Blog post by Dr. Paul D. Johnson
I meditated this morning on John 12:25: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. I wondered what it means to “hate” my life.
The Greek word for hatred, μισέω [miseo] according to the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon is “to hate, pursue with hatred, detest, to be hated, and to be detested.” Jesus was not mincing words. He is not saying that we should detest our lives, for life itself is a gift. He is saying though, that in order to be a devoted disciple I must continue to hate (or turn away from) the areas of my life that serve me. I must hate the quest to enhance “self.”
So many times I am distracted by a felt need for applause, notoriety, comfort, and ease. They lay in front of me like cold water on a hot and humid day. I want them! But in order to follow Jesus I may never get them. And I have to be okay with that. I think that’s what it means to hate my life.
I choose, though feebly, and so desperately in need of divine help, to keep myself for eternal life. I choose Jesus over any other thing. Though suffering will come, discomfort may win the day, and though no one may ever know I existed, I trust that Jesus is enough.
Lord, give me joy in following you at all costs. Make yourself known to me in new and exciting ways. Help me to fall more deeply in love with you. Help me know what it means to gain by losing.
This has been a crazy week! Former F.B.I. Director James Comey stole the show by testifying on the hill. Congressman Bernie Sanders expressed apparent anti-Christian bias during a hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Not to be outdone, “Pride” parades across the country became resistant marches aimed at President Trump. As these news stories dominate the headlines, we often ask: What is a Christian to do? What is God calling us to be? How do we conduct ourselves? How do we thrive?
Lessons from the past help us. Peter wrote to a group of believers that were beginning to experience persecution under Roman rule: “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17). Peter knew that if his flock followed his lead, they would be effective ministers for Christ.
Given the current political climate, and Peter’s directive, here are three ways to continue to live effectually for Jesus when culture is screaming in our ears:
According to Peter’s words, we are to do good in order to help our nation succeed. We are to honor our leaders, whether good or bad. But the only way to stay truly sane is to remember where our true citizenship is: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:7). When we remember this truth, we can aim for the future and not become stymied by the present.
Ask God to give you a burning desire to get people saved. When our mission trumps our politics, or other worldly pursuits, we can minister within a disoriented culture. After all, early Christians were being killed daily by Nero. But the church grew. Our forefathers knew what they were called to do and they did it. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
I am constantly surprised by how many Christians are taken off guard when our faith is maligned in the public square. Jesus said it would be this way: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). When you are expecting opposition you can plan for it, pray to survive and conquer it, and continue to minister within it.
This week may be another crazy week. Regardless of what’s happening in Washington D.C. or on our city streets, we can continue to win people to Christ. Focus on what God has called you to do and you’ll be used by God to do mighty things!
Blog Post by Dr. Paul D. Johnson
As we engage in spiritual warfare, which is inevitable when one wishes to reach the world for Jesus, the book of Revelation is a wonderful place in which to find strength. There we find an amazing Savior who is exceedingly powerful. He is above and beyond anything we can imagine. He is a victorious King!
In chapter five, the focus is centered on scroll that apparently will reveal all the things of God that will be, and has ever been:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
Jesus is the only person that has the right, privilege, and stature to open the scroll. This is amazing in itself. But next we see that he becomes the object of heavenly worship and his Kingship is solidified:
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scrolland to open its seals,for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for Godfrom every tribe and language and people and nation,10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,to receive power and wealth and wisdom and mightand honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lambbe blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The IVP Commentary gives us this insight: “The Lamb is clearly no stranger to the heavenly throne room, but an integral part of the scene. Like the living creatures, he stands in the center of the throne, but unlike them he is not said to be "around the throne" (4:6) He is not part of the throne, as they are, but an occupant of it, as much an occupant as the divine one seated there, and every bit as much an object of worship.”
This is a long way of saying that the wonderful and powerful Son of God is the King. We fight a winning battle. Only one King rules. Only one King has the authority to reign. It is Jesus Christ. He is our power. When we follow Him, we have no reason to fear. Victory will be ours!
In a day and age when politics sharply divide America, it’s tempting to gain our identity from a party affiliation. Though moral issues are certainly important to Christians within the political realm, our identity is not found in politics. Our identity is as followers of Jesus Christ.
Somehow, in recent decades, believers seem more concerned about protecting liberty than spreading the gospel. Don’t get me wrong: I will be the first to attack abortion and I stand strong regarding God’s design for marriage. But my identity isn’t tied to whether government ever gets it right. My identity is in Christ.
Here’s the problem, when we place our identity in a political party, a particular ideology, or even a denomination or church, we will be let down. This many times causes anger and frustration. It distracts us from our true calling, which is to make disciples. Man-made institutions are temporary and they are not made to fulfill us. We can only be filled by Jesus. He is our Lord. He never changes.
Be careful not to forget who you are. Fight for what you believe in. Dive into politics if that’s what God has called you to do. But ultimately you represent Jesus. You are his child. That’s where your true identity lies.
Every believer should be passing the torch. There isn’t a one of us that is biblically empowered to hold on to our position, responsibility, or passion. It is all God’s. We steward it. We are to give it away.
The Bible is about multiplication. It is about spreading out and reaching the lost. Multiplication makes it possible to cover more territory. But it is a God-given premise that not everyone accepts or embraces.
During my research of 1,174 churches dealing with crisis leadership, I found that very few churches or believers are about multiplication and succession planning. Most churches get caught flat-footed when a pastor announces a resignation or leaves for other reasons. This doesn’t need to be the case. Here are three things to keep in mind that will help you be a multiplying Christian:
1. Understand That You Own Nothing
Everything you have, including your talents and abilities are God-given. You don’t have control over them. If you try to exercise control, you will be continually frustrated. The Bible commands that you give everything away and it is in that act of giving that true satisfaction is found.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7: The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
This principle is not just about finances. It’s about everything. We are to give things away in order to multiply the kingdom.
2. It’s Not About You
My experience in regards to church planting and personal multiplication tells me that the greatest impediment to kingdom impact is ego. Too many Christians, and yes pastors, feel threatened when it comes time to give their position away. But it isn’t about you. Multiplication is all about what’s next. It’s about the next generation. It’s about those that will carry the torch long after we’re gone.
2 Timothy 2:2: what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
3. There Is No Better Way To Leave a Legacy
Let’s theoretically look down from heaven a hundred years from now. What do you want to see? Do you want to see a parking lot where your church once was with nothing to show for it? Or do you want to see dozens of gospel-centered churches serving neighborhoods all around your city? My guess is that you’ll want to experience the latter.
The only way to do that is to multiply. Church planting isn’t a far-fetched fringe concept, it’s a biblical ideal that every Christian and church should embrace. Acts chapters 13, 15 and 16 are all about leaders sent out from a mother congregation to start new babies. These men went cheerfully and purposefully. The Church, as we know it today exists because they were obedient to their call to leave a legacy.
Every believer should be passing the torch. It’s our responsibility, corporately and personally. Everything that we steward is God’s. We need to give it away.
The time has come for change. The time has come to put aside the past. The time has come to jet into the future with new enthusiasm and purpose, based on the centrality of the gospel. We can no longer do things the old way. We cannot stand solely on tradition. We must stand for salvation and transformation that comes through the exclusivity of Christ.
Ed Stetzer puts it this way: “As the distinctions between Christians and an ever-growing post-Christian culture emerge, we will have to set aside any nominal belief systems and become active agents of God's Kingdom. The answer is not found in waging cultural wars incessantly, or in making a theological shift to the left to pacify a culture offended by the gospel. The answer is in all of God's people, changed by the power of the gospel and propelled by love, moving into the mission field as agents of gospel transformation.”
(The State of the Church in America: Hint: It is Not Dying: http://bit.ly/1tHWMgL)
The time has come for change. Lives hang in the balance. The biblical truth remains and we cannot escape it: There is a heaven and hell. Every human being will spend eternity in one or the other. We must adapt. We must find new ways to reach them.
Here are five ways that you can help carve a new future for the missional church:
1. Stop Majoring on the Minors
Do you find yourself sniping at others over music styles, length of services, or the way that your pastor dresses? Reevaluate. The most important thing, in the grand scheme of eternity, is to lay down preferences for the good of the mission. It is not wrong to have a voice, and your leaders should be soliciting your feedback. But it is wrong to allow the mindset of “doing things the way we’ve always done them” or “we’ve always done that program” to get in the way of saving the lost.
2. Find Your Place
Creating new and exciting ways to reach the lost is not the responsibility of someone else: it’s your responsibility. We’ve created a church culture whereby we write a check and we’re done. No. Jesus calls us to engage. You’ve been placed in your sphere of influence for a reason. Find out how you can use your gifts within his strategic placement of you, in order to move the gospel forward.
3. Give Up Territorialism
Churches or individuals don’t own specific areas of religious turf. Instead of complaining that a church in your area is infringing because of planting or missional objectives, cheer them on. Even better: Do the same thing!
4. Pick a Church and Stay There
Consumerism has been the church’s arch enemy for decades. Standing in the buffet line, we pick and choose worship experiences like we’re stuffing ourselves for our own pleasure. This is not the biblical model. 1 Peter 4:10-11: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…”
Bouncing from church to church does not help advance the kingdom. Don’t do it. Pick a church and use your gifts.
Prayer is not just for your intercessors group. It’s not just for the homebound elderly. It’s your job to pray that God’s kingdom program will succeed. Paul wrote in Romans 10:1: “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
The time has come for change. We cannot keep doing things the “old” way. Each of us must be all in. Time is short. People need Jesus!
It was a frustrating weekend for those that stand for life. All around the world millions of women marched, and when it comes to equality I am right there with them. But that's not what it became. It became target practice aimed at anyone that holds to a biblical work view on abortion, and it was ugly. Celebs used their bully pulpit to profane the President and all those that don't fit into their box.
And then, as of course was God-ordained, yesterday was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. We prayed. We grieved. We wonder: How could our nation have allowed some fifty-sixty million children to be murdered since Roe v. Wade? How?
Dr. Russel Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention writes:
I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that we have to say things to one another that human beings shouldn’t have to say. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, economic status. The very fact that these things must be proclaimed is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness.
So, pray. Pray like you've never prayed before. Our children are dying. They are made in God's image (Gen. 1:26). They are God's special creation (Ps. 139). They need us to keep fighting! And with God’s help we will win.
The man approached me as I ran along the beach. He was a key leader in my church. He was immersed in a sermon via iPhone. I warily asked, Hey, what ya listening to? The reaction should have been expected but, surprisingly, it hurt:
I took a deep breath, told him how much I appreciate him, and jogged away.
Maybe you’ve had this experience. Do you ever feel that people in your church are listening to everyone but you? Well, get used to it. We live in a world of celebrity pastors that’s not going away. Here are five truths that I try to remember in order to thrive within this culture:
1. This is Nothing New
We’ve always lived in a world of celebrity teachers and religious types. Spurgeon, McGee, and Swindoll, all at one time or another, owned the landscape of Christian oratory. But even those men were latecomers to the party. Paul spoke of celebrity worship in 1 Cor. 3:4: For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? Apparently the “MacArthurites” “Piperites,” and “Kellerites” are nothing new.
2. God Placed Them There
This truth convicts me. When I start to feel sorry for myself, or worse, find fault with one of our celebrity friends, God reminds me that He placed him or her there. I recently spoke at a conference featuring Francis Chan and he seemed humble and nice enough. He, like others, is part of God’s master plan. The Lord sovereignly directs His army and puts leaders where He can best use his gifting. Paul reminded Timothy to follow this divine call in his life: Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim. 4:14). There is a bigger plan than what I can see. God is our Commander. He strategically uses celebrity pastors.
3. They Can’t Preach to My Context
No matter how gifted a celebrity preacher might be, he or she doesn’t understand the context of my church. I can preach directly to certain cultural nuances, church-related issues, transitions, and the like. Don’t be afraid to be personal and contextual as you preach. A celebrity pastor in New York or Seattle can’t do what you do.
4. It Doesn’t Mean that I’m Not Good at My Job
The first thought that comes to my mind when someone is devoting their time to another teacher is: I must be a lousy teacher or they’d be listening to me. Wrong! Some of the best teachers and preachers are toiling in churches that no one has ever heard of outside of their particular city. Pastors should not be judged on the size of their church or the breadth of their ministry. They should simply be held accountable for doing what God has called them to do. And please don’t judge yourself against internationally known speakers. That’s “heartbreak hotel.” Remember that these guys get a lot of help, sometimes preach the same sermon several times, and when you hear them at a conference, they’ve likely given that talk hundreds of times. Be okay with who you are!
5. People Respond Best When I’m True to Myself
You may not agree with this statement: People in your church actually don’t want a celebrity pastor. They want you. I believe that the more you are true to yourself, the more God will use you. When people ask me how many sermons I listen to during a normal week, I tell them “zero.” Yep. I don’t do it. Why? I’ll lose my individuality. I’ll lose my voice. I do read sermon manuscripts, and I go through plenty of blogs. I listen to theologians and lectures. But the last thing I want to do is to mimic someone, and try and deal with the temptation to steal something. I find that my people get fired up and engaged when I simply talk to them from my heart. A connection happens.
All of us have different gifts. Ephesians 4:11 states, And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers… Don’t overestimate the worth of celebrity pastors and don’t undervalue your contribution. Don’t fall into envy or idol worship. That’s sin. Stay true to God’s call in your life. Work hard. Enjoy the ride. And when you hear the voice of another pastor coming through the headphones, worn by one of your church members, stop and pray for that teacher. That way, you can learn to appreciate their work, and thrive in a world full of celebrity pastors.
The Evangelical Christian Community in North America is in turmoil. Based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, and the subsequent parades of victory from various groups that benefited from the decision, it would seem as though those that live biblically are on the wrong side of history.
Hailed as a huge “civil rights” triumph, the LGBT community is fashioning a campaign to make you feel like a bigot if you don’t agree with their view of sexuality. Cries are beginning to come forth from publications such as Time Magazine to eliminate tax-exempt status for religious organizations that are not on the side of “settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality." What are we to do? How are we to respond? We must remember the following:
1. God Invented Marriage
The institution of marriage was God’s idea and he defines it. God invented marriage before the fall of man into sin, therefore it is perfect and good. This is truth is clearly seen in Genesis 2:23-25: The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Marriage is God’s thing. We’re not allowed to mess with its definition.
2. God Invented Marriage for a Man and Woman
Given the verse listed above, this truth seems patently obvious. But the culture doesn’t see it that way. Again, we’re back to God’s intent. The physical and emotional make-up of male and female is designed for maximum intimacy and pleasure. Same-sex relationships do not have these components.
3. Homosexuality is Sin
Okay, I can hear it now: “You Bible-thumping Neanderthal!” Yep. That’s me. I don’t apologize for it. I am not stupid. I think. I have reasoned my way through this. And the Bible (that I choose to believe as God’s Word) tells me that homosexuality (in any form) is wrong (Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 6). It is sin, not because God is a hater, but because he is a lover. His design is best. To deviate from it hurts the people involved. You’re not going to read about this in the Huffington Post, but it’s true.
4. Christians Need to Care
I saw this quote on a social website: As a Christian I don't have an issue with it. I am well aware that I live in a secular society and my religious views should not be forced on others. I am respectful of other's religion or lack thereof, and expect the same respect in return. This decision doesn't change my walk with the Lord, it's up to others to find their own way and accept the word with their heart, not to have it forced upon them.
I wish I could ask this person a question: Do you just turn your head when women are abused, when suicide rates climb, when people eat themselves into obesity? I hope not. And herein lies the big misconception about same-sex marriage: That it is a healthy choice. It is not a healthy choice. God didn’t design us to operate that way (see basic human anatomy).
But even more to the point, Christians should care because God designed marriage between a man and a woman to give us a glimpse of his great love for us. Marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships. It helps us to see the love and unity that exists in the Trinity, of Father and Son, and of Christ and his Bride – the Church. Same-sex marriage takes away from this design, which ultimately mars God’s perfect plan.
5. We Should Not Be Angry. We Should Love!!
This is our chance to love those that disagree with us. Rather than hate on the LGBT group, we can serve them, love them, and pray for them, even while disagreeing with them. Whether they choose to do the same doesn’t matter. We are called to love at all costs. This was Christ’s example. This is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-40). If we stand for truth but don’t do it in love, we will only drive people away from the God that is the world’s only hope. We want to direct everyone that we can, into his arms of grace and redemption.
6. We Can Have the Courage to be Biblical
By writing this I am opening myself up to being called a “homophobic pastor” which is the media’s catchphrase for anyone that even enters into a dialogue about this issue. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we stand on the side of biblical truth, and regardless of cultural swings, that never changes (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The Christian community is reeling. Let’s love people well, and while we do so, let’s stick closely to God’s Word. It is everlasting truth. Mere men can never override it, abolish it, or trump it. Not even the powerful Supreme Court of the United States.
There is no more troubling truth for a follower of Jesus than the certainty of suffering. Human suffering comes in many forms. It sometimes strikes without warning. It is largely ignored or “explained away” by the modern evangelical church. In my view however, suffering is God’s tool to draw us closer to Him. If we understand this truth, we can find a new and deeper intimacy with our Father when life hurts, and help others to do the same.
Suffering is actually an amazing gift. It softens the heart. It tends to knock down false walls and belief systems that once hardened us toward God. There is no greater example of this truth than the Lord Jesus Christ, who submitted to suffering, and was exalted into an eternal intimate relationship with His Father. Isaiah 53:11-12a paints a vivid picture: As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great…
The Apostle Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians 12:10 also clearly understood that the onset of suffering prepared his heart for a deeper relationship with, and reliance on, Jesus: Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
St. John of the Cross, in his work Dark Night of the Soul (Dover Pub.) notes that suffering, and the giving up of earthly desires, provides an open door to God: The first step of love by which the soul mounts, then, one by one, to God, are ten. The first step of love causes the soul to languish, and this to its advantage. The Bride is speaking from this step of love when she says, “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, that, if ye find my Beloved, ye tell Him that I am sick with love.” Sickness, however, is not unto death, but for the glory of God, for in this sickness the soul swoons to sin, as to all things that are not God, for the sake of God Himself, even as David testifies, saying: “My soul hath swooned away” – that is, with respect to all things, for thy salvation. For just as the sick man first of all loses his appetite and taste for all food, and his color changes, so likewise in this degree of love the soul loses its taste and desire for all things, and changes its color and other accidentals of its past life. The soul falls not into sickness if excess of heat be not communicated to it from above… This sickness and swooning to all things, which is the beginning and the first step toward the road to God, we clearly described above. Suffering is a tool that God uses to heal the human soul by preparing us for His work.
I don’t believe that a Christian should go looking for suffering. Nor, do I believe that periods of joy are less honorable than seasons of trial. But what I am saying is that suffering is a gift. Don’t run from God when life goes south. During the holidays, when the season elicits difficult feelings, you can look for Him. Discover the life-changing work He is doing. He is most certainly there with you.
As a Christian, when I come to grips with the reality and divine origin of suffering, I can more easily enter in to the pain of another. I can sit in silence. I don’t need to have all the answers. I can offer a spirit of peace, rather than a spirit of confusion. I can offer a hand of hope rather than some half-witted apology on the behalf of God.
As one that has experienced suffering, I’ve learned that I can find great hope in the midst of it. I can trust that God is there. I can know that it is for my good (Rom. 8:28). This is the great hope for the Christian. This is why God-ordained suffering is a gift.