandma Johnson.

Upon hearing the news that he had cancer (7 or 8 years ago, now), I had one big...HUGE, concern: Was grampa saved? If he died and went on to eternity, would he be in the presence of Christ, or would he be cast off into eternal perdition where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?

I was asking myself this question, and I realized that I didn't know for sure what the answer was. I mean, I knew that he is and always has been a good man, a nice and kind man, a helpful man - but that doesn't mean anything, necessarily. I know that hell is filled with "good" men and women, even kind and helpful men and women.

I was so concerned about grampa that one night I called my parents, and I did something for the first time ever in my life. I "told" my father that he "needed" to talk with grampa to find out where he was - spiritually. I actually think that I told my dad something like, "If you don't talk to grampa about this, I will!" Now, I think that my dad graciously listened to my heartfelt request, and then told me that he had recently had just such a conversation with his folks and that because of the answers that were given (along with the testimony of the rest of their lives) he was very confident that the faith of my grandparents was a true and saving faith.

I was, and am, very confident in my father's prognosis - there is no man alive today that I know who I trust more deeply in genuine insight and wisdom when it concerns genuine faith and the Word of God than my father, and there is good reason for this (but I will not go into that now). I think that this investigation into the faith of my grandparents by my father was a turning point in a lot of ways. The most obvious change was that now, both of my grandparents had more open and visible spiritual lives. This was a refreshing change from the very private faith that they had had for as long as I had known them. It was great to hear my grandparents talk about the bible studies that they were in, and what they were learning!

So, here I am.

Tonight, I found out that my Grampa Johnson died today at 5 PM .

I loved my grampa. He was one of the most generous and loving men that I have ever known. He also was very giving and creative. He was a great craftsman. In his retired years he taught himself how to weave wicker baskets and make all sorts of little, useful items for around the house. I'll never forget the two most special things that he made for me.

In the summer of 1998 I asked Grampa if he (or we) could make a chess board. I had begun to love this game in high school, and I wanted a special board to play on as well as for a keepsake. Well, after I asked him about it, I didn't hear about it again, so I dropped it and thought that I might bring it up in another year or so. Well, Christmas came around that year and as we were opening presents, Grampa handed me a gift. I opened it and I saw a really nice, homemade chess board. As I was looking up to say thank you, I saw my two brothers opening up identical presents. Grampa had made 3 of them - one for each of us. He also made matching chess pieces for us - it is one of the most special Christmas presents that I have ever received. To this day, this is the chess board that I bring out to play on when I get a chance.

The second thing that he made for me started off as a great idea in the summer of 2003. Stephanie and I had recently been married, and we were looking to decorate our home. I had a great idea to build a big bookshelf with grampa. In July or August of 2003 my grandparents had made a special trip up to visit family and to meet their first great-grandchild, my son Micah. When they came up, grampa brought plans for a bookshelf, and we figured out what and how we wanted to build it. The sad part is that because I had a newborn, it was hard for me to get away for a weekend to work with grampa in the shop. Truth be told, I think that if I had gone down and left Stephanie alone with Micah, grampa would have had a few things to say to me - and these words would have not ones in affirmation of my decision to leave them for a few days. Well, around August or September of 2003 my whole 3-person family went on our first road trip since the birth of our son. It was on this road trip that I was finally able to make it to the shop to "help" in the making of this bookshelf. Grampa had already put it all together except for the molding on the top. We finished that together, and in November of that year - he and my dad brought it up and we moved it into my first house. Since that day, it has graced our living room and been my prized piece of furniture. I think that this was the last big thing that grampa ever made. I think that he may have helped, or supervised, my dad and brother make a few more things in his shop, but this was the last big project that he did.

I'll always treasure these two things, and they will always remind me of my caring, gentle, and giving grandpa Johnson.

Delmar Francis Johnson (11/14/1928 - 1/28/2006) was a:
Korean War Veteran (Army, Infantry),
and friend,

We miss you, and we can't wait to see you again in Glory.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

2 Peter 1:12-21 (Interpreting Scripture)

A Quick Bible Study Tip:
A key to understand what any given Bible passage is talking about is to (a) read the greater context, and (b) look for clues that reference what this writer had previously written or what another writer had stated. One great clue is the word "therefore." Whenever you see this word (or similar words like "wherefore" or "for this reason" or any word that draws upon ideas that are not restated), it's good to ask this question, "What is "therefore", there for?" Then, just read the context (the chapter, the whole book, etc.) to find out what the author is referring to. He's not trying to be mysterious, so we should be able to figure it out, and then have a better understanding of the passage at hand.

"Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you." (2 Peter 1:12 NASB) This "therefore" and "these things" is referencing (as I understand it) what Peter stated in verses 5-8, and then gives the opposite example in verse 9. In this entry, I will not go into depth about this part of the passage, but feel free to research it and meditate on it yourself.

One of the main parts of this text that I focussed on was in verses 20 and 21. Specifically the phrases "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" and "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Since "the word is the Holy Spirit's, it cannot be interpreted by its readers (anymore than by its writers) by their private human powers, but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”[i] I think that when we understand this passage in light of John 16:12-15 when Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit and what He (the Spirit) will do, it becomes very clear.

The question then becomes, "How do we interpret scripture correctly?" This is a question that has a lot of different answers throughout history, but many of them are flawed...fatally. This is where my heart was at following my lesson on this subject. So, I put together a simple example of 3 different methods of interpreting scripture to show which one seems to be the best (and only) way to have scripture interpreted and what the more problematic ones are.

I. The answer from the Roman Catholic Church:

How they handle it: The Church (specifically the Pope) is the only interpreter of Scripture. The Pope and the Church is infallible.

"’The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.’ This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.” The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.” [ii]

The problem (there are many):

This system asserts to a human (the Pope) what is an attribute only of God – infallibility. If the Pope is the only interpreter of scripture, no one can disagree with what he has stated and show by scripture where he may have gone wrong. The other problem comes due to the fact that they elevate tradition to the level of scripture. The Word of God is referred to as the Word of God “whether [it is] in its written form or in the form of Tradition.”[iii] Doctrines such as Purgatory, praying to saints, and the exaltation of Mary that have no biblical warrant (and are directly contrary to scripture) are then on par with scripture because of this method of interpretation..

II. The answer from the Episcopal Church:

How they handle it: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason
“The Episcopal Church honors the Bible as the first witness to God, containing "All things necessary to salvation." It is the love story of God as relationship with God's people. We respect its complexity and its origins in the communities and histories of our ancestors. We look to the Bible as the written source of our revelation of God. We also honor the experience of God throughout the history of humanity, and especially among faithful Christians for these two-thousand years. We look to the tradition, teaching, and experience of the whole church as a manifestation of God’s revelation. The ancient Creeds are alive and well in the Episcopal Church. We believe God created human beings with an innate capacity to know God. We honor the God-given faculties of reason, intuition, intellect, and emotion. We believe that human experience is one of the ways God communicates and reveals God's intentions for us.”[iv]

The Problem (there are many):
If a personal experience (anyone’s experience) or a system of observance is placed on the same level as the Bible, nothing holds that the Bible will trump what I think, feel, or have done for a long time. This leads to affirming non-biblical beliefs; (1) There is more than one way to God[v], (2) Accepting members into the church who are “of all sexual orientations and gender identities” while not “insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable”[vi]

III. The answer from the Reformation (and our church) – Sola Scriptura:

How we handle it:

We believe the Bible to be the written revelation of God, complete and sufficient in all respects. We believe the Scriptures to be "God-breathed" and therefore fully authoritative in and of themselves; they rely for their authority upon no church, council, or creed, but are authoritative simply because they are the Word of God. The Scriptures, as they embody the very speaking of God, partake of His authority, His power.”[vii]

The Problem:

Yes, there are potential problems with the correct way to interpret Scripture. Namely, lazy Christians now, and in the past, who claim to adhere to this belief have and continue to take passages from the bible out of context to create doctrines, cults, and false teachings that lead people astray and deny them the truth of the gospel. This is not to say that Sola Scriptura is an incorrect system, it just shows how fallible and evil man can be when he operates by himself without the counsel of the whole Bible and other faithful brothers to assist him. That is why R.C. Sproul said the following, and I think that it is accurate. “Although tradition does not rule our interpretation, it does guide it. If, upon reading a particular Passage, you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.”[viii]

Conclusion – Sola Scriptura is not a system without pitfalls. If “Scripture Alone” is not taken seriously and held in reverence and treated with care, a person incorrectly following this system can be led to the same errors that the other systems lead to. However, if this is adhered to correctly – where Scripture is the only and final judge for all things – then we will have the most harmony with what prophets wrote, that Christ taught, and the apostles recorded than any other possible system.

[i] (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

[iv] St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas

[v] Center for Progressive Christianity (linked to web site)

[vi] Center for Progressive Christianity (linked to web site)

[vii] Alpha Omega Ministries (Dr. James White, Author of Scripture Alone)

[viii] The Agony of Deceit - Dr. R.C. Sproul (Referenced in: “Amazing Grace” DVD, 2004)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Do Horrible Things Happen?

And why do they happen to me? This is not written as an answer to the problem of evil or "Why do bad things happen to good people?", but it is a story of sorrow (may I say tragedy?) and how I dealt with it, and what I have learned from it.

Some of you may know (some of you may not) that we expected to have our second child in January of 2005. Micah was born in 2003 and Noah was born just 1 month ago, but there was a child that we had, even though only for a short time, between these two boys.

When we found out that we were pregnant with our second child, Stephanie and I were both excited and nervous at the same time, even though the excitement that we felt was overpowering the nervousness. Once the doctor confirmed that we were pregnant, we told our family and friends. We wanted everyone to share in our joy and be excited to meet this child, just as we were. Everything was going along smoothly until we went in for our 10 week checkup. We were unable to hear the baby's heartbeat, so we were sent to the hospital to have an ultra sound done to make sure everything was ok. We saw the child, and the nurse made one comment that caught me off guard. She said that the baby looked good for being 6 weeks along. The only problem was that we were 10 weeks along. To make a long story short, we lost that child on June 23, 2004. At that point, my mind, heart, and soul went into a tail spin:

Why did this happen? WHY?

How do I grieve for this child?

Will people allow me to grieve?

Will others grieve with me?

There were no easy answers to these (and many more) questions. Truth be told, it's still hard (very hard) to talk about this situation in any depth with anyone. It's still very painful.

You may be wondering why on earth am I writing this today. Well there are many reasons, and I will tell you but a few.

  1. As I mentioned in the beginning, if he (I have always felt that this child was a boy) would have been born around his due date, he would be one year old right now. I remember the 1 year stage with my oldest boy, Micah, and I will treasure it with my youngest son, Noah, and I am sad that I was unable to experience it with the child we lost.
  2. For a Christmas present for my family, I made a DVD with pictures from the last 3 years of my family's life (mostly of Micah and ending with a barrage of Noah) that I titled "The Johnson Chronicles." I wanted this DVD to have different chapters to cover the different major times in our lives over the past years. After a lot of struggling, I kept a 2 minute chapter titled "Our Lost Child" between the happy chapters of "Introducing Micah" and "Introducing Noah". It was important for me to include this little guy in our DVD memories because, that was a huge part of 2004 for us. It was also a statement to anyone who sees it or ever will see it. That statement is that this child has not been forgotten, and this child is and will be missed.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to answer the micro "why" question, specifically why did this happen to us at this time? Only God knows why, and I have to trust in Him alone to reveal that answer when I meet Him. The answer to the BIG "WHY" question - a fallen world, and death being the end result for all of us because of Adam's sin - is always good to know and understand, but it doesn't lessen the pain or answer the desired specific question.

Personal grieving. How?

The hardest issues for me centered around grieving. How does a man grieve for an unborn child? How does he do that in a society that doesn't recognize that child as a person? I first became toughened. After all, my wife was dealing with emotional and physical pain that I couldn't match, so I had to be strong for her. I also had to take care of Micah. I couldn't just laze around in bed for a few days. There was this little blessing of a boy that needed to be taken care of. But probably most of all, I anticipated the quesitons or skeptical looks from other people when, after they asked me how I was or what was the matter, I informed them that my unborn child just recently died. Thankfully there wasn't much of that. There wasn't much, but there was some.

Knowing that I had to grieve - for my sake as well as my wife's - but not knowing how, I searched the scriptures looking at familiar stories to find some guidance. I would like to share them with you now.

John 11:32-35 When Christ was informed of Lazarus' death, he wept. He didn't bottle it up, didn't act strong for those who needed his spiritual leadership, he wept. He wept even knowing what he would do just a short time later which was to raise Lazarus from the dead. I needed to mourn...really mourn over this loss.

When David, even after repenting of his sin with Bathsheeba and the murder of Uriah, was told by Nathan that the son born to him would die, David pleaded with God for mercy. And once his son died, David uttered these words that have given much peace to my heart. "...I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:23. Matthew Henry's Commentary on this passage was beautiful as well. "Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world;" Henry goes on to say, "This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death, they are better provided for, both in work and wealth, than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more."*

Matthew 6:25-34 This is not a passage that I would have normally gone to in mourning, but we were studying the Sermon on the Mount at the time this occurred, and I was given great comfort. If God tells us not to worry about our clothes or what we're going to eat and that He has it all under control, might he not have my life (and the lives of those close to me) in similar care? There are other passages showing that God knows and cares for us in detail before we were born (PS 139:13,73; Isa 44:24).

These passages are great, and they helped me quite a bit, but the one I found most comfort in was Job 1:21,22. After Job had just found out that his whole family (except his wife), his wealth, and his livelihood were taken from him - he uttered the words in v. 21. That is all that I can do, and all that try to do: bless the Lord when times are good and bad.

On one of the closely following Sunday's, I believe that we sang the song "In Christ Alone" and this song will forever remind me of this loss. To this day (even while thinking about it), I cannot complete the 4th verse without tearing up and going hoarse at the line "From life's first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny". My child didn't experience either a first cry or a final breath, but thank God that Christ commands that child's (and mine) destiny.

The grieving of others.

A belated thank you to everyone who grieved with Stephanie and me. I know how difficult it is to say the right thing without saying 20 wrong things, so thank you for trying. In our case, if someone didn't know what to say or how to identify with us, a simple heartfelt "I'm so sorry for your loss." or an offer of prayer or help in other ways was perfect. I didn't know until I experienced this myself that someone allowing me to grieve, and grieving with me, by simple statements like these was as good or better than a 20 minute conversation of heartfelt sympathy.

For my part - I will not forget my children...any of them. Anyone who's ever lost a child in any stage of life has my sympathy. I know that if one of my two living children died (Lord willing that does not happen until long after I am gone), it would be harder emotionally to deal with than the loss I have already experienced, but it would be no less of a real loss.

May God be with all of us when the seas of sorrow roll over us, and may we cling to the Lord and cry on His shoulder and rest in the comfort of his all powerful arms when we realize our own helplessness.

*(from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

long time

So, it has been quite a few days (almost a full month) since I last updated this blog and I would like to extend my heartfelt apology. You see, my wife and I were blessed with a baby (Noah) on 12/9/05 and so my hands have been pretty full. Between Noah and his big brother Micah (2 1/2) it's been a mad house around here between plain 'ol adjusting to the new addition to our family as well Christmas - the gatherings were at our house, no less - my hands have been full.

So, before I get back into the swing of things, I wanted to say 2 things:

  1. What the new study will be (and consequently, where will much of the material for my posts will come from)
  2. A brief commentary on looking for Christian books.

New Study:

Well, our Sunday school class will be studying the book of 2 Peter. I haven't studied this book in a lot of depth before, so I am really excited about it. I am even more excited because of how much I learned from 1 Peter. The lessons in our Sunday School Class will begin on 1/8/05.

Brief Comment:

I was asked what I wanted for Christmas by many of the members of my family, and I basically asked for books - good commentaries, good books about biblical things (like "Holiness" by J.C. Ryle), and other fun stuff (slippers, the "Narnia" books, etc.). Well, I was blessed to get a bunch of good books from everyone. My little brother and sister-in-law (Ezra and Molly) were not sure what I would like so they got me a gift card to ensure that I would be happy with my gift. Now, I did the same thing for my brother-in-law, only in a more unconventional way (maybe I'll explain later).

So on Monday (1/2/05) I went to look for a good book at a very large bookstore. I was perusing the shelves and I was very upset with what I found interspersed together. I found books by Bishop John Shelby Spong next to (or fairly close to) Lee Strobel's books. Now why is this a big deal, you ask? Bishop sponge denies the bodily resurrection of Christ as well as the exclusiveness of Christ as the only way to God. Now, I'm not much for heresy, but these are two of the big ones that would take you out of what the Bible teaches on the person and work of Christ. See 1 Cor 15:12-19 and John 14:6 or John 3:36 to see how these views contradict scripture itself.

To many an unexpecting consumer, one could be trying to get a good book on the Christian faith, but end up with filth and garbage. Now, this was at a larger secular book store, and perhaps I shouldn't be so picky with how they choose to stock their shelves because - what can you expect? But, I was at a larger Christian book store a few weeks ago and I was less than impressed as well. Now, to be fair, this store had a much larger selection of good quality books and authors, but it also had a much larger selection of Christian "fluff" and books by heretical authors.

My point is this, and I hope that it is a redundant one - but just because something is labeled "Christian" and even if it is a best seller, don't assume that these are quality books or even books that promote a truly biblical worldview.

So what should one do if you're looking for a Christian book or commentary?

  1. Stick to authors that have been tried and true over time. It would be hard to go wrong when reading things written by Luther, Spurgeon, and other men who have died, but their contributions haven't.
  2. If you want to read contemporary authors, one strategy to use is to see who endorses the book (on the back cover). If other contemporary Christian leaders give it acclaim, it may be a good book.
  3. If you're unsure who to read or whose accolades to listen to and whose to avoid, the best thing to do is ask someone who you trust - pastor, Sunday School teacher, or a mature brother or sister in the faith.

However, even if you pick up a book by Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon, or even Chuck Swindol, St. Augustine, Calvin...or even a book by your own pastor or friend, never ever read a book like this without examining all of the claims, arguments, presuppositions, and conclusions against the Word of God, and don't be afraid to be a stickler for details (as a matter of fact, that is what we should do).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

a shameless plug...

If you do enjoy this blog, and you think that other people would benefit from it, would you consider linking to this blog on your own blog, web page, etc? You can just link with a regular hyperlink, or if you want, you can throw up a banner. Here is a side banner that I just created:

Copy the following text to have this banner/link:

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