I recently started fresh with a new blog – “Scott’s Thoughts.” Here is the address: http://pastorscottjohnsonblog.wordpress.com/
See you there!
I recently started fresh with a new blog – “Scott’s Thoughts.” Here is the address: http://pastorscottjohnsonblog.wordpress.com/
See you there!
If you lived in the days of Jesus, and you entertained guests at your home, you would not fail to have their feet washed before your meal. They’ve walked to your house in their sandals along dusty roads; their feet would need a good bath. Of course you wouldn’t do the dirty and degrading job yourself – that’s why you had servants. And it would be your most lowly servant who would have to kneel down to clean the dirt-caked feet of your guests. There was hardly a more humble task than this.
For that reason, I wish I could have seen the faces of Jesus’ disciples as they watched their Master on the night of his last supper with them, strip down to a slave’s dress, fill a basin with water, and begin to wash their feet one by one. Surely they looked on in stunned disbelief! No Jew of any standing would stoop to wash the feet of others. And it was unthinkable that a rabbi would lower himself to clean the feet of his disciples. Yet here was their master doing just that!
If they wondered why Jesus was washing their feet, their question was answered soon enough: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Jesus served his disciples in this way that they might – after his example – serve one another in the same manner.
And what manner was that? When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he served them in love and with humility.
As sinners, we might serve another begrudgingly, harboring secret bitterness in our hearts even as we serve. Or in a calculating fashion, we may serve others only when doing so serves us. In college I waited tables at restaurants: I served and served, but not because of any particular affection or care for my customers. Rather, I waited on them only for the money they left on the table!
But when Jesus served, his motive was love. John begins his account this way: “Now before the Feast of the Passover… , having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v.1). Everything Jesus did for his disciples – and for us! – was borne of his immeasurable love for his own. And that infinite, divine love that filled the heart of Christ for his people was about to lead him to the shame and agony of the cross. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he taught them a lesson they would only understand after his death and resurrection (v. 7, cf. 12:16), namely, he was willing to suffer any indignity for their sake – one night washing their feet, the next day dying on the cross – because he loved them.
Jesus also served his disciples in humility. You can only appreciate the extent of Christ’s humility if you know (by faith!) his true identity: Jesus was God in the flesh, the Sovereign Creator and Lord of all, who took to himself a human nature in his incarnation. Thus, everything Jesus did up to his burial was an act of sublime humiliation – his incarnation, his life as a man, his obedience to his Father, his suffering, and his death. As the Scripture says: “… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,…” (Philippians 2:6, 7).
The One who stripped down to a slave’s dress, who knelt before his disciples and washed their feet, was the One who, as the Son of God, shared in his Father’s glory from all eternity. And he would stoop to the lowest conceivable place on earth – standing before God as an accursed sinner, bearing the pain and shame of the judgment of God as though he himself was worthy of condemnation. Why did Jesus lower himself so? If you belong to Christ by faith, he did this to take away your sins and give you his righteousness and life. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was showing them both the depth of his love for them, and how far he was willing to humble himself that they might be saved. So Jesus served in love and with humility. And this is how you are serve others.
But how can you serve others in that way? The answer, of course, is only by the grace of God. Nothing in us naturally wants to serve others, to take the lower place, to seek the good of others’ before our own. But God gives his grace and Spirit to us, to make us more like Christ in our service to others.
But there is another answer to that question, and one that may surprise you. It’s an insight from Martin Luther’s wonderful little book Christian Liberty. And that is, you are enabled and freed to serve others in a Christ-like way only as you comprehend by faith the great status and riches you possess in Christ. As a Christian, God has put all things into the service of your salvation (Romans 8:28). In that sense, you are lord of all! And in Christ, you already possess the riches of God (1 Corinthians 3:21; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
For this reason, you need not labor and strive for prestige and wealth in this life. You don’t have to fear being in the lesser place. If you belong to Christ, God has freely given you the status and riches of royalty. After all, you are the son or daughter of the Sovereign Lord! Since that is so, you can freely, willingly, and joyfully make yourself a servant to others. Even if it means washing dirty feet.
At the teacher’s invitation, I observed one of the children’s Sunday School classes before the worship service. The kids were about eight to ten years old, still young enough to offer answers to the teacher’s questions with unabashed enthusiasm, even if those answers weren’t always correct or even on topic. In the past I’ve taught junior high-aged kids whose reticence was so extreme I wondered if instead of being in a Presbyterian church I’d mistakenly stumbled into a bizarre monastery full of adolescents who’d all taken a vow of silence. But with these kids, a question was immediately followed by six little hands shooting up all at once; each child had a ready answer!
Stephen, the teacher, did a fine job instructing the kids about temptation and sin from the Lord’s Prayer. He had the children read from several different passages – his lesson had real substance. I thought as I watched the kids being taught the Scriptures that they probably have no idea just how blessed they are for this exposure to God’s Word at their young age. So many children have no such advantage, and they suffer for it as they grow older.
Since I had to be in Oregon last week for a presbytery meeting, I asked Ben Duncan, a PCA minister and Army chaplain, to fill the pulpit for me at the morning service. He preached an outstanding sermon from Hebrews 1:1-4: “Simply Supreme.” Ben showed how these few verses testify to all three of Christ’s offices as our Savior – Prophet, Priest, and King (I had not seen that before. It reinforced the teaching we’ve been covering Sunday evenings from the Westminster Shorter Catechism concerning the three-fold office of Christ). He spoke to our hearts as he preached, and I was edified as I heard Ben explain how Hebrews addresses our guilt with its repeated declaration that the sacrifice of Christ purifies our conscience. I’m sure others were equally encouraged by this message from God’s Word.
At the evening service I spoke on the humiliation of Christ from Catechism Q & A 27. That the Son of God so lowered himself for us, not only in his incarnation but also in his suffering and death, reveals the measureless depth of God’s love for sinners. The humiliation of Christ also gives us a pattern to follow. Philippians 2:5-8, where Paul speaks of Christ making himself nothing and taking the form of a servant, begins with this imperative: “Have this mind among yourselves.” When we consider how loathe we are to humble ourselves before others, how desperately we need the grace of God to be a true servant like Christ!
It’s always a happy “coincidence” (the scare quotes are for the benefit of all you Calvinists!) when the Sunday School lesson perfectly dovetails with the sermon. Sunday’s common theme was faith. Before the morning service, Richard spoke on Noah’s faith from Hebrews 11:7. And during the service, I preached on the true nature of saving faith from John 12:36 – 50.
Richard pointed out that, just by our being indoors at church on a gorgeous spring day with clear skies and a warm sun, we must be exercising faith in far greater unseen realities!
In my sermon text, John describes the unbelief of the Jews who saw the signs Jesus performed yet did not – indeed, could not! – put their faith in him as their Savior. By depicting their lack of faith in Christ, and giving us the reasons for it, John indirectly teaches us about genuine, saving faith. My four points were:
1. Saving faith is a gift of God’s grace.
2. Saving faith seeks the glory that comes from God.
3. Saving faith believes Christ is the Son of God.
4. Saving faith is made known through obedience to the Word of Christ.
I ended by reminding the congregation it’s not that we are saved by a great faith, but that we are saved by faith in a great Savior. Our faith may be weak and small at times, but if even a mustard-size faith can move mountains (Matt. 17:20), then it can also save us. By faith we overcome the world (1 John 5:4) because the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2) has overcome the world for us (John 16:33).
At the evening service, I spoke on the kingship of Christ from Westminster Shorter Catechism #26.
Yesterday as I observed our kids’ homeschool co-op class, I got a little education of my own. Somehow on my Kindle I came across this article about the dangers of news consumption. I was riveted as I read it, and have been thinking about it ever since.
The article is called “Avoid News – Towards a Healthy News Diet,” and is written by a German author, Rolf Dobelli. It appears to be the final chapter of his book The Art of Thinking Clearly. After reading the article, I think I’ll buy the whole book.
Dobelli’s thesis is this: just as a diet of sugar is bad for our physical health, so a diet of news is toxic for our intellectual and mental health. He says we need to change our information diet, starting with quitting news altogether. He writes as a convert:
I have now gone without news for a year, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first hand: less disruption, more time, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more insights. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Why is news consumption so unhealthy? Dobelli gives 15 reasons (I include my own thoughts, as well. His words are marked in bold or with quotation marks):
1. News misleads us systematically. The news’ focus on the sensational and scandalous, and on human interest stories, distorts our view of what is truly important. “Astronauts are overrated. Nurses are underrated. Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC reports are underrated.” (evidence of his point: I had to Google “IPCC”, but I know who Britney Spears is!).
2. News is irrelevant. “Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.” Good question.
3. News limits understanding. The news “has no explanatory power. News items are little bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world.”
4. News is toxic to your body. He gives the scientific explanation for this, and it sounds likely enough.
5. News massively increases cognitive errors. Reading the news only confirms – never challenges – our view of the world. I thought, this is manifestly true in the response to the Kermit Gosnell trial. Pro-lifers see the story as obvious proof of the evils of abortion; the pro-choice crowd sees the story as obvious proof of the need to make abortion safer and more available!
6. News inhibits thinking. It interrupts our concentration, makes us shallow thinkers, and hinders our memory. “Besides a lack of glucose in your blood stream, news distraction is the biggest barricade to clear thinking.”
7. News changes the structure of your brain. “Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to read and absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed.”
8. News is costly. Basically, it wastes a lot time.
9. News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement. For as much media attention Lindsay Lohan gets, you’d think she cured cancer.
10. News is produced by journalists. Who can be unethical, incompetent hacks! “My estimate: fewer than 10% of the news stories are original. Less than 1% are truly investigative. And only once every 50 years do journalists uncover a Watergate.”
11. Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always. “Maybe, you’d find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect forecasts are not only useless, they are harmful.”
12. News is manipulative. How true. “Journalism shapes a common picture of the world and a common set of narratives for discussing it. It sets the public agenda. Hold on: do we really want news reporters to set the public agenda? I believe that agenda setting by the media is just bad democracy.”
13. News makes us passive. Dobelli speculates whether too much news is even a cause for so much depression in our modern world. Maybe. I know the Drudge Report is an effective cure for a good mood.
14. News gives us the illusion of caring. The “allure of anything bespeaking global brotherhood smells like a gigantic chimera. The fact is, consuming news does not make us more connected to each other.”
15. News kills creativity. “I don’t know a single creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs.”
Dobelli’s solution is total abstention: “Go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey.” Instead, “Read magazines or books which explain the world – Science, Nature, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly. Go for magazines that connect the dots and don’t shy away from presenting the complexities of life – or from purely entertaining you.”
Dobelli may overstate his case at times, and going cold turkey on news may not be the ideal solution. But I am convinced that in the main, he absolutely nails it. And almost everything he says applies to other digital distractions: facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Like news, these are often unnecessary diversions that leech time and make sustained thought difficult. And dare I say blogs do much the same (I hate to admit this because I love reading blogs and writing this blog)?
Christians should especially be aware of their information diet. Too much time in front of a screen, or an obsession with news, will make you less able to read God’s Word, to concentrate on a sermon (unless it is mostly story-telling), or to profit from spiritual classics like The Pilgrim’s Progress or theological works like Calvin’s Institutes. We may know the latest on what’s happening in D.C., but how much does that information really equip us to be faithful disciples of Christ where God has placed us – our homes, our churches, our workplaces? Hardly at all.
As a pastor I found this article especially convicting. Much of my work is spent on the computer – writing e-mails, typing out sermons, and so on. As soon as I meet a mental challenge – for example, how to phrase a certain idea – the first thing I want to do (and in fact, too often, actually do) is click on Fox News or USA Today to see what’s happened in the world since the last time I checked 10 minutes ago.
And as a preacher my effectiveness depends in large part on my ability to think clearly and deeply, to concentrate on difficult texts (both biblical and theological), and to meditate on spiritual truths. As Dobelli so convincingly shows, the more news (and by implication, other internet distractions) I consume, the less I can use my mind the way I must if I am to be a faithful minister of the gospel.
Though I don’t know if Dobelli himself is a believer, he certainly has sound advice for Christians addicted to news – for the sake of your mind, stop reading it. For according to Scripture, the blessed man is not the one who saturates his mind with each hour’s news, but his “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
A common thread running through both services yesterday was the Kingship of Christ. In a world of great darkness and human misery, in which our lives are fraught with uncertainty, trouble, and tragedy, it’s always heartening to hear again that Jesus Christ reigns as omnipotent Lord over all. He rules according to his perfect goodness and wisdom, and the “scepter of uprightness is the scepter of (his) kingdom” (Heb. 1:8). The skeptic cannot perceive the reality of the reign of Christ; it is known only by faith. And though belief that Christ is King does not answer the hard questions of why he allows particular evils to occur, the heart can only find peace when it submits to the gracious rule of Christ and rests in the certainty that all questions are resolved in him. Do you believe in the present reign of Christ? Have you bowed down to him as Lord?
At the morning service I preached from John 12:27-36. The theme of the sermon was how God was glorified through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. One point was this: at the cross Satan was dethroned and Christ was enthroned (“now will the ruler of this world be cast out”). How fitting that the placard above Jesus’ head declared “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37)!
And then at the evening service I spoke on the Kingship of Christ from Westminster Shorter Catechism #26. Several people asked insightful questions about how to understand the reign of Christ before and after the cross, and how that relates to the power and influence of the Devil. I’m afraid in my “answers” I mostly restated the questions! So I’m not sure how enlightening my responses were, but it was good for us to consider these things together.
Between the services at our house, we enjoyed the company of an Army chaplain and his family. They also have five children, who are about the same ages as ours. That makes 14 people for lunch! Over Robyn’s pizza soup (you’ll have to ask her for the recipe) and a glass of wine, we talked about all kinds of things, including ministry, preaching, family visits, plans, books, and kids.
I write this post with the hope of raising awareness. Someone who reads this blog may not know about Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the crimes for which he is now on trial in Pennsylvania.
There are two main stories. The first is the crime itself, or rather, the multitude of crimes Dr. Gosnell is accused of committing. He is being charged with seven counts of first-degree murder stemming from his years of work as an abortion provider in Philadelphia. But the seven murders of which he is accused are only a small part of an entire enterprise of evil that almost defies human belief. There is first the bloody work that enriched Dr. Gosnell – killing unborn children. Then there are the horrifying conditions in which he “treated” his patients – a filthy clinic, untrained staff, and dangerous – sometimes fatal – medical procedures. There are the macabre items of a ghastly house of horrors – babies and parts of babies stored in jars and other containers. And there is the unconscionable way in which government departments and agencies all turned a blind eye to his practice, despite numerous complaints.
But what is downright diabolical is the routine butchery of babies, after their birth. Gosnell and his staff performed many late-term abortions (on babies more than 24-weeks old, which is illegal in Pennsylvania). When a baby was born alive he simply “snipped” its spinal cord to kill it. Here’s an article from The Atlantic with all the details. I warn you, it is disturbing to read.
The second story is the near-complete lack of media attention. If you are learning about this here for the first time, that’s not surprising. For the most part, it’s received all the media attention of a local trial for petty theft. The politics of abortion are undoubtedly the reason why. Read this article for more on that.
I want to be as fair as possible. I believe that most who are pro-choice will react with shock and revulsion to what Dr. Gosnell did. At the same time, there’s no denying that some pro-choice supporters hesitate to renounce (or they even support) the killing of a live baby after a failed abortion attempt. Dr. Gosnell was simply acting out that logic.
What I find most disturbing, though, is how callous and indifferent we’ve become to something as manifestly evil as the systematic murder of infants. Dr. Gosnell’s actions were clearly illegal. But the frightening thing is this – the legality of abortion has created a moral atmosphere that not only leads to a doctor killing newborns with impunity (at least for a time), but also numbs us to what is stark and naked evil. The media may have dubious motives for ignoring this story, but only a society whose moral sensibilities are numbed can respond to this evil with such leaden apathy.