“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Monday mornings are finicky for me. Like most pastors I expend an enormous amount of emotional and spiritual energy on Sunday. Yesterday was especially taxing for a multitude of reasons. The news of not one but two mass shootings was almost background noise, but as the day went on and news continued to surface about the shooters, the victims, and the calls for action, the news began to weigh heavy. This morning the talking heads have been pontificating profusely about what the problem is and their solutions. Yet, most of them miss the mark by a mile.
I guess I will add another voice to the noise. While some scream, "GUNS" and others scream "MENTAL HEALTH" and still others cry out various theories related to culture, the good old days when everyone had guns in their cars, or whatever there foundational worldview answer is that few are willing to accept.
Every day about 100 people die from gun related violence in the US. Of course, they don't all die in one place at the hands of one person. Some of those are accidents and police shootings. Nevertheless, 100 per day? The majority of those would be murder. Certainly that isn't reported on very often because it is spread out over an entire country with multiple perpetrators. My heart and yours should sink at this news. However, there is something about one person taking many lives in one moment (in 30 seconds at one of the shootings) that shines a spotlight on the evil.
Where does this evil come from? Is it mental illness? Sure, in part. Is it guns? Not really, but obviously guns are used and they are dangerous. Is it culture? Yes, that certainly plays big role, but that's not all.
Is it the fall of humanity and humanities sinfulness? Yes, of course, but there is another reason that is closely linked. Part of the problem that seems to be ignored, even by many Christians, is Satan himself. Yes, I said Satan, as in the personal being that Scripture describes as a fallen angle whose intention is to devour, destroy, and deceive (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 20:1-6; Eph. 6:11-12; Luke 22:3-6; Job 1:6-12; etc.). Perhaps it is time we recognize the reality of Satan's impact and power in our society. We ought to give him the credit he deserves, but not an ounce more than he deserves.
This is not an attempt to displace responsibility for evil actions taken by truly disturbed people, nor is it to alleviate the responsibility our culture has to deal with such a problem. Instead, it is to direct our attention to the importance of dealing with this very real problem that finds its solution in the power of the gospel and the victory won by Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection. The more secular our society becomes and the more it rejects the truth of the gospel, the more susceptible it will be to the evil schemes of the devil. The reason is that secularism necessarily ignores the reality of any evil being that is at work in this world. To speak of such a being will put you squarely in the camp of a "fundamentalist wacko." Yes, I believe the devil is real, and you should too.
Yet, what explanation does secularism in its many forms offer such evil? The answer is none. People are described as generally good. We hear about how much progress we have made, not just in the realm of technology, but in the realm of morality. We have been enlightened, haven't we? Frankly, any serious reader of history along with an honest evaluation of the world we live in today will have to acknowledge that it is difficult to see any real "progress." In other words the nice sounding idea of "progressivism" is a facade, it isn't real. The best we can do is recognize the source of real evil in this world and the one who accomplished victory over that evil...yes, I am talking about Jesus. Mass murder was around long before Columbine and it will be around until the return of Jesus Christ to rule in complete justice.
Do we need more gun laws? Maybe, but that won't solve the issue. Do we need better mental health mechanisms? Maybe, but that won't solve it either. Do we need to transform culture? Most definitely, but by what means? What would a secular mindset transform culture towards? A secular approach to the evil in the world is like putting a bandaid on someone who just got their leg amputated. What's the answer? The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus gets a hold of someone's heart, their heart is transformed (Ez. 36:26; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24, etc.). Call me a fundamentalist if you want, but secularism has no answers, just talking heads and agenda driven partisans. Jesus is the answer for the world today!
Christians are pro-life, at least the vast majority of them are. Some more liberal traditions may have a mix, but for the most part if you meet a Christian, they are very likely to be pro-life. Some may think this is a recent development. Maybe it was in the early 1970's when the abortion debate was raging and various states had different laws. Twenty states had legalized abortion in one way or another prior to Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. A few states had almost no restrictions on abortion. Since 1973 many Christians have protested, prayed, and lobbied in an attempt to limit abortion or make it outright illegal. But, was that the beginning of the pro-life movement? The short answer is, "not even close."
The reality is that the pro-life position of Christians goes back to the beginning of Christianity. That is to say it goes back almost 2000 years. It could be argued that the origin of a pro-life perspective predates Christianity, indeed, it does. But that is not the purpose of this post.
Hilarion was migrant worker in the first century and he wrote a letter to his wife in 1 BC expressing his love for her. Included in the letter were instructions on what to do with his wife's unborn child,
"If-may you have good luck!-you should give birth; if it is a boy, keep it; if it is a girl, throw it out." (Jeremiah Johnston, Unimaginale, 26).
Wow, that is harsh, not to mention sexist. It certainly offends our modern sensibilities, but at the time it was common practice. It wasn't that long ago that such a practice was common in Communist China. The Romans of the first century didn't value women, but boys could provide for the family in ways that women couldn't at that time. Further, girls were expensive. It was more than economics, it was cultural too. Nevertheless, the practice would leave baby girls exposed to the elements and to nature in general. Wild animals would often come at night to devour babies who had just been born. This practice of exposure was common enough and it was not frowned upon. In addition to the practice of exposure, there were very dangerous methods of abortion as well. Often the mother would be left severely damaged or even dead. Sharp objects and poison were common abortion methods (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity).
Many babies were "thrown out," exposed in the first century, and most of them were girls. First century Christians rightly found this practice appalling. It would be nice to say this is no longer an issue, but this kind of thing has been practiced throughout the centuries and we are but a breath away from this being allowed in the United States today. Not only are their laws in some states that allow abortion on demand up until the point of birth, there are people like Peter Singer who have been promoting the legal disposal of babies who have been born for many years. He isn't that much of an exception. Governor Northam of Virginia (a pediatrician) has promoted something similar. That's it though right? No, former president Obama voted for a bill that allowed survivors of abortion to be left to die when he was still in Chicago. There are more, many more!
Christians, from the inception of the church have been concerned about the life of children. Jesus set the tone when he welcomed children so he could bless them (Mark 10:13-15). Christians were known early on for going around and saving children from exposure, from wild dogs and animals who would kill and eat the children that were thrown away in the first century. While Christians don't always get it right, over the centuries they have been known for running towards the sick, the lame, and dying.
Christians are and have been pro-life because that is the example that Jesus set, because all humans are made in the image of God, and because they are called to be a voice for the voiceless. This is not a rejection of a person's general autonomy or rights, in face one might argue those are the very reasons they are pro-life.
My friend Eric, a pilot for a commercial airline, offered to bring me to Israel. Eric is one of my training partners at the gym where I do Jiu Jitsu. When he first offered, I thought he was asking me to watch his kids at my house while he went. Then I thought he was asking me to watch his dog (my son has a dog watching business). Then when he clarified, I said, “you want me to come?” He said yeah! That was a couple of years ago, I think. Now I’m writing this on the plane ride home. We went. It still cost me quite a bit and we are sacrificing in our finances to make it happen, but it was worth it. It didn’t ruin my life, but it might ruin yours, if you go.
Israel is a unique place. It is roughly the size of New Jersey (the state) and in the north you have an area called the fertile crescent that is green and lush with vegetation. In the south, you have the Negev, and it is hard to exaggerate how harsh of an environment the Negev is. Sometimes you look out your car window and can’t see anything growing for what seems like miles upon miles. No grass, no trees, no vegetation. Of course, you also have the dead sea in the south as well. It is dead, and there is literally nothing that lives in that water…nothing!
Yet, in this narrow strip of land you have the major trade rout connecting that part of the world. One would think the importance of that has faded, but this trade route and the resources, especially those in the fertile crescent and the location of the Jezreel valley, have brought conflict because various nations want that land. The conflict between modern day Israel and the Palestinians who inhabited the land when the nation of Israel was established in 1948 wages on. Of course, it isn’t just about the land, there are religious implications as well. Megiddo has been rebuilt because of conflicts 26 times, as recently as World War 1 and as far back as the 15th century BCE. It is also the place mentioned in John’s Revelation as the place where Armageddon will take place when Jesus returns.
Surrounding Israel are enemies some of which have specifically stated their goal to extinguish the nation of Israel from the face of the earth. That’s not an exaggeration.
Yet, the home of the Jewish nation is also the destination of hajis and pilgrims of the Muslim and Christian faith as well. As a person walks through the old city of Jerusalem they are confronted with this stark reality rather quickly. The Dome of the Rock where a Muslim Mosque sits and is said to be the sight where Muhammed ascended to heaven is also the traditional sight where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac and God provided a replacement. All of that is within a stones throw or two from the wailing wall (what is left of the west wall of the temple built by King Herod some 500 years before the time of Christ and destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans). Let’s just say all the necessary ingredients for conflict are present and everyone walks just a little on edge.
More could be said about the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and other things. It is hard to overestimate the degree to which these things are constantly present in Israel. Yet, Christians, Jews, and Muslims flock to this place year after year to complete their spiritual haji. My friend, Rula, lives in the old city and acted as our tour guide for two days during our trip. She is Arminian (not Jewish and not Palestinian). She speaks 4 languages fluently and can get around Jerusalem well. By the end of our time with her, she was calling me haji Johnny. Haji is generally a term used for Muslims who have completed a pilgrimage but is sometimes used more broadly. She, like a lot of people there, makes her living by working in the “haji” industry. The Catholics have made an industry out of burial sites, the site of Jesus birth, and many other “holy sites.” People come not only to see historical sites, but to touch the place where Mary spilled breast milk and a rock turned white. They touch or even lay on the rock and pray to Mary asking her to cure their infertility. Many claim it works including a friend of Rula.
Pilgrims and hajis don’t come just to see the sites, they come for miracles and spiritual experiences in their lives. Many flock to the site of Jesus’ baptism and get baptized and rebaptized in the Jordan river so they can gain some kind of “spiritual experience.” All of this is problematic to say the least. The relics of the Catholic church and the sound of John Tutsel’s voice are all but faint in the background.
There is certainly not anything wrong with experiencing spiritual highs as you stand in the synagogue that was built on top of the synagogue where Jesus spent time preaching, reading the sermon on the mount as you sit on top of the mount of beatitudes, or standing at the shore of the Sea of Galilee just behind Peter’s house and think about Jesus calming the storm or walking on water. It all happened their and it changed the course of eternity…literally. But, there is nothing magic about that dirt or that water or that air. It’s all just dirt, water, and air. It’s not the same dirt, water, and air that graced the feet and lungs of Jesus. And even if it was, so what. God doesn’t hear your prayers better if you are putting your hands on the wailing wall as I did (I even prayed) and His power to do miracles are not determined by geography. God’s work is grounded in history, but He is not limited by history. If you seek a spiritual experience in the Holy Land you might find it, but what about when you are sitting on the plane going home? What then?
If you are looking for a spiritual experience that will sustain your spiritual walk, don’t go to Israel. Don’t get me wrong, there is something amazing about visiting the Holy Land. I hope to go back, and I hope it will be sooner rather than later and last longer than this short trip. I hope you will get to go as well, but for the right reasons and with the right expectations. The truth is, God isn’t just at work in one magical location, He is at work wherever you live and wherever His people live. God works in the midst of your infertility, He works with the reality of your relationships, their financial struggles, your brokenness, and so on. Israel is a broken place and a site of conflict throughout world history. God is at work in your life, you don’t need a trip to Israel to experience the redeeming power of the cross and the empty tomb. Heck, we don’t even know for sure where the empty tomb is. Is it the Garden Tomb as many protestants believe or is it The Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Maybe it’s neither of them. Wherever it is, we have eye witness testimony in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament that confirm his resurrection and you have access to that. Further, you have access to the Holy Spirit who has sealed your eternal life.
My trip to Israel did bring to life Scripture in a new way as I stood close to the place where Jesus experienced the temptation by Satan to receive the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just worship Satan. It brought to life the realities of the land and culture in which Jesus lived and worked, where Abraham obeyed God with Isaac, where Simon of Cyrene is through to have helped Jesus with the cross or where Jesus ascended to heaven. My trip grounded the historical reality of God taking on human flesh, living, dying, and rising to life, but the emotional high will fade. I will forget some of what I saw and experienced and I will return home to pay for my trip, help coach my son’s baseball team, go to the gym, and prepare sermons every Sunday in my local coffee shop. Just like I did before I left. I will see God continue to work in Lakewood, Colorado and in my own family and among my friends.
If you go to Israel and expect the emotional and spiritual high that will last you the rest of your life, you will be chasing another experience in a week, month, or year. It will ruin your life. If, however, you go to Israel in the hopes of grounding in history the work that Jesus has already done in your life because of the cross and resurrection and gaining insight into the Biblical narrative, then by all means have a good trip.
The picture is a group of guys in Tel Aviv Israel that I trained with during my trip to Israel. In fact, I'm still in Israel, I leave to come home tomorrow. I came to Israel with my friend Eric (front left), he is one of my Jiu Jitsu friends. He is not just a friend, he is one of my main training partners. We push each other to become better practitioners of Jiu Jitsu, that is why we found time while in Israel to train. I have a plan for my training and a discipline that goes along with it. I don't train flippantly and I don't just do Jiu Jitsu when I feel like it or when it is convenient. I bet there are things in your life where you have developed a discipline and commitment like this. If there isn't, there should be.
There is something far more important than Jiu Jitsu, in fact there are several things, but one of them is my spiritual life. My guess is that you would probably place the same value on your spiritual life that I do on mine. But if that is true, then I should have a plan and a disciplined approach to my spiritual life that is at least equal to the level of planning and discipline i put into Jiu Jitsu. Do you have a plan for your spiritual life, or do you just hope it will happen?
Yesterday (when I started writing this) was Sunday. Normally on Sunday I am in the pulpit preaching a sermon I have been working on for at least a week. There is significant spiritual benefit in preparing and delivering a sermon. I spend time every week digging into God's word exegeting Scripture and examining how it should be applied to my life and the lives of the people who will be hearing the message. Obviously this is part of my job, but it also pays significant spiritual benefits. So, what happens when I'm not preaching and I'm not even at church like I was yesterday? Do I get to "take a break" or a "vacation" from doing what is important and necessary for my continued spiritual growth and development?
Most of the time, even when I am on vacation I will attend church, even if it is in a place I don't know anyone. Yesterday was not a day where I could do that given the nature of this trip. BUT, I didn't take the day off from my spiritual life. In addition to visiting the "Mount of Temptation" in Jericho where Jesus was tempted by Satan and meditating for a few minutes on what that temptation must have been like for Jesus, I listened to two sermons by Chuck Swindoll (one of my favorite preachers of all time). Church is an important part of my spiritual life even when I am not preaching...perhaps more so when I am not preaching. Nevertheless, it is not the only spiritual practice and discipline I have.
I recently checked something off my bucket list that wasn't even on my bucket list until this last year. I completed a 1/2 marathon. Honestly, it sounds almost silly. How do you complete half of something? It almost sounds like a consolation prize, like I didn't do the whole thing, I only did 1/2 of it. Of course that isn't quite true. I completed the whole thing, all 13.1 miles. Here is the thing, I didn't win, I didn't even win my age division. I'm not even that passionate about running. I once hated running but I've made friends with running because it helps me in other areas of my life. So, I did it, I completed a 1/2 marathon taking a modest 7th place in my age division out of 34 and 48th overall out of 230. I set a goal of finishing a 1/2 in 2019 sometime last fall. I don't really remember when I set the goal.
To some this might be a huge goal, but it wasn't the first running goal I set. My first goal was to run a mile...I thought that would be enough. I accomplished that goal and set a new goal to run 5 days a week and get up to three miles (a 5k). I did that. As time went on my goals grew little by little. Some were time goals. I had a goal of running a mile in under 7 minutes and I did that last year. I have a new goal, I want to beat 6:39 (my current mile record) and run under 6 minutes. That's an aggressive goal for me at age 45, but I think I can get there. As time went on my running grew stronger and my goals grew marginally larger. I'm probably never going to win a 1/2 or any race of any real importance, but who knows. What's my point? Let me explain.
Some of my professional life has been spent in an atmosphere that pushed big goals, huge goals, even "God sized goals." While I can surely appreciate the intent behind that approach, it never really worked for me. Maybe it's a personality thing, but I bet there are other people with my personality. I had a hard time reaching these giant goals and often felt like a failure. In fact, I was often told that even if not in so many words. Let's be honest, I did fail to reach a lot of those goals. I still set goals, but I do it different and maybe this will help you.
I set reachable goals. Goals that take work, require effort, discipline, and will stretch me, but they aren't usually GIANT goals. They are goals where I can see the path to completion. I can see how those goals could be accomplished or at least I can see a general idea of how I can reach those goals. That's what I did with my running and I have increasingly begun to do this with other areas of my life. Honestly, in some ways I've been doing it for much of my life. Setting a goal to run one mile eventually and somewhat unintentionally led to me running a 1/2 marathon. Setting a goal to simply complete a half marathon led to me performing at a much higher level than I thought possible. I thought I would average 10 minute miles and I averaged 8:36. I haven't set a new goal for a marathon, that still seems like a huge goal for me. I am considering it. I am thinking about whether that really helps me with other physical fitness goals in my life and whether or not I want to put in the training. That said, I have almost certainly not run my last 1/2.
What is your next goal? What modest goal can you strive for in your spiritual life, in your physical fitness life, in your vocation where you can see the path on how to get there? Don't wait, set a modest goal today and maybe it will lead to something unimaginable down the road.
Thom Rainer recently posted a blog called, "The Painful Reality of Church Shoppers." In it he references a pastor who talked, perhaps even vented a little, about the the reality that June seems to be "National Church Shopping Month." Grace Fellowship in Lakewood, where I serve as Lead Pastor, has certainly experienced that. In fact, I am the pastor who posted that lament in the Church Answers community. We've experienced this phenomena on both ends, we have had people from our church go shopping as well as people shopping our church who had been at another church. I called that post a lament because it is certainly that in a variety of ways. To be clear, there are good reasons to go "church shopping." That said, there are a lot of bad ones, probably more bad than good. I'm not going to address the good reasons to go church shopping.
The title of this post is a little misleading. There are a number of blog posts written about what you should look for in a church and I don't think we need another one, so I am going to take a different approach. I will give you one thing to look for in a church, but more important than that are some things not to do.
First, I want to tell you about a couple in our church who has been there since 1964...yep, you read that right. They started attending 55 years ago. This isn't a rural community with limited options, Lakewood is the 5th largest city in Colorado and borders Denver. In fact, my home address comes up on Google maps as Denver. There are mega-churches, big churches, and small churches not far from us (a lot of them). The options are plenty. Why are they still at Grace Fellowship? I promise it isn't because they agreed with every decision, because the worship was the best available, or because the preaching was amazing (I hope its good though). It wasn't because Grace had better programs than anyone else. While I have often gotten somewhat veiled answers when I have asked I think I can safely infer that they believe a biblical community isn't one you leave because something didn't go your way, because someone didn't give you enough attention, because you disagreed with someone in leadership, or because there was minor difference of opinion related to a peripheral theological issue. I think I can safely say that they believed growing together in a community of believers where people knew the hurts, sorrows, and even sins of one another was part of remaining faithful to God and to the bride of Christ (the church). Perseverance is an essential part of spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:32-39). This couple isn't the only long time couple at Grace, but they have been there the longest. Several other people have been there for 10, 15, 20, and even 30 years. Don't get the wrong idea, we have many who have been there 6 months, a year, or a few years as well.
They have been around through several pastors, two of them were 20+ years each. They have seen the church move, remodel, acquire debt, pay off debt, and much more. They have watched as others have left because the pastor was "too Calvinistic" (this wasn't me by the way), because the pastor didn't call, because the church didn't take my ideas about remodeling, because the children's ministry had a slightly different philosophy, because they didn't like the pastor's social media posts, because, because, because. Yet they found reasons to stay and it has been good for them and for the church!
So, what do you look for in a church? You look for one thing, you look for a church where you can stay. Sure, they should have orthodox theology. The preacher should be faithful to the text. The worship should be God honoring (that doesn't mean it is great, there is a difference). However, the preacher doesn't need to be Matt Chandler, John Piper, Charles Swindoll, or the one of the 11 disciples of Jesus (leaving Judas out). The worship doesn't have to be Elevation, Hill Song, or a bunch of hired guns/guitars. They don't need to have a fog machine or not have a fog machine or whatever. Your kids don't need to love it, they need to learn to be faithful to a community of believers, just like you do.
Our little church in Lakewood will never put on a show like Red Rocks (just down the street) or have a climbing wall in the kids area (like Red Rocks). I don't begrudge them, good for them, I hope they preach the gospel!! What we do have is a church that works hard to live up to its 3 core values of having a Gospel Impact (we preach Jesus), Generosity (we work hard to be generous with what God has given us), and Growth in Community (we work hard to love people well and spur one another on toward love and good deeds).
Before you go church shopping, don't ask if there is something better, ask if you can stay where you are and contribute to the church you're in. Sit down with the pastor and try to find a way to stay rather than finding a reason to leave. It will be better for you and the church.
Abortion law is settled law right? Besides, the number of abortions is going down, so why fight about it? Aren't there other things more important than the abortion issue? One of the most annoying things is for someone to argue with you about something which, in the grand scheme of things, makes no difference at all, so why fight about abortion? It's a personal choice anyway, right?
Every 30 seconds there is an abortion, but why should that be alarming? It really all comes down to one question, what happens when an abortion takes place? The answer to this question is the answer to whether we should "argue" about abortion. Much of our society lives in denial and avoids the difficult answer to that question. We argue about border walls, immigration, poverty, legalizing drugs, welfare, and so on. All of those things are worth discussion and vigorous debate. Yet, none of them can hold a candle to the issue of abortion. The reason is simple, while all of those things have the potential of denying people various rights or dignity that is due to every person, none of them, by necessity, deny the most foundational human or civil right of all, life itself. The answer tot he question of what happens when an abortion takes place is this, an innocent human life is intentionally extinguished.
I have participated in public debate about this issue of abortion, you can see that here. I am not going to reargue the issue here. However, there is another question that should be asked and answered; who are the most vulnerable and voiceless? The answer to that seems obvious, the unborn child cannot speak or do anything else without protection. While there are many whose voices are oppressed, there are no others who are more helpless and voiceless than the unborn. The unborn are exactly the kind of people that Proverbs 31:8-9 speaks about when it says we should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
While there are many issues of great importance that deserve our attention, the abortion/life issue is the greatest civil rights and human rights crisis of our time. More people were killed by abortion world wide in 2018 than any other thing, and it's not close. No other issue deserves more attention than this one, yet, many avoid the issue. If you desire to speak up on this issue see this web site: Life Training Institute.
Why not? Because it isn't meaningful. Don't get me wrong, I like goals, but goals are different from New Years Resolutions.
I make goals when I need to make them. There are certainly times during the year to reflect upon what things you need to change in your life, and the end of one year can be one of those times, but reflection upon needed life change should be frequent. Setting goals is an essential part of growth and should be made upon reflection upon your life as it is now.
New Years resolutions, as they are traditionally done, are not thoughtful goals made based on serious reflection. I have reading goals for each year, but again, those are intentional and thoughtful. They are made upon reflection of what I have read the previous year. I also set similar goals in the summer as it relates to the church I lead. Frankly, these goals aren't a "life change" like a resolution. They are goals I make every year and sometimes do not accomplish. Nevertheless, I grow throughout the year in my attempt.
Life change should be made as needed. By life change, I mean establishing new habits that will serve you beyond one year. My reading habits will serve me for the rest of my life unless I go blind and deaf. Over a year ago I made some dieting changes in my life, not to lose a certain amount of weight (although I did lose weight) but to become healthy for the rest of my life. I may have to change my eating habits in the future as my body changes and my activities change, but I made a change that will be constant for the rest of my life. I decided to eat healthy for the rest of my life. It was a life change, not a new years resolution. I will not measure my success at the end of each year, but each day. When I am not successful I start again the next day.
Go ahead, set a goal, but don't do a new years resolution. make is specific and be disciplined about following through. Make it a life change that will last for the rest of your life.
John Chau's story reminds me of Jim Elliot's sacrifice, along with 4 of his partners, to reach people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The hours and days after their death must have been devestating. Certainly some were asking if their mission to reach Huaorani people would ever be accomplished. God was faithful and the Huaorani, including the very people who killed Jim and his friends, did receive the Gospel. If you read the Washington Post John Chau was a fool for even attempting to bring the gospel to the North Sentinelese people. Many others even Christians echo their opinion. The critiques are plenty, but it has been my observation that these critiques have come primarily from people who have spent little time on the mission field from the comfort of their plush American homes and offices.
There are two different kinds of critiques. Those outside of the Christian faith or on the liberal end of the Christian faith question whether it is morally right to bring the gospel to those who have not heard it. That is a critique founded on the clash of different world-views. Those who believe that this life is all that there is or at least all that matters do think about what comes after this life. Therefore anything that might harm (in their view) the way a person or group of people choose to live would be considered morally wrong. The North Sentinelese should then be left alone. For the Christian who believes in life after death that either leads to eternal damnation or eternal life with God and the authority and truth of Scripture there is no question that bringing the gospel to people who have never heard it is the right thing to do. Scripture commands the church to take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:19; etc.). Further, the words of Jesus in John 14 reminds the Christian of the exclusivity of the Christian faith.
As a result there should be no hesitation on the part of the Christian to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth and to take head to the words of Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." While we ought not be flippant with our lives on this side of eternity, we ought not love this life more than the next. Again the words of Jesus come to mind, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Mt. 16:25).
The second kind of critique is focused on the methods John Chau employed in his attempts to reach the North Sentinelese people. I am not a missiologist so I will not attempt a defense of John Chau on this front. Instead I will refer you to Ed Stetzer's article which is also found in the Washington Post. While it is wise to look at a person's failed attempt and ask what we can do better in order to be more effective in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, it is arrogant to do so if we are unwilling to get up out of our lazy boy and reach the people across the street, in the next cubical over, or others in our circle of life. Even if we are reaching across the street, we ought to be at least willing to reach those around the world, to go to the ends of the earth. Are we storing up treasure here on earth or in heaven? Do we really look forward to the scene in Revelation 7 playing out where every tribe and every nation is gathered around the throne worshiping? The church has lost the urgency to evangelize the world and bring all people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Is it not at the very heart of God that all people come to know Jesus (1 Tim. 2)?
Let's ask questions to learn what Chau could have done better, not in an attempt to ignore this unengaged and unreached people, but so that we can be more effective in reaching them. Perhaps John Allen Chau's death will be a wake up call to the rest of us and restore an urgency to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all. John Allen Chau was courageous, let his courage inspire the rest of us!
He did it right, he being my daughter's fiancé. To be honest, it is all a little surreal to be thinking about my daughter getting married. Nevertheless, she will be marrying someone I believe is a good man. He did well not only in asking for my blessing, but in approaching the relationship as a whole. When I realized the question was eminent I began thinking about what I would say and what he would say. I may not have many opportunities moving forward to speak into the life of my future son-in-law so I wanted to be prepared. I did google searches trying to figure out if there was some kind of formula or advice and I found little that I thought was very helpful. So, while I will not share all the details (that's between Paul and I), I wanted to give a sketch of what I did in hopes that you may find it helpful if you are facing a similar situation.
But first, I want to recognize that every situation is different and you may have to adjust what you do according to your situation.
Before this all went down, I made sure that my daughter knew I expected to be asked. Sure, it sounds antiquated, but it is a tradition that is beneficial for all involved. I always made sure that my daughter knew I didn't want her to marry a week man. This tradition plays a role in making sure that the suitor has to have at least enough courage to look their potential father-in-law in the face and ask for his blessing. Courage and boldness is something I value greatly and I have taught both of my kids that this is important. Furthermore, this was for her good. I also made sure that I had built up enough trust with my daughter that she would push her future husband, whoever he turned out to be, to ask for my blessing. There are few circumstances where I would withhold said blessing, but I suppose they do exist. Fortunately she found a guy who has courage and whose dad brought him up to honor this tradition. He also talked to me when he wanted to date Catrina...good man!
When the time came, I didn't bail him out. It takes courage to ask for this blessing, but it is also formational in a man's character. I'm not much for small talk, usually I just jump right into topics, but I needed to give him space to work up to the question even when I was pretty sure that is what was coming. I'll admit, I may not be the easiest person to ask such a question and I may have unintentionally made this a little harder than it had to be; nevertheless, he rose to the occasion and I am thankful for it.
When he popped the blessing question, I gave a short answer and a long answer. While the temptation might be to make him squirm or suffer a little bit, I find that to be a little sadistic. I told him I had a short answer and a long answer. The short answer was "yes, you have my blessing." I must admit, if I was not going to give my blessing I would likely only give a long answer.
The long answer was more involved. I told him what I expected. Some people might find that presumptuous, who am I to tell my daughter's future husband what I expected. He is marrying her, not me...right? I will tell you why I have the right to do such a thing, I have spent the last 20 years loving her, raising her, and preparing her for this next stage of her life. The person she has become is, for better or worse, at least in part the result of how her mother and I raised her. More could be said about this, but that is enough for now. I did tell him what I expected, but I don't expect him to be perfect and I don't expect unreasonable things. I do expect them to struggle, face trials, and have to learn to love each other in new ways. I'm not going to go through exactly what I said, you should work that out for you and your situation, but be reasonable and don't be afraid to give a reasonable challenge.
I read Scripture to him. I am a pastor, but that doesn't really matter, I would have done it anyway. I read him the passage out of Ephesians 5:21ff. I offered some additional thoughts about the text. Becoming a husband is not for the faint of heart and I wanted to make sure he knew that...I think he does and I think he is up for the challenge. I could have read other passages that would certainly be relevant, but that is the one I chose. You can make your own choice.
Last and perhaps most important, I prayed with and for him. The content of my prayer is for me, him, and God. The truth is, that was not the first time I had prayed for him and my daughter and it will not be the last by a long shot, but it was the first time I prayed with him as I prayed for him and my daughter. I won't forget that time of prayer, and I hope he won't either.
If you have ideas of things you think would be good to add or comments on what I did, leave your thoughts in the comments.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.