Thought du Jour – Love Jesus, Love People

Posted January 25, 2010 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Jesus, Love, Obedience, Thought du Jour

I think many people love what Jesus does for them without loving Jesus. There is a big difference. Consider . . .

Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” – John 14:15

“And this is (God’s) commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and love one another, just as has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them.” – 1 John 3:23-24

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
– 1 John 4:20-21

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What About Pat?

Posted January 14, 2010 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Faith & Culture, Mercy, Theology, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Words

Tags: , , ,

If you have been on-line anytime during the last 24 hours, you are aware of the terrible devastation that took place in Haiti, the result of a massive earthquake. The number of dead and injured is horrendous and the destruction of property is truly staggering. It is a catastrophe of epic proportion that will require much relief and recovery efforts for a very long time.

And, if you have been on-line during this same period, you are likely aware that Pat Robertson of “The 700 Club” blamed the Haitians for the disaster. In his words, the Haitians were “cursed” because they made “a pact with the devil” to gain freedom from French oppression. In his own words, this supposedly happened “a long time ago.” Actually, almost 200 years ago to be precise.

Needless to say the backlash against Robertson’s comments have been swift and intense. I added my own comments of displeasure on Twitter. People from all over the ideological and religious spectrum have condemned his remarks.

I am not writing this to pile-on. To be honest, much of the reaction has been way over the line – some hoping he would die and “burn in hell” for what he said. Such remarks are, in their own way, far worse than what Rev. Robertson said. Thankfully, many of the comments from the Christian community have been more tempered – pointing out the serious theological flaws in Robertson’s statement and the lack of grace and mercy in his content.

I have to wonder, though, what could possibly inspire someone like Pat Robertson to make such sweeping statements? It’s not the first time – I recall similar pronouncements following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Judgement is a risky business. Jesus admonished His followers to “remove the beam” from their own eyes before pointing out the speck in the eye of another. He also warned that we will be judged by the same measure we use to judge another.

That is not to say we are not to be discerning. God’s people have a duty to point out sin, but always to do so redemptively. And we do so with great care, remembering that we are all sinners saved by grace. “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

I do not believe that God sent the earthquake to punish the people of Haiti. I do believe we live in a fallen world, where evil abounds and bad things happen. As the Bible says, “it rains on the just and the unjust.”

This morning, I read a verse that summed it up for me:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

As followers of Christ, we have an obligation to help the victims of the earthquake. Thankfully, that is exactly what will happen. People of all creeds and ideologies will pour into that devastated land to bring food, water, medical supplies and comfort to the stricken. Many who cannot go will help by sending money to fund the relief efforts. We will pray, give and go to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

And what about Pat? I do not believe he is an evil man. He has done much good in the past, especially in the area of relief during disasters. But I believe what he said was wrong, based on flawed theology. In short, it was a stupid thing to say.

I will not condemn a man for saying something stupid, for I may do likewise before the day is over. Pat Robertson will have to live with his ungracious words. Followers of Christ have an obligation to forgive and love the man, though we may loathe what he did.

But we do not have to listen to Pat Robertson. I recommend that you don’t.

Thought du Jour – Reconciliation

Posted January 6, 2010 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Grace, Thought du Jour

Tags: ,

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold – now is a favorable time! Behold, now is the day of salvation!

– 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:2 (NIV)

Paul expresses a strong sense of urgency as he implores the church at Corinth to be reconciled to God. He provides a brief but powerful picture of justification and grace as well as a reminder that while grace is a free gift, it must be received and embraced to bring about salvation.

As followers of Christ we are agents of reconciliation (ambassadors for Christ, per v. 6:1a) to share the good news of God’s plan of redemption through His marvelous grace. But the passage reminds us that the age of grace will not last forever.

The clock is ticking. There is much work to be done.

The Manger is Empty . . . and so is the Tomb

Posted December 23, 2009 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Advent, Christmas, Jesus

Tags: ,

John 1:1-5, 9-14

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We don’t usually think of the gospel of John when we recount the Christmas story. We tend to go to Luke chapter 2 or Matthew 1 & 2, and rightly so, for they provide the most detailed accounts of Christ’s birth.

Yet the first chapter of John provides us perhaps the greatest summary of the advent of Christ, why He came into the world as a human baby. Jesus is God incarnate – Emmanuel: God with us. The tiny Jewish baby we first encounter lying in a feed trough in a borrowed stable was God in the flesh. He was vulnerable as any other infant – tiny and dependent on the care of Mary and Joseph. But he was also Messiah – the annointed one come to take away the sins of His people. A light of hope and salvation for the Jews and also for the Gentiles.

The Eternal Word, Sovereign God, voluntarily cast off most of His divine powers and humbled Himself, taking on bone and flesh to live as the Light of the World. This same baby would grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. As a man, he would incur the disfavor of the religious establishment, ultimately to lay down His life (again, voluntarily) for our sakes by suffering a terrible death on a Roman cross. He was then buried in a borrowed tomb. End of story . . . ?

No.

Oh sure, many are happy to leave Jesus as a baby, still lying in a borrowed manger.

Others are quite content to leave Jesus as a dead man, still lying in a borrowed tomb.

But the manger is empty.

And so is the tomb.

The Light of the World still shines on. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . . and He lives on today!

Merry Christmas.

Book Review: “Help Me Understand” by Dr. Terry Cutrer

Posted November 11, 2009 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Book Review, Encouragement, Suffering, Uncategorized

I have known Dr. Terry Cutrer for nearly ten years and count him as a good friend. We served together for several years at the Moffett Road Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, where he continues to serve as senior pastor. Dr. Cutrer is a husband, father, church-planter, golfer and pastor. He’s also a man of deep faith and Christian commitment with a sound grasp of biblical principles. As a pastor, he has counseled many people who, out of hurt and confusion have posed the questions of “why?” and “how?” – Why did my spouse leave me? Why did my wife have to die? How can I raise my kids? How do I cope? How do I trust?

“Help Me Understand” is written from the heart of a pastor who has not only counseled people facing adversity – he’s faced numerous trials himself. Dr. Cutrer addresses several issues that people often have difficulty facing. He offers practical, biblical answers to these key questions of life. The answers are not always easy – Dr. Cutrer does not sugar-coat the answers, but he does offer hope and direction. His message is built on the understanding that God loves us and Jesus provides us salvation, purpose and a future hope despite our earthly circumstances.

The book is not long – less than 100 pages – yet with economy of words, Dr. Cutrer offers a mix of engaging illustrations mixed with appropriate biblical instruction and guidance. He addresses the pain of an abandoned wife and how she may learn to forgive.  He speaks to those who face adversity, particularly loss of a loved one. There is counsel for married couples, parents, and those who struggle with the Christian faith.  Particularly gripping are the stories Dr. Cutrer shares from his own journey of faith.

If you are looking for a deep theological tome, you will need to look elsewhere. That is not the intent of this book. If you, like most of us, find yourself asking the question, “why me?” and “how can I cope?” then I can highly recommend this book to you. Pastors, you might consider ordering several of these books to give to people you counsel.  “Help Me Understand” is available through Amazon.

Discipleship: Program or Process?

Posted June 10, 2009 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Discipleship, Jesus, Spiritual Growth

Tags: , ,

A question I ponder frequently is – how are we doing making disciples?

Southern Baptists (in general) tend to be very program-oriented, and that is apparent in many of our discipleship ministries. Churches offer short-term courses that deal with marriage, finances, parenting, or biblical themes. Often, this involves sitting in a class-room watching and listening to a talking head on a TV screen while we fill in the blanks of a workbook.

Yes, I do find value in (some of) these courses, but part of me wonders how well they really work in making disciples? I think there must be more.

I came across a great post by Michael Spencer on his “Jesus Shaped Spirituality” blog that addresses this question. It’s great food for thought – I hope you will give it a read: The Jesus Disconnect – The Process of Discipleship.

So . . . how are we doing? Let me know what you think after you read Michael’s post.

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #8: Point People to Jesus

Posted May 4, 2009 by johnpjohnston
Categories: Evangelism, Jesus, Teaching - Presentation

Tags: , ,

Let me ask a question of those that teach Sunday School or lead a small-group Bible study – If someone were to attend your class for, say six weeks, would they have encountered Jesus?

No, I’m not speaking of a vision or audible voice. But would that person have understood that Jesus is at the center of who we are, what we do and why we exist as a church? Would that person know that the gospel message is all about Jesus? Would that person have any idea how to have a relationship with Jesus, or sense that such a relationship made a difference in the life of the group leader or other members of the group?

I ask these rather blunt questions because the answers tell us whether we’re pointing people to Jesus or to something else – “church-ianity,” moralism, legalism, or perhaps an inoffensive Jesus who was a nice teacher and said some nice things but didn’t really mean all those things about being the only way to the Father.

I’ve become convicted of the urgency of Christ-centered teaching of late, so if you sense that I’m pointing a finger, rest assured that four are pointing back at me. Although I do not teach a small group every week, I teach on a fairly regular basis as a fill-in. I often wonder, especially if someone is present for the first time in a class, whether the lesson I teach ultimately points a person to Christ – or at the very least, helps them along the way to meeting Him.

Yes, I believe in teaching the “whole counsel of God,” in the sense that I believe all of the Bible is God-breathed and serves to teach us about God’s character and our need for redemption. But I fear that we sometimes miss the bigger picture in our teaching. Do we connect the dots between the fall of man in Genesis and our need for a redeemer in the gospels? Are we helping people see the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that clearly point to birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ? Is our first priority, as Paul proclaimed, to “proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified?” If that is not at the forefront of our teaching, then I believe we neglect the central message of scripture.

If our mission is to be about kingdom business, then it behooves us to introduce people to the King. The person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – is that King. He is the one who humbled himself, taking on the form of a mere man – born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, healed the sick, raised the dead, ate with sinners, taught with authority, confounded the religious, lived a sinless life, gave his life willingly on a Roman cross, paid the penalty for our sins through His death, overcame death and the grave when he rose again on the third day, appeared to many, ascended to heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, gave the great commission, and promised to return one day. That is the One we point to.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Without Him, everything else is meaningless – just empty ritual and dead religion. As Paul said –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 10-11.

There are many wonderful priniciples to be found in the Bible. We should teach them all. But let’s make sure that we let people know that Jesus is at the center of it all. If we do not, all of our doctrine, beliefs, practices and effort are meaningless. Above all, the world needs Jesus – undiluted, undiminished and without apology – the risen Savior and Redeemer for all mankind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:15-16

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40