By Charlie Johnston
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel
I Corinthians 9:16
After the Resurrection and before the Ascension, Jesus had breakfast with His overjoyed disciples. The Lord used the occasion to ask Peter three times if he loved Him. (John 21:15-19)
Jesus started by asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” The phrasing of the question is a bit ambiguous. Most people I know think that Jesus was asking if Peter loved Him more than the other disciples did. I think Jesus was asking him if he loved Him more than he loved the things of this world. After each affirmative from Peter, Jesus gave him direction: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.
If God calls you to a particular mission in His service, He will take your answer not from what you say, but what you do. It is a demanding call, for this is a hard, old world with many temptations. There are temptations we might succumb to out of weakness that do not permanently disqualify us from our mission. Most dangerous are those temptations which are so contrary to our calling that we are permanently dismissed from the Lord’s service. It is not that we necessarily lose our salvation, but that we lose our mission because we are found unfit for the Master’s service.
For a very long time we have substituted profligacy for principle, venality for virtue, and cleverness for character. A lot of bureaucrats, legislators, and other officials, both in the world and in the hierarchy of our churches, have done quite well for themselves by these means (if you consider a soulless and obsessive quest for power, money, office and influence to be worthy pursuits). The rules are changing dramatically – and the very characteristics that have gained these lowlifes their sinecures are now disqualifying and discrediting them.
These past couple of years, the depth of the rot at the heart of our culture, our politics, our governments and the hierarchy of our churches has been more and more starkly revealed. As the unveiling continues, the usual suspects try to gain traction again by spinning their wheels, like an incompetent driver, all the harder in the mud they have mired themselves in. They got by for decades on glib assertions and condescension towards normal folks. But their serial incompetence and unending spectacular fails have inoculated normal folks from being intimidated by their blabbing. The political left has become a parody of a political party – sometimes obscene, often violent, but not to be taken seriously intellectually.
The constant fear-mongering, wild accusations, and sniffy assertions of superiority have flatlined as effective means for inferior – but arrogant and mouthy – people to impose their will. Even the characteristics of glibness, smugness, condescension and opportunism (the hallmarks of both elitists and their apprentice sycophants) have become disqualifiers in the public eye. But the elitists haven’t figured it out yet, so they keep doing the same things they have always done, only harder, thinking this time it will surely work. It is like watching a silly fellow try to get his car out of a snowbank by spinning the wheels until the rubber starts stinking.
God is intervening in the world, making the very qualities that the smug set used to rise to power into the instrument of their ruin. It is playing out in living color before our very eyes. Given that, I am baffled why so many are still so cowed by the impotent threats of disgraced elitists. I can only think it is akin to the instinctive cringe of a dog at the sight of the stick its dead master once beat it with.
Now God is asking every man, “Do you love me more than these?” If your love of God is not as great as your love of your position and influence, you are not fit for the Master’s service. If your fear of others talking ugly about you is greater than your love of God, you are not fit for the Master’s service. Neither be needlessly provocative and call it courage nor cower in fear and call it prudence.
If you want to imitate the Master, you must goad yourself to want what He wants. He calls all men to salvation. So you are called to work for the reclamation of those who are his enemies rather than their destruction. He is the defender of the meek and downtrodden, so you are called to defend them, as well, against assaults from the ungodly. Sometimes you have to attack, maybe even crush, those who oppress the innocent. Though it is so, there is always the air of failure to it – as it would have been so much better to be able to recall them to life. When you fail to defend the innocent from depredation, that is not failure; it is betrayal. You cannot avoid occasional failure. You must avoid betrayal.
Focus on the good to be obtained from gritty fidelity, not the hardships that must be met and dealt with to obtain it. When I was running political campaigns, if a volunteer came to me asserting that he would surmount all obstacles and bear any hardship for the cause, I would instruct my chief lieutenants to put him to work, but not to count on him. The fact is, most men who boast of how faithful they will be under duress run like scalded dogs at the first sign of real difficulty. I am troubled by how many otherwise good Christians I hear these days boast of how they will be a martyr. I don’t want to be a martyr to anything except my own selfish desires, for I well know that what I desire most is most effective against me. Rather, I endeavor to desire God, knowing that all things will then be added to help me in my work. If God decides I must be a martyr, I pray I won’t turn back, but I firmly hope He allows me to die peacefully in my sleep a long time from now. Fidelity means staying constantly focused on what you can do to facilitate the flowering of the Kingdom, not on how hard it all is. Missionary work is not for wimps.
General George Patton once famously told a group of American soldiers that, “the object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other ba*tard die for his.” That is good, practical temporal advice. How much better when applied to the battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the satan.
What a great work God has put before us! We have a world weary, groaning beneath glib nostrums that deny even the possibility of the transcendent. These have generated a terrible and corrosive misery, that eats away at the soul and the hope of joy. We are called to light the path back to God for that weary world, to spark anew the promise of joy in their hearts. In his play, ‘Julius Caesar,’ William Shakespeare said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” The tide is high and we must cast our lot with God. If we cling to the old ways of scheming, glib opportunism, we will be lost in the shallows of our soon-to-be irrelevant lives. The malicious are already lost. All you need to be trapped in the shallows is to be too timid to catch the tide.
I have not had much to say about the coronavirus. I take it seriously, but am a tad skeptical. After all, this is the sixth potential pandemic of my lifetime that was going to decimate much of the earth’s population. Before this, there was the Hong Kong flu, Swine flu, Avian flu, Ebola and Sars. Each did some damage, but none were even a thousandth as devastating in reality as the hysterical media made them out to be.
Oddly, I have a nostalgic fondness for the Hong Kong flu which came when I was still in junior high school. At the time, my father and I had always had an uneasy encounter, each puzzled by the other without a particularly close or warm relationship. On New Year’s Eve in those days, my parents always spent the evening with our dear friends, Skip and Tom and their family. On New Year’s Eve preceding 1970, the two couples went out to a party while I watched the kids of both families at home.
Some time around two in the morning, they got home. My Dad was nearly unconscious and obviously very sick, carried by Tom and my Mom into the house. Alarmed, I asked what was wrong with him. Tom laughingly told me he had contracted the Hong Kong flu. I was horrified that Tom could be amused by such a thing, for all the news said the Hong Kong flu was a deadly killer. Of course, Dad had simply had way too much to drink – but I didn’t know that. Terrified, I went up to my room and prayed intensely all through the night, desperately pleading with God to spare my Pops. Frankly, I was a bit surprised at how intently I truly loved my Father, given our awkward relations.
Late the next morning, I heard his voice and went downstairs to see if he was okay. My face must have betrayed my fear and concern, for Dad spoke gently to me and suggested we take a walk in our back yard. After Dad explained to me that he was not really sick except for a bad hangover, we talked about many things, wandering about for over an hour. Somehow, in the course of that morning, I discovered that my Dad was really a cool, funny guy – and he discovered I was really a cool kid. In the course of a single day, we went from living an awkward encounter with each other to an unending mutual admiration society. Our friendship became so strong it sometimes irritated my Mom at how staunchly we stood for each other.
I’m sure it would have happened eventually, but my panic over a drunken night that I thought was the Hong Kong flu was the catalyst that fully united my Dad and me on that New Year’s Day of 1970, so I cherish its memory.
It is good to take precautions and be prepared. After all, the Spanish flu of 1918-1921 really was a deadly pandemic that killed around 50 million people across the globe. But whenever some big panic takes hold, I like to take a good, hard look at what the actual effects are.
For about three decades I have told any who asked that the government of China is the most evil on the planet, the heart of the forces of the anti-Gospel in this great battle before us. I am persuaded that this virus is actually a bio-weapon developed by the Chinese. Yet when it escaped, which nations are now most badly impacted? Those would be China, Iran, and the Korean peninsula. The virus that was supposed to be a weapon against the west has been a disaster for those who sought to deploy it. Italy is the country most badly affected in the west. Take that for what it is worth, but it strikes me that perhaps God is using the weapons the advocates of the anti-Gospel would deploy on us back on them.
The American stock market has taken a huge hit in the last week as supply chains are badly interrupted. The left can barely contain their glee that this may create an economic downturn that will finally turn people against Donald Trump. But take a step back and look at what the actual consequences of all this are going to be.
The supplier whose chain has been so badly interrupted that it has caused a precipitous drop in the American stock market is China. Trump has argued from the beginning that we are too dependent on Chinese goods for our own good. As the China supplier dries up, American manufacturing will increase, as will our trade relations with allied nations that don’t insist they have the right to lie, cheat and steal from us in exchange for open trade. Trump started to wean us from dependency on Chinese goods a few years ago to the howls of his political enemies. Now, instead of weaning us from that dependency, events have forced an amputation, caused by what was almost certainly a weapon devised by China, itself. Provided this does not become a mass pandemic in the U.S., the American economy, trade relations with allies , and the global economy sans China is likely to be much stronger than ever by election day.
Meantime, the left has explained in eager tones to us why Trump’s A) confrontation with North Korea a few years ago, B) relocation of the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, C) strike in Syria over the use of chemical weapons, D) ultimate withdrawal from Syria, E) trade sanctions on China, F) hard sanctions on Iran…etc., etc. were all going to lead to our doom. The left has become a doomsday cult that is constantly in panic and wrong every time. How do you think all that is going to play out?
Oddly, since I have not given the coronavirus much thought, I had a peculiar dream about it last week. I was talking to a fellow about what steps I should take to protect myself. He told me that I should just do what I preach; trust, do, love…and eat plenty of coconut. Just the sort of bizarre advice that comes in dreams. But hey, I like coconut.
A couple of weeks ago I discovered a crowdfunded TV series about the Gospels, called The Chosen. After watching the first episode free, I immediately ordered the DVD series. I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am about it. They hope to do eight full seasons. The head of the project is Dallas Jenkins, a Baptist Christian from Texas. Yet it is a collaborative effort, mainly between Baptists and Catholics. Sounds like strange bedfellows, but I have long ago come to think that the fundamental modern division in Christianity is NOT between Catholics and Protestants, but between those who actually believe in God and try to live according to their best understanding of His Word – and those who wear it as a cultural accessory not to be taken too seriously. The people involved in this effort are true believers. Certainly, it fits my image of Christ more closely than anything I have ever seen.
There are three things I particularly like in it:
- The visible joy Jesus has when giving new hope to those who have lost hope and the way His focus, after doing a miracle, is entirely with their joy rather than with His power. He is truly WITH His brothers.
- The lively wit and good humor of the Christ. This is a Christ that is magnetic, charming people with His great heart and love as well as commanding them.
- In the aftermath of the miracles He creates, Christ’s focus is never on Himself. When it serves the purpose, He fades into the background. When it is important, He is open, even provocative, to make His point. There is neither preening vanity nor false modesty – Jesus’ lodestar in this series is whatever most helps to build the Kingdom.
On those sequences for which we have Scriptural narratives, the show stays true to the narratives. On those things in between, the show creates fictional backstories that help illuminate and emphasize the action we see in the Scriptural narratives.
The casting is absolutely inspired. The only quibble I had was with the depiction of Moses in a flashback. Moses was a very old man when he began his mission – and this showed him as a middle-aged man. This is very close to Jesus as I see Him. If you enjoy the series half as much as I did (there was not an episode where I was not in quiet tears of joy at some point) it will be one of your favorites of all time.