Blog Post by Dr. Paul D. Johnson
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.
On Friday afternoon James Comey, the much-maligned Director of the F.B.I., lobbed a political bombshell into the 2016 Presidential Race. He vowed to re-open the investigation regarding Mrs. Clinton’s personal email server. Chaos followed.
Within a separate investigation into a case involving disgraced Congressmen Anthony Weiner, regarding alleged “sexting” with a fifteen-year-old woman, new emails were found apparently sent by his estranged wife and Clinton top aid Huma Abedin. The contents are the subject of the controversy. Now with just seven days before voters go to the polls, Clinton’s candidacy is shrouded under a cloud of a major F.B.I. investigation.
Democrats are furious. Republicans feel vindicated. But as followers of Jesus, what do we do? For me, it’s simple: We pray.
1. Pray for Justice
The Bible is a book about justice. It defines justice. It seeks justice. Jesus came to justly judge the world (Isa. 1:17). When it comes to human beings, we are to desire justice because each is made in the image of God. Pray that God’s truth will win the day, even if it doesn’t jive with your political persuasion.
2. Pray for the Weiner-Abedin Marriage
We are not to sneer at two people that are separated. God designed their marriage to last. No matter how hardened people look in public, trust the fact that hearts are breaking behind the scenes. Pray Ephesians 5 over this couple that God might reach in and show them the glory of his design for marriage.
3. Pray for Law Enforcement
Speculation is rampant regarding Mr. Comey’s motives. That’s not our department. Our job is to pray for him and his investigators as they do an impossible job.
4. Pray for Salvation
Finally, and most importantly, pray that all will be saved. Hardship softens hearts. Now may be the time. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton need Jesus. Mr. Weiner and Ms. Abedin need Jesus. Rather than wishing harm, let’s pray that Jesus will save each one. How wonderful it would be to see them all walk into heaven wearing the righteousness of Christ!
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:17).
What do we do now? Through this entire tawdry affair, let’s be men and women that pray. Let’s rise above the ridicule and taunting in order to point the world to Jesus.
They say: You get what you deserve. The second 2016 presidential debate is thankfully over. As we all cried for mercy, two flawed candidates swung at each other in a frightening display of unworthiness of such a high office. As one tweet put it: It was like watching your mother and father fight. It was uncomfortable.
The lead in, of course, set the stage for a guttural exchange. Donald Trump’s musings about groping women, seen in an eleven-year old video, threatened to bring down his campaign. In order to stay alive, he did what every predator does; he blamed others and changed the subject.
His unseemly pre-debate news conference with women accusing Bill Clinton of rape seemed…well… “gutterish.” Given all of that, here are my takeaways from this week’s election lows:
1. A shocking number of evangelical leaders defended Trump
Ralph Reed is the former leader of the Christian Coalition. Here is what he said during a CNN interview: "I've listened to the tape. My view is that people of faith are voting for president on issues like who will defend and protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, grow the economy and create jobs, oppose the Iran nuclear deal," Ralph Reed told CNN. "I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns."
Really? So you want a person that disrespects women to carry your banner? Nice. I thought that it was almost unbelievable. But it is why the Christian Right is losing its traction. They are no longer dealing with reality.
2. I couldn’t let my kids watch the debate
How sad is it that you can’t let ten year-old kids watch the next President debate? I mean…it was gross. I didn’t want my kids exposed to language and attitude that speaks of a pornographic nightmare. Yet, many disregarded Trump’s words as “locker room banter” as if that made it okay. Would you let your kids into a professional locker room? I wouldn’t. Too bad this is all being handled in public.
3. America is in trouble
We get what we deserve. We binge on reality television. We go looking for the latest piece of gossip. We love it when celebrities fall. So here you go America: Enjoy. Too bad that we can’t hit a “restart” button, but Trump and Clinton are here to stay.
The clock ticked oh so slowly as the two nominees made us all wince. Any hope of decency ran out the window when Trump threatened to put Clinton in jail. Clinton, for her part, can’t defend her own deceit and the enabling of a prowling husband.
Maybe it’s true: You get what you deserve.
Blog Post By Dr. Paul D. Johnson
In the movie “City Slickers” a character named “Curly” played by Jack Palance held up one finger. It was a symbol for the one thing that mattered in life. Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, was supposed to figure out “the one thing.” Fortunately for the Church of Jesus Christ, the “one thing” isn’t hard to find. Staying focused on it, though, is quite another matter.
Sometimes, as I’m reading blogs, listening to preachers, and interacting with people, I want to stop and scream, “Focus people!” We need to focus on the “one thing.” That is to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. That is what we are designed for. That’s what God made the church for. That’s where our rewards lie. It’s not in size, depth of knowledge, or in being clever. It is simply to connect people to Jesus. That’s the “one thing!”
Before you start down the road of what about discipleship, what about small groups, what about community? Let me say, that all of that is part of the mission. But I will also say that most churches do that stuff pretty well…or at least have a sense of traction. But getting people saved? Not so much.
If you’re a pastor, how many times have you been asked: “How big is your church?” Probably a thousand times, right? How many times have you been asked: “Hey man, how many people are coming to Jesus in your church?” Probably once or twice. Why? I would submit that we don’t talk about it much because we’re not that good at it. And in the fierce world of church competition (sorry but that’s what it is) we don’t like to tread ground where our footing isn’t sure.
Here’s the problem: the largest part of our mission is to get people saved and then grow them into big-time disciples. But you have to get them saved. That’s the “one thing!” Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). In other words: A lot of people need this but there aren’t enough believers out there that are willing to get the job done.
Of course in Matthew 28:18-20 the Great Commission challenges us to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Paul wrote in Romans 10:11-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Hey! That’s us!
Who’s going to do it if we don’t? Sure Jesus can penetrate the darkness by the very force of his life-altering power. But He appointed the Church to be his primary vehicle for salvation. He told Peter in Matt. 16:18-19, "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
We are “My Church.” We are the immovable and overcoming force in the Universe. We can transform culture and we can transform lives. But we must stay focused on the “one thing.” Enough of the theological debates already. Enough of criticizing the guy down the street. Enough of thinking that I have the theological high ground when a “seeker’ church is baptizing a thousand people a year. Enough!
Let’s work together, pray together and get this thing straightened out before it’s too late. Heaven and hell are in the balance. Let’s stay focused on getting people saved. It’s the “one thing!”
Photo Courtesy of CNN.com
Many people I interact with are checking out of the political process. They are disenchanted with both major presidential candidates. They are weighing which would be the lesser of two evils. No one seems all that excited about making the trek to the voting booth.
The Christian though, has a responsibility to stay above the clutter of anger, sarcasm, and downright disappointment. Why? We are to be the light that shines through this kind of darkness.
Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:2-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
This passage outlines particular steps toward staying true to God’s call:
In a real way, our attitude in the political arena can be effectual in regards to the salvation of the lost. When they see Christians entering into political conversations with gracious wisdom, they see Christ. The early church had no vote, suffered under Nero, and they thrived. In short: Stay above the clutter. Don’t get sucked in. Shine a light. Stay true to what you believe.
Dr. Paul D. Johnson is the Senior Pastor at Ridgewood Church.firstname.lastname@example.org
For any Christian, these words of Paul should stop us in our tracks: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Let those words linger for a moment. Notice the focus, the humility, and total pursuit of a life lived to make the gospel known. Paul was a man that knew grace. He’d been “the worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). He’d pursued the prestige of a Pharisee, while zealously standing for the flawed works of a man-made law. But in the end he found grace.
The “gospel of the grace of God” defined Paul. Yes it was his role as a minister to make Christ known, but there’s something deeper here. His words go to a life-altering mission that seeps into every part of our being. We cannot escape it. We cannot run from it. We cannot push it into a corner while we pursue our dreams. In Paul’s eyes, “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God,” means that our lives have no value outside of finishing the course of the ministry we’ve been given.
The difference between Paul and many pastors and Christian leaders of our day, is that he was willing to suffer for Christ’s name. He wasn’t a career-builder. He had no desire to impress anyone. The only numbers he cared about were how many people were finding grace. The only pay raise he ever received was when someone was willing to help him financially, and the only real reward he was to receive wasn’t an earthly one but rather those “laid up in heaven” (2 Timothy 4:8).
What I get from this passage is a desire to keep going. Yes, life brings suffering, churches can be hard, and people can hurt. Yes we live in a dark spiritual climate where many couldn’t care less about what we have to offer. But Paul never stopped, never succumbed to self-pity, and always kept that one thing in front of him: “to testify of the gospel of the grace of God.”
I want to encourage you to keep going. Don’t stop. If you’re discouraged get help. If you’re overwhelmed seek out a mentor. There’s simply too much at stake. The Kingdom needs you. It needs men and women that are willing to stick to their guns, that consistently preach Christ, and don’t mess around.
Are you that kind of person? I think you are. Keep going. Testify to the gospel of grace. A reward far beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed of is waiting for you. Christ is waiting for you. After all he is the “gospel of grace.”
A siege of racial violence has once again gripped the United States and this time it is close to home. Separate but closely timed incidents involving two black men, 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, again focused national attention on the distrust regarding law enforcement that simmers in African-American neighborhoods.
Now an ambush aimed at officers in Dallas stoked the flames. Investigations will sort out the facts, but in short: Racial tension is exploding.
Though you may be a suburbanite that is Christian and white you have a responsibility to help bring healing. Here’s how:
5. Pay Attention
We’ve got to wake up and pay attention to what’s happening around us. This isn’t simply a St. Paul or Dallas problem. It is our problem. Christians have a responsibility to be informed and help others come to grips with the hope that lay before us: Jesus Christ. If your head is in the sand, you won’t be able to help anyone.
4. Stop Blaming
This carnage is not a “President Obama” problem, nor is it Donald Trump’s fault. These murders are an act of the will and a symptom of a broken world (see Genesis 3) along with Satan’s current rule over culture (Jn. 12:31; 1 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). Because this is ultimately a spiritual problem and not a political one, we should be offering spiritual answers. Jesus is desperately needed. We should offer him.
3. Look at Yourself
Though the blame for pulling the trigger lands squarely on those that committed these terrible acts, if we are going to see healing, it starts with us. Are you an instrument of peace and sanity or are you a flame-thrower that stokes fires around you? Philippians 1:27: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.”
The world needs common sense and peace. Our job is to live differently. Stand out. Don’t be like everyone else.
2. Remember That Every Life Matters to God
Inherent within our belief that God is creator of man, is a respect for human life that goes beyond the abortion argument. I hate abortion. But I also hate injustice. I hate watching people die for no reason. I hate when the powerbrokers of our world use murder as an excuse to push a political agenda.
We must learn to see every person as made in the image of God (Gen.1:27). When we grasp this truth we become a defender of human rights. Social justice is not a wandering from the gospel. It is the gospel, in that Jesus died for humans. We should sacrifice ourselves as he did, for the good of others.
1. Proclaim the Name of Jesus
Jesus saves. Jesus restores. Jesus reconciles. Use this week of horror to explain to others that there is another way. Peace can come. He is: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Jesus is still around. He is still working. His hand is upon us. Tell your friends and neighbors about him. They will listen. They are scared and uncertain. Now is the time.