Wishing y’all a very Merry Christmas from our little corner of the internet.
For this reason was He both born and manifested as Man, for this he died and rose, in order that, eclipsing by His works all other human deeds, He might recall men from all the paths of error to know the Father. St Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Each year at UNC Chapel Hill, Bart Ehrman begins his class with an exercise. He asks the class, “How many of you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” A majority of hands raise all over the room. Then he asks, “How many of you have read [and he’ll select the popular novel of the day]?” Usually at that point, almost every hand is raised, with very few exceptions. Then, Ehrman asks a third, very important question: “How many of you have read the entire Bible?” And almost every hand in the room stays down. At which point, Ehrman—who despite teaching the New Testament, does not believe it to be God’s Word—makes his point: “I can understand why you would read [the popular book]. It’s entertaining. But if you really believed God wrote a book, then wouldn’t you want to read it?”
Many of us who grew up in the church were encouraged and challenged to make daily Bible reading a part of our lives, but how many of us live out our belief? If we really believe that God wrote a book, why wouldn’t we want to read it? Why wouldn’t we make a plan?
“Every Christian worth his salt ought to read the Bible from cover to cover every year.”
J. I. Packer
I remember the first time I committed to read through the Bible; it was more than a decade ago. I had run through several devotionals and each of them had the same pattern. They would offer up a verse or two, followed by two pages of someone else’s experiences and thoughts on that snippet of God’s Word. . . . And those were the good ones! Some offered up the same cursory verses, but highlighted someone else’s story that had a similar theme. At some point, it struck me that, in my quiet time—in the moments I had set aside to hear from God—I was reading someone else’s words.
At the bottom of this post, I’d like to offer you two plans to consider for the upcoming year. There is no limit to Bible reading plans, but I’m going to give you the one I have found most useful and then the one I’m going to try next year. But first, let’s talk about what making the commitment to a Bible reading plan isn’t.
Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Normal
That you’ve read this far into the post is a testament to your oddity. Making the commitment to read the Bible through in a year is not something most people do. Should it be? Of course. But without a plan, we’re destined to get stuck somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers. And that’s why so many choose NOT to make the commitment. They’ve tried (even if half-heartedly) before and failed.
Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Legalistic
I have heard some argue that making a plan is legalistic. It’s impressing someone else’s standard upon our schedule and time. I’ve heard some argue that it stifles the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead you to the portion of God’s Word that he intends you to read on a given day.
Simply put, the only people who believe that have never read their Bible through in a year.
Anything worth doing is worth counting the cost and making a plan. And, as the old adage goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Not Scripture, but true nonetheless.)
Committing to a Bible Reading Plan isn’t Difficult
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it. Here’s how I read the Bible.
Spoiler alert: I use my iPhone. It goes wherever I go. I’ve forgotten my wallet more times than I’ve forgotten my phone. So I use my phone. If that bothers you, as I know it bothers some, just add the step of opening your print Bible.
This app is incredible. It connects to many Bible apps, which means that you simply open the app, click on the reading for the day, and it opens your preferred Bible app to that passage. It offers a litany of different Bible reading plans, but I’m going to suggest two: the one I’m finishing up and the one I’m planning to use in 2019.
I love the Book at a Time plan. I believe that context is extremely important in good biblical interpretation and that means reading larger portions of the Bible at a time. The Book at Time plan encourages that kind of reading, setting you for in one book for chapters at a time, usually followed by a single chapter from the Psalms or Proverbs. Also, it moves back and forth from Old Testament to New Testament, so you need not worry about getting lost in the wilderness for forty years.
In 2019, I’ll be trying something new—the 5x5x5 plan. It’s described as a simple New Testament plan, requiring only five minutes each day for five days a week. You read one chapter a day. Does that seem like too much? Surely not. Then again, if that seems too little, you can up the ante a bit and read it in the Greek text. (NOTE: If you’re up for this, reach out to me and let’s create a GroupMe or WhatsApp group to help one another along.)
If we really believe that God wrote a book, why wouldn’t we want to read it?
Like many, the holidays are a difficult time of year for me. A few years ago, my family spent our final Thanksgiving together and then, just before Christmas on December 13, my Dad lost his 5-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Truth be told, while Christmas carols and hymns proclaim “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men,” the harsh reality is that the season doesn’t place a pause on the hardships of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the orphan, the widows, the lonely, the unclothed, the hungry, the thirsty, the jobless, the war torn, and the needy. In this season of Advent or “Expectation,” will peering into the manger bring lasting peace or further reminders of regret, loss, disbelief, and discouragement?
It’s important that we catch the true meaning of Christmas by creating gospel moments by announcing the birth of Jesus to those around you—inviting them to join you at Christmas celebrations: in your homes and in your churches. It’s fine if Santa Claus and snowmen are present in your home as long as you exalt the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in the manger. The birth of Christ is the gift of God to be celebrated.
I often reflect back to one of the most treasured Christmases that I cling to which was my last Christmas with Dad. My Dad and Mom found themselves in a hospitality apartment in Houston, Texas while my Dad received his cancer treatments. They were eleven hours away from our hometown at Christmas time and couldn’t return home because of his treatment schedule. My wife and I decided to take “Christmas” to them in Houston. We gathered a small nativity set, bought a small pre-lit tree, some Texas themed ornaments, special mugs, a Christmas wreath for the door, and made some other things to make their apartment a little more “Christmassy,” like home during the holidays. When we arrived, we brought our Christmas surprises inside and got it set up. We even put a couple of presents beneath that little tree. The small gesture meant the world to my parents. To anyone else they might have seen a “Charlie Brown” Christmas, but to us, Christ’s birth gave us hope and strength.
The following day, we planned a Christmas dinner for the other residents of that hospitality house. We cooked and cooked and fed so many cancer patients–too sick to travel home, alone for the holidays, and too poor to pay for Christmas dinner and their caretakers. It was a Christmas miracle! God took our little and multiplied it to meet so many needs that day. And he gave my Dad the strength and health to participate. We experienced the Spirit of Christmas through loving Christ and loving others. I even preached a Christmas message of hope and peace found in Jesus Christ to those able to gather in the clubhouse. That day, I was reminded that Christmas isn’t what is found in boxes beneath a tree, but the love of Jesus, the Savior. I will never forget that Christmas.
Seek to serve the less-fortunate during the Christmas season and display the love of the Savior to those who desperately need a reprieve from life’s striving.
God used the Birth of Jesus to make an eternal impact.
Do the same.
In a society that sprints past Halloween and Thanksgiving in order to get to the Christmas season, it should come as little surprise to recognize that we are not good at waiting. Our’s is a generation that has learned that good things come to those who refuse to wait. We have access to more information on the phones in our pockets than our parents and grandparents had in their local libraries. Everything is instant—riches, celebrity, coffee—and if you don’t believe me, just listen to the comments made the next time the wifi gets slow.
With such an embarrassment of riches, more eccentric subsets of our society have embraced a slower, more deliberate pace. They have learned to shave like their grandpa with a safety razor and boar’s hair shaving brush. Others have embraced the slow art of growing a manly beard. Albums available instantly in digital format are eschewed for those etched in vinyl.
But these exceptions prove the rule—as a society, we demand instant gratification. Which helps explain why Advent is so foreign to our understanding.
Advent is a four-week period of preparation in churches—usually of the more liturgical stripe, but has become more popular in recent years—leading up to Christmas.
This Sunday, December 2 is the First Sunday of Advent.
Many churches—perhaps even most churches—will begin to lean into some of the more familiar Christmas hymns this Sunday. Perhaps they’ll sing “Joy to the World” or “Hark the Heralds Angels Sing.” And those are wonderful hymns with a rich history. But like those who camp out on Thanksgiving morning in order to be first in line on Black Friday, they rush to Christmas morning too quickly.
And that temptation is so very real, isn’t it? After all, the Christmas season is a time for joy and laughter, friends and families, gifts and cards. But according to the Christian calendar, that season begins on Christmas morning. It doesn’t begin on the day after Thanksgiving.
Now, I am not a high-church liturgical worship guy. Not even close. But I think there are some aspects of worship found in the Christian calendar foreign to most churches. I am merely suggesting that if that is the case, perhaps it’s worth examining why believers in the past saw this as important and why we don’t. Or, even more indicting, why we may think it important, but not something we want to think on often.
During Advent, We Reflect upon Israel’s Longing
Advent is the season of expectation. It is the four weeks that Christian churches reflect on the silent inter-testamental period. In the Old Testament, we read of God’s activity and proclamation on each page. We see him in Creation and in the Garden. He sends a flood and confuses the speech of the builders of the tower at Babel. He speaks from the bush, thunders from the mountain, demonstrates his power in the whirlwind, and whispers in the stillness. He rules through judges and kings. He pits nation against nation. He raises a nation to discipline his own people, sending them into exile and bringing them back again.
And then, silence.
History is not silent. The inter-testamental period is a fascinating era filled with intrigue and uproar, but there was no revelation from God.
He was silent.
And year after year, they looked for a prophet to come. And year after year, none came. There were some who claimed to have a word from God. There were others claiming to be the Messiah himself. But they did not and they were not. God remained silent.
Years turned to decades; decades to generations; generations to centuries. Prayers were offered, but God was silent.
And the people of God knew that things were not right in the world. They felt the injustice of their situation. They knew their Scripture well enough to know that this was not the way things were supposed to turn out. And they longed for God to come set things right.
Can you imagine?
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
During Advent, we remember Israel’s longing for their Messiah. And while it is a period of remembering, it is also a season of waiting ourselves.
During Advent, We ‘Feel’ Our Own Longing
Many of us, when we sit still long enough and think about the world, can not only appreciate Israel’s longing—their desperate sense that things are not the way they are supposed to be—we feel it too. We look around us and the world seems to be spinning out of control. It doesn’t matter which news station we turn to, the news is bad.
Wars and rumors of wars? Check.
Earthquakes and natural disasters? Check.
Increasing hostility to the people of God? Check.
Everywhere we turn, the reports are negative. The only difference is who gets blamed.
And so politicians of every stripe promise us solutions. False prophets tell us that our faith, or lack thereof, is holding us back and that if we’ll just sow a financial seed of faith into their ministry, we too can experience the blessings of God. But deep down, we know that their promises are empty.
We know that only one thing can set this right.
And that’s what sets Advent apart from hopelessness. There is hope. There is assurance that despite all appearances, the world is not spinning out of control. Christians have the promise that God is not finished with his Creation; he has not washed his hands of our dust. But rather, he is patient and good and at the right time, the Son will rise from his throne and return to this world. But rather than coming in the humility of a child in a manger, he will come in the clouds with power and put all things under his righteous rule.
And so we long for our Messiah. We yearn for his return. We ache to see all that is wrong with the world made right. And that sense of desperation—that groaning that we feel each time someone we know receives that terrible diagnosis, each time a friend receives that call in the middle of the night that we all fear, each time we lay a loved one in the grave—that is Advent.
A Humble Appeal
I am not suggesting that you scratch your Christmas songs this week. I am not suggesting that you adopt the liturgical calendar and invest in a set of candles to light during the worship service. Instead, my hope is that you will remember the silence and darkness that characterizes Advent—that you would feel the hope and longing. And this, in part, because we are so prone to avoid those emotions in worship. They make us feel uncomfortable. In those moments, our Christmas hymns, so full of joy, can create such dissonance with the longing.
But when we allow that longing to settle upon us, when Christmas morning comes, the Incarnation of our Lord reminds us that even in the silence, our prayers have been heard. And our longing turns to joy.
My appeal to you is to make room for Advent in your worship. Perhaps that’s a single sermon (might I suggest Micah 7:1–11 for your text). Perhaps you might choose an entire Sunday morning to feel it. But make room for Advent.
There will be the temptation to rush to sing the happy songs and avoid the darkness. But I’m reminded that almost every year, in order to see the culmination of the candlelight service, we turn the lights down in the sanctuary to experience the light.
With the recent death of missionary John Chau, there has been a whirlwind of reactions and opinions. Some grieve the loss of life and the tragic nature of his death while pursuing a greater cause; others argue that his death was pointless and could have been avoided.
These reactions reveal that we are in a new era concerning the perspective of missions. I believe that the popularity of consumer Christianity has led us to the point of viewing missions in a different light than what we have in the past. In the past, giving your life to reach the lost for the cause of Christ was both noble and honorable. In the present, methods are questioned and critiqued without examination of motives. If that isn’t evident in the case of Chau, perhaps compare the op-eds of late with the Time article covering the death of Jim Elliot.
Regardless of your position, many of us are confused with missions and when confronted with the hard realities of missions (i.e., the mission may cost us our lives) we turn inward conviction into critique to appease our conscience.
Confusion in the Need
Over the past few days, the Twitter-sphere has been abuzz around the incident. People have been on both sides of the issue, some calling John a martyr and others calling him a lunatic.
Many of his proponents call him a lunatic, a buffoon, a failed colonizer, or worse. (In all honesty, it took me a few minutes to find tweets that were not full of obscenities).
This wouldn’t have happen if mr chau had just minded his own business. Those natives probably already worshipped a God already. It wasn’t his place to go in their and try to force his faith on them https://t.co/CApiVBt81m
John Allen Chau, who was killed on North Sentinel was no martyr. He was a failed colonizer, who committed several illegal acts, while trying to impose himself on a group of people who has clearly let it be known that they do NOT want to be bothered or infiltrated by invaders. pic.twitter.com/BOJDsIbcHM
Really surprised at the tone deaf coverage of John Chau’s death. The man was an arrogant buffoon, his story showcases the worst aspects of evangelism. Yet various reports seem to present him as some sort of a brave do-gooder.
The problem with these viewpoints is they do not understand the need for missions. It’s not to colonize or conform different people groups to look alike or function in similar ways; neither is it necessary in missions to impose one’s personal agenda onto another.
Biblical Christianity places the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ as the need for missions. The sole point of biblical missions has been, and will always be, the message of Jesus dying for the forgiveness of sins and offering eternal life to all of humanity.
John Allen Chau was not concerned about changing the Sentinelese standard of living or implementing a 21st-century worldview on their island. His burden was far greater—apart from Christ, they would spend eternity in torment.
Rather than rendering judgment on his burden for the lost, let us examine our own lives and ask ourselves if we are burdened similarly for those without Christ.
Romans 10:14–15 (CSB)
How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
These viewpoints place specific requirements on the missionary before the mission can be deemed wise—the missionary must learn the language, the missionary must have a certain number of vaccines, the missionary must be fully aware of all of the culture, the missionary must be funded and supported by a mission sending agency, etc. The problem with this view is that it is not what is represented in the Bible. In fact, the Bible records that when the Spirit called a person, the church confirmed the calling, and the church sent them out (for one example, see Acts 13:1–5). Biblical Christianity teaches that the qualification for missions is the calling of the Lord. If the Lord has called, they are ready.
That being said, let me also qualify that I believe that a calling implies equipping. I have been called to pastor, and for that very reason, I have been equipped at a local seminary. Moreover, I can see how Paul and Barnabas were equipped earlier in the book of Acts for the mission to which God had called them.
I also believe that mission sending agencies are great. I love the work of the IMB (International Missions Board), support them, and partner with them.
While it is ideal for missionaries (and pastors) to be equipped by formal agencies, formal agencies are not a prerequisite for ministry. A person who is called by God to pastor can pastor (and many do) without a seminary degree. A person who is called to be a missionary can go (and many do) without a formal equipping by a missions sending agency. Even if the reports of Chau’s preparation had not come out, who are we to criticize a man who felt called by the Lord and was acting on it?
Let us not criticize Chau for his calling or his zeal in his calling. Instead, let us pursue the Lord’s calling in our own lives and examine ourselves to see if we are zealous to see others come to Christ.
Confusion in the Comfort
Chau knew he was committing an illegal act, was fully aware of the consequences and could have endangered the Sentinelese by his actions. Chau was another example of Western arrogance and he paid the price. I have no sympathy for the fool. https://t.co/P2orflzu0P
So why are these people calling Chau a fool? I believe it has to do with respecting a person’s comfort. The world tells us that if a person is comfortable, leave them alone. If they want to live a certain way, as long as everyone is comfortable, just let them. In this type of culture, comfort rules and when anything challenges comfort, it is proclaimed as foolish.
Chau was not willing to let the people remain comfortable in their ignorance of Christ, nor was he was willing to remain comfortable knowing that they would spend eternity in hell without Christ.
The problem with these viewpoints is that they do not understand that, at its core, the mission of Christ is foolishness to the world because it sacrifices comfort for the cause of Christ. Missionaries sacrifice their comfort to go to the mission field—they leave jobs, they sell possessions, they spend large amounts of time learning about communicating with and integrating into a foreign culture and that is even before they get onto the field. Once missionaries are on the field the foolishness (by worldly standards) and sacrifice of comfort continues as there are language barriers they must deal with, the people can be unreceptive to the missionaries message, and the time investment required to reach an unreached people group can be massive.
Simply put, missions will always look foolish when it is viewed through the lens of the world because it calls everyone to sacrifice comfort.
Biblical Christianity is not concerned with the world’s perspective or comfort. Biblical Christianity is concerned with those living without hope finding hope in Christ. For the Christian, the temporary sacrifice of comfort in this world is worth the opportunity to lead others into an eternity with Jesus.
Chau was not concerned with those who would consider him foolish or even the sacrifices that he was going to make. He was concerned about how he could share the hope that can be found in Jesus.
So, let us not judge him for his willingness to sacrifice his worldly comforts, even his own life. Instead, let us examine ourselves to see if we are ready to sacrifice our worldly comforts for the commission that Christ has given us.
2 Timothy 1:8–12 (CSB)
So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher, and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.
Confusion in the Command
At the core of the problem, we find confusion in the command. Christ has called every Christian to go and make disciples of all nations.
Matthew 28:18–20 (CSB)
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The world will always misunderstand the purpose of the mission, place roadblocks before the mission, and cling to earthly comfort. Nevertheless, let us seek to fulfill what Christ has called us to do and share the gospel with all who will listen, even to the ends of the earth.
December is coming! And with it many reminders of the holiday season. For many Christian homes, December presents an opportunity to close the sacred/secular divide. Many have had a full year of Bible study and devotions at church groups, but have yet to cross the barrier into family devotion time. In this post, I’d like to suggest a reading plan for bringing the actual story of Jesus home this Christmas. First, allow me to suggest some practical advice for starting a family devotion.
Keep it Short and Sweet
If you have young children like I do (5, 2, and 7 months), doing a family devotion at all may feel like an impossibility. We can hardly get everyone in clean jammies, let alone to settle down enough to read a section of Scripture. Don’t let the fear of family devotion time keep you from having a time devoted to God. Right now, our family devotion time lasts less than 10 minutes each night. We read a small passage of Scripture, let each child have a question time, review the story, then pray together. Don’t let devotion time become a grandstanding for theology or give a 30-minute lecture on the meaning of a Greek verb. Let the time reflect the age and maturity of your family.
There are a million reasons for not starting a family devotion. So your kid is 15 and you’ve never done it before. Its awkward. It’s not cool. And no one has any clue what they are doing. That’s okay! Obedience trumps awkwardness every time. Satan will let you have whatever excuse you need to stay out of the Bible. Open God’s Word, start small, and stay regular. Don’t wait to start, let this Christmas season open a new chapter in your family worship time.
While I may have particular delusions of grandeur day dreaming winning American Idol, no one in my family is a particularly gifted singer. Despite the squeaks and squawks coming from the Wegener household, we still try to sing at least one Christmas hymn together at home after devotion time. This personal family worship time is not going to win any awards, but it is going to honor God. Sing a hymn together through December. If you need to, put on a recording and sing along. Let praising God for the birth of Christ be a sweet ending to each December day. This personal family devotion time will help children connect with worship at church.
Don’t Pick on a Family Member
Don’t pick on any child or family member during devotion time. This is not a time for exposing sin and embarrassing a kid. If something came up during the day and you need to address it, make sure to do it the biblical way and go speak to that person directly first (Matt 18:15). Nothing will cause resentment for devotions to God like turning family time into the Spanish Inquisition. Some devotion material will naturally bring up sin issues in the home. Don’t shy away from those moments, but make sure to point the finger at yourself first and often. Husbands, as spiritual leaders of the household, we cannot come across as the most holy of our home. We need to be made of the same common clay as our children. Let them know that you struggle with sin as well. If you have to pick on or expose anyone’s sin, let it be your own sins first and foremost.
Suggested December Reading Plan
Below I would like to suggest a December reading plan of the gospel. Adjust the plan for the age of your family. Get a translation (not a children’s story book) the youngest person can understand. If you get behind, don’t fret—just try again. Emergencies happen. Extraneous circumstances come up. Remember, family devotion time won’t happen by accident. Make it the routine not the exception.
Much has been written about John Allen Chau—the American missionary seeking to proclaim the gospel to a remote tribe on North Sentinel, an island off of the Indian coast. By all accounts he was aware of the dangers he faced, having paid local fisherman to bring him near the island under the cover of darkness. Even that action seems to break Indian law which forbids engaging the Sentinelese at least in part due to certainty that those who do are almost universally met with a hail of arrows. After being brought near the island, Chau paddled to shore with food and gifts to offer the islanders in the hope of gaining an audience to share the gospel. According to the local fisherman, he attempted to make landfall several times and was met with a number of arrows each time.
His diary records that he “hollered” in a foreign language, “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.”
He wrote of his first encounter in his diary before returning. He had gotten “within inches” of a tribesman and offered his gifts only be met with hostility, including an arrow piercing his waterproof Bible. The fisherman who had taken him into the waters around North Sentinel reported that two days after his initial attempts, they saw the Sentinelese bury his body on the beach.
Reflective of the immediate and extreme nature of social media, reports of Chau’s death was hailed as that of a humble martyr carrying the gospel to the unreached nations by some. Others, however, showed little sympathy for the young Westerner who dared attempt to force his culture and religion on an indigenous people.
The impetus to comment ensured that few were willing to exhibit patience enough to allow more news to come to light and think carefully about the meaning of his death.
For Bible-believing Christians, some aspects of his story merit discussion.
Taking the Gospel to Every Tribe and Every People Remains a Biblical Imperative
Reading the accounts of those who made up the very first Baptist Missionary Society in history—the very men who initiated the modern missions movement—who were challenged to “expect great things for God,” and to “attempt great things for God,” I am often struck by their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel. I am moved with gratitude for those who left home and hearth for the sake of the heathen. Their intentions were not selfish. In fact, whenever I lecture on the Serampore Trio or those holding the rope at home, I remark of their repeated emphasis on their calling to share biblical Christianity, not British Christianity.
Chau’s concern was clear. He may have had a history of thrill-seeking and adventure, but his diary revealed a heart shaped by the love of God: “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
“This is not a pointless thing—the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelations [sic] 7:9–10 states.”
John Allen Chau in a letter to his parents
Extreme Measures are Necessary
There are a number of Christians who echo Rod Dreher’s thoughts concerning Chau—“even though I share his faith, Chau had no business going to those people. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I believe it.” It strikes me that virtually all of them do so from the comfort of their office or home; few do so from the mission field.
We might all be better-served by allowing Chau’s willingness to die for the sake of the gospel to challenge us—what are we willing to risk that others may hear the eternity-changing hope of Jesus Christ? When faced with criticism concerning his methods of reaching people with the gospel, the great evangelist D. L. Moody once quipped, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” No doubt, many of those criticizing Chau prefer their way of not proclaiming the gospel to his way of doing it.
Some have averred that Chau’s motivation is inspiring, but his methods were flawed—at first it was observed that he did not seem to have been partnered with a missions organization. That information was incorrect in that he was commissioned by All Nations after having “studied, planned and trained rigorously since college to share the gospel with the North Sentinelese people.” Nevertheless, he was facing a significant language barrier. The language barrier that some believe to have been insurmountable is, in many ways, reminiscent of another age of missions when every language barrier appeared impossible to overcome.
Perhaps Chau was naive enough to believe that if he merely “hollered” the name of Jesus loud enough, the Sentinelese would bow the knee in faith. Perhaps it was his hope that, like in Acts 2, the Lord would ensure that they heard the message in their own language. Perhaps his was a story of youthful exuberance lacking wisdom. But have we forgotten those who settled among unreached peoples who spoke unknown languages and learned their language over time, enabling them to share with them the hope of Jesus Christ?
Is this the norm?
But unreached peoples are generally unreached for good reason.
A Lesson from a Modern Martyr
However we feel about the methods used by Chau, may each of us be challenged by his willingness to go to the ends of the earth for the sake of the gospel. May we remember that the Great Commission is still our commission. We are commanded to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations (τὰ ἔθνη), baptizing them in the name of the the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded [us]” (Matt 28:19–20).
Likewise, in Acts, Jesus promised the disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” but then he added, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I’m often struck by the manner we interpret this particular verse. Many of us read Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit and our faith in Jesus gives us assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. The substance of Jesus’s promise is clear: the Holy Spirit.
All too often, however, we miss the other promise found in the verse.
Jesus’s statement that the disciples will be his witnesses even to the ends of the earth is his promise to those who have not heard of the name and work of Jesus Christ. He is promising that the Good News is on its way. And his disciples—those in the book of Acts and those in our churches today—are the substance of that promise to the ends of the earth.
Perhaps the lesson we need to learn most from John Allen Chau—the modern martyr—is the reminder that there are still those who have not heard and it’s time for us to get back to work.
When it comes to Christmas songs, I’m a post-turkey kinda guy. As soon as Black-Friday hits, its beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. However, I ran into a unique problem this year. When we started Pandora radio, we found a “Thanksgiving” channel. Intrigued by the notion of Thanksgiving songs, we started playing the channel. To my surprise we began hearing, “Come Fly with me,” with Frank Sinatra dominating the Thanksgiving airways! Apparently, Thanksgiving songs have long been given a coup de grace.
Why don’t we sing about being thankful? At Christmas time, its easy to sing a secular song about the joys and doldrums of the weather or emotional ties to a warm fire. But when it comes to being thankful, we need to be thankful to/for someone. The problem lies with the human condition. We are naturally a self-centered idolatrous people. It is easy to be generally thankful; it is hard to recognize a true and personal God for whom we ought to be thankful. Not being thankful to God on Thanksgiving is simply a symptom of the secularism that pervades our home life.
Recognizing God at Thanksgiving
At Thanksgiving dinner our children will say they are thankful for their parents and various trappings and we’ll have our customary prayer. Yet, the largest portion of our Thanksgiving conversations will belong to football, Black Friday deals, and inventing reasons for a second piece of pie. God, in many American households, will get a prayerful name drop but little more concerning him will be welcome.
We all recognize that materialism continues to encroach on our giving of thanks. We know our society continues to progress in the sickness of consumerism. Yet, many of us adopt the secular Thanksgiving motto, “the best way to be thankful is to have more stuff to be thankful for.” Our Christian families can push back against this materialistic tide. We can use Thanksgiving as a launching pad into the advent season.
Some Suggestions for Thanksgiving
1. Ask family and friends how God has blessed them this year
This isn’t an opportunity to brag or correct errant prosperity gospel theology; this is an opportunity to reflect on how God provided for our families. For my family this year, God provided us a church and a home here in Georgia. Personally, I am thankful that the gospel is reflected so beautifully in my wife. My children have grown in knowledge and understanding of Jesus. Thanksgiving is a proper time to recognize these blessings.
2. Spend time praying for politicians, rather than critiquing them
No doubt many of our families are divided over who should hold office. We could don our MAGA apparel or make sure the conservatives in our family feel-the-bern this year or we could agree to pray for our leaders (without backhanded comments). No doubt each one of us has a good reason to sit down at a glutton’s feast of slander and disdain for politicians. A godless Thanksgiving concerns itself with proving our cousin’s social policies are insane but a God-filled Thanksgiving is about being thankful to God for our cousin. Find a way to be thankful to God for people with whom you disagree.
3. Avoid complaining and arguing
We need to remember that God’s Word tells us to, “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Yes, the rolls got left out this year. Yes, the turkey should have been thawed long before the oven was preheated. Yes, our parents, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. are still the same people we had to deal with last year. None of these factors negate or change God’s Word. Its time to set a Thanksgiving precedent for obeying this portion of God’s word—Do everything without complaining or arguing. Remember, critiquing each other is not the same as being thankful for each other. God has been so abundantly merciful with us this year, maybe its time to extend that mercy to family and friends at the dinner table.
Regardless of context, this is one of the most difficult statements for anyone to make. Whether you’re having a conversation at the church, at home, or even in the coffee shop, these three words come with such difficulty.
And yet, those committed to the authority of Scripture live with this possibility on a daily basis. We are called, each of us, to be submitted to God’s Word. As eighteenth-century Lutheran scholar Johann Albrecht Bengel has been quoted, each of us has the responsibility to “Apply yourself wholly to the text; apply the text wholly to yourself.” This is the task we face daily in our efforts to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2).
And in order to be transformed—in order to be conformed to Scripture—we must say those three words with far more regularity than any of us would desire. Each time we approach Scripture, we bring a load a theological baggage to the task of interpretation. And we have a responsibility to let the text speak and allow it to have an affect upon our theology.
And this is so difficult, isn’t it? Even as born-again, Bible-thumping Christians who champion sola scriptura, again and again we are tempted to bring our theology and our experiences and the mounds of books we’ve read to the exegetical task and interpret Scripture in such a way as to accord with our pre-conceived notions. This proclivity seems so evident when we see it in someone else (who clearly can’t conceive of their bias), but we are then challenged to consider the other theological arenas in which we may blind to our own (unnoticed) biases which we carry into the exegetical task.
It is much more natural, when faced with teaching that opposes our thought, to reject it outright—to declare that our views are inherently right and correct. It is far more difficult to acknowledge the possibility that we might actually be wrong. In my reading of God’s Word, I am perpetually amazed at the number of scribes and Pharisees whose interpretations of Scripture were shaken by the Incarnation of Christ. Over and over again, Jesus’s actions undermined their entire framework of understanding. And while it is common to read their reactions in the Gospels as absurd, as a theologian and student of God’s Word, I become fearful of the possibility that my interpretations—as well-intentioned as I believe them to be—as much study as I have committed to the task—could be wrong (or at least fallible).
And in my brief experience training men and women to rightly divide the Word of God, I’ve taught them to ask an important question when faced with a difficult text that doesn’t necessarily correspond with their pre-determined theological position.
Rather than asking them how they might redefine or re-interpret a verse in order to make it align more closely with their position, I challenge them to ask, “How has that verse or passage affected my theological views—how has it shaped what I had already believed?”
Why is that important?
Because if we’re genuinely submitted to the authority of God’s Word, our task is to conform our thought to his Word; not to conform his Word to our thought.
Is that uncomfortable?
Is that difficult?
Does that require us to consistently face the possibility that our theological framework may be out of alignment with Scripture?
But, if we genuinely prize God’s Word, we are given no other option.