Blog post by Dr. Paul D. Johnson
America is divided. The ability for sensible public discourse has seemingly disappeared. People will rarely even socialize across the political aisle. Rancor on social media is ramping up and violent rhetoric is the norm.
It’s easy to get discouraged, but this is actually great news for the Christian! What? Yes. Great news! Now is our chance to show that there is a better way. There is an opportunity like never before to bring the love of Christ into the public arena.
Here are five ways to make the most of this turbulent time:
Nothing softens the heart like prayer. Jesus instructed us to do so: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Once you begin to feel compassion for someone who believes differently, you will be able to extend grace and the love of Christ will be activated.
Shockingly, you might be wrong about something. Some Americans are so entrenched in their ideology, they won’t entertain another’s viewpoint. This is dangerous and silly. When we fail to listen, we fail to learn. When we fail to learn, we are on a road to the kind of mindless discourse that is happening all around us.
People know you are a Christian. They read your Facebook page. They follow you on Twitter. Simple question: Does your language, attitude, and wording speak to your love for Jesus? It’s easy to drive people away when we are mean and arrogant. Don’t do it. The world needs to see grace.
Jesus wasn’t a Republican or Democrat. He represents strong moral views such as the right to life, social justice, righteousness, racial equality, love, exclusivity regarding salvation, and the quest for peace, to name a few. But ask yourself: Is the emergence of socialized health care, or…say…levels of taxation, biblical or political issues? Sometimes I think we confuse the two. When we insert the Bible into preferred political practices we can be seen as high and mighty. I am not sure that Jesus used the term “trickle-down economics.”
If you put all of your stock in this world, it will frustrate and discourage you. You will vent. But if you remember that you belong to a heavenly kingdom, you can offer grace and hope that is desperately needed. Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
Division is at an all-time high. Let’s not waste this opportunity to be fresh, different, and new. The world is waiting for the sweet aroma of Jesus to redeem our public discourse and bring sanity back into our political discussions.
The world needs Jesus. If one believes the Bible, we know that there are two options: Live in darkness or light. One leads to death and one leads to life. We are the messengers that have been chosen to tell the world. The world needs Jesus.
But the world will never know about Jesus unless it interacts with people that are fully devoted to him. “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Jn. 9:23). Where do your passions lie?
Are you with Jesus or with the world? The answer to that question will define the effectiveness of your life. We all have outside passions. God has given us good and wonderful things to enjoy. We cheer at sporting events, breathlessly observe the outdoors, and find joy while attending summer festivals. That’s all good. It’s proper. But in the end; when you stand before Jesus and he might ask: “Was I your true and overriding passion?” What will you say?
John Piper put it best in his book by the same title: “Don’t waste your life.” Be careful to watch over your passions. Culture wants you to put your energy toward things that will disappear. But if you do, others may never hear. You’ve been chosen to tell the world. The world needs Jesus.
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.