Sunday, November 13, 2011

Left without a choice

I have always taken a certain amount of pleasure in self-sufficiency. In keeping with how I was raised, I have often done without rather than ask anyone for anything – a choice which has led to detriment, on more than one occasion. Furthermore, I could usually find a way to figure things out, in difficult times; but 2011 has presented me with challenges of a different stripe

More than once this year I’ve found myself dangling by a spider web-thin thread, without so much as the price of a hamburger in my pocket. As you may by now be aware, this year the financial troubles I’ve been facing have forced me to abandon my lifelong taboo against asking other people to help me; and yet (If you’re not aware, read on below), out of 100 people I reached out to, none helped – except for one person who mentioned my situation to a friend and former co-worker – who hadn’t been among the people I’d asked for help, but who did come through with a gift!

Those have been the times when my wit was not sufficient to fix the problem. Those are the times when I’ve found myself left with no choice but to depend on God.

My visa expired on 11/11/11. Renewing it required a trip to Hong Kong; but I made a tactical mistake. The agency that handles my visa renewals is open Monday-Friday and half a day on Saturday, so I assumed I could come into Hong Kong on Friday, and get my visa on Saturday (I have classes on Wednesday and Thursday, .which is why I chose to wait). As I am just beginning to crawl out of the financial crisis of last spring, I only had enough money for tickets, the visa, and – possibly – one night in a hostel.

On arrival I learned that even though the travel agency is open on Saturday, the Visa Office is not. So I have to wait until Monday to get my visa. Furthermore, the one hostel I could afford for ONE NIGHT had no room. Add to that, I both forgot to charge my phone and to put money onit, before I left (there are no “phone bills,” here – you just put money on the phone, and use it until the money runs out).

What to do? I only know two people in Hong Kong, from over two years ago; and had no recollection of how to reach them.

FIRST: Try to find a phone charger, and a phone book. I go to the one mall I know, but NONE of the electronics stores have a charger. About to give up, I decide to ask about a phone book at the service counter – God’s hand surreptitiously guiding me. There is no such thing as a phone book; but the clerk offers to look up the church on the internet. Success!

Not only that, but they have chargers behind the desk which will give me power in about half an hour.

SECOND: Reach Revival Christian Ministries by phone. Give a synopsis of my situation. Neither of the people I know – the Pastor and his secretary – are in the office: in fact, the Pastor is actually in the States. Can I come by? Maybe you can help me figure out the next steps.

THIRD: I find the church, and explain my dilemma to Chloe, one of the church workers, and Matthew, one of the elders. The church finds a place for me to live for three days.


Fok Ying Tung Hall of Residence is an academic retreat on the Tsing Yi campus of Hong Kong’s Institute of Vocational Education (IVE). The campus overlooks Hong Kong’s most famous cargo docks, and Victoria Harbor. It’s a very serene setting; and I found myself thinking today how blessed it would be to bring a group here for a meeting.

On a walk looking for snacks I notice a church called Crossroads Community Baptist Church. I am amazed at how many children there are, hovering around the outside – as on the Mainland it is illegal to teach children the Gospel. In fact they have some lively music going on inside – which I’ve seldom heard a full complement of church music and instruments in the six years I’ve lived here – with good reason, but that’s another subject.

I was tempted to go to Crossroads this morning, as the stop for the us to Revival is directly outside it; but I’d promised Elder Matthew that I’d come to RCC this morning. God has been ministering to my spirit all weekend. Evangelicals usually don’t much care from Dr. Robert Schuller; but it’s one of the church programs available on TV here in Hong Kong – and I’ve never been one to reject a sound message from the Word, no matter the source.

This morning Dr. Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman was preaching; but it was a layperson named Debbie Bonilla who testified, “Jesus says in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I just want to say not only will He give you rest, He will set you free. You will begin to see the miracles in your life. He’ll give you spiritual eyes so you can see those miracles happen, and you will activate the hand of God in your life. So I just want to encourage you to call out to Him and seek Him with your whole heart.”

Then, Sheila’s sermon continued to minister to me: “Some of you have prayed and you thought you would see it by now but you haven’t and your faith has become a little shaky. I know I’m waiting for our miracle. And the way that God has helped me keep my faith rock solid when it starts to feel a little shaky is to remember the miracles. And that’s what God tells us to do. Remember the miracles. Remember the miracles. Remember the miracles. Because when we remember the miracles, we remember that God did do this, God can do this, and then God will do this because God, who did this, hasn’t changed. He didn’t lose His power between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the New Testament and today. God didn’t lose His power. God can, God has, and therefore God will. God will do His miracle, and that’s why, as we remember what He’s done, as we remember how powerful He is, as we remember the miracles, we are able to have strong faith while we’re waiting for the miracle.”

In fact I did remember.

Thirty-seven years ago I accepted Christ. Coming from 23 years as a Jehovah’s witness who didn’t believe in miracles, I received the message of the Gospel from a man who testified to me about his own miracle. Over the years I have faced so many impossible situations, and God has been there.

This past spring I came within a few days of being in China illegally, with no money, not very much food, and no one who would help me. Frankly, I had more than one conversation with God, asking Him why He wasn’t helping me. Then the parents of one of my students introduced a new student to me – just enough to get through that month. Today I calculated I have just enough money to pay for the visa tomorrow, but not sure how much for food. With the refund from the plane ticket I should be able to buy a train ticket home; but there are still miles to go before I get home, so I can’t rest easy just yet.

There was a guest pastor at RCC, today. Couldn’t totally follow him, the message was in Cantonese, and the translator didn’t translate the message 100% correctly; but his text was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

After service I waited for Matthew – who’d been in charge of service, today – to finish ministering to a young woman, so I could thank him for the retreat. In the meantime I met a missionary named Rich, and a family from Sierra Leone. I told the father, Tony, about the visa situation. Chloe passed by and said a few words of encouragement about tomorrow. I responded things were looking promising, but I’ll feel better when I’m at home on Nanchang. Tony responded, it’s done, in Jesus’ Name.

I stood in agreement with him; but in my mind I thought I can only believe God for yet another miracle – I have no other choice!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It’s just a distraction

This is especially to all of us who have accepted God’s Call; but I believe there are implications for all the Saints, as well.

This morning I realized how much time and attention I’ve needed to give recently to matters affecting my life – in fact my very survival. It occurred to me that every second I must spend worrying about how I’m going to “make it” through the next few days, weeks, months, wastes a whole MINUTE that I should be devoting to Ministry.

Ministry is outward. Our adversary keeps us from ministry by forcing us to turn our attention inward. His strategy is to trick us into being so distracted by our own problems that we can’t pay attention to the work we need to do for God.

The strange thing about what I am about to say is while I was writing the first part of this message – I started because I wanted to send some words of encouragement to a dear friend who was feeling a bit discouraged, today – the Spirit kept whispering the word “martyr” into my spirit. I am not clear on all He wants me to say about this word … but it certainly occurred to me that we who are engaged in ministry on any level often have to sacrifice so much for the Kingdom: I wondered if sometimes some of the things we lack are not by-products of God needing us to focus our attention elsewhere? If so, maybe ministry is a corridor to a sort of martyrdom for many of us.

What is a martyr? It is commonly known that a martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce a belief or cause; but this meaning of the word is more recent. In the original meaning a martus [μάρτυς] conveys a broader meaning, namely to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration. In either event the word conveys the idea of sacrifice, which is why – I think – it comes to mind in this discussion.

All of us who have chosen ministry have either consciously or unconsciously agreed to make huge sacrifices for Christ: time, privacy, adulation and adoration, popularity, even wealth. People who do ministry because it draws attention to themselves are not really doing ministry at all – which is why I am not at all impressed by the burgeoning number of people running around calling themselves “Apostle –this,” or “Evangelist- that” or “Psalmist-theother” -- everybody in the Church now, it seems, has a title in front of their names. But the true ministers of God are identified by what they do, not by what they call themselves; and very often don’t have any kind of title.

And many times they are identified by their suffering.

After all, what is the greatest threat to the kingdom of satan? I would argue that satan is most threatened by a diligent servant of God: the kind of person who most people don’t recognize, because they aren’t trying to draw attention to themselves, and to what they are doing to advance God’s Kingdom – their peers don’ notice them but God does.

Look at Job: satan totally ignored him, until God said: "Have you considered My servant Job …?" (1:8, 2:3) Then, as my sister would say, it was on and poppin’. I reckon that boils from head to toe, all of your children dying, and losing the family farm would paint a clear picture that we are under attack from the Enemy; but I can see satan working against us in more subtle ways as well – especially against someone who would just bunker down harder from a very obvious attack. Instead he hits us in other ways where we are vulnerable: something different for each person: loneliness, depression, debt, homelessness or near-homelessness, sickness, people in the church back-stabbing us – I suspect he even uses the wrongdoings of others in the Body of Christ to get us so focused on that person’s wrong that we can’t pay attention to the work that God needs us to do.

God gave me this message today for anyone “going through” – dealing with something so tedious that it hampers your ability to focus on either your ministry or your ministry gift: be encouraged today, IT’S JUST A DISTRACTON! In Tyler Perry’s movie, “Meet the Browns” there was a woman named Miss Ruby who said something to Brenda that I’d heard hundreds of times before, but it never stuck – but this time it ministered to my spirit when she said “when God lets you go through somethin’ it means you about to get a breakthrough.”

Believe me I know it’s hard to avoid being distracted by the difficulties facing us – took Job an entire 42 chapters before he could finally say, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You;” and only then could he finally get down to the business of being a blessing to the people around him.

God sent me to you today to give you a message of encouragement: not because I am so profound and wise, but because I am the one “going through” … I am the one needing encouragement; and he knows that as I minister to you I am ministering to myself. His message is simple:

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When the devil's about to capsize your boat

Pray for THIS Bishop. I am really in a battle to keep my head above the waters of hope – much less faith. I have prayed, cajoled, strategized, and even pleaded, but still no answer from the God I’ve put on front, here in a land where so many question His very existence.

People look to us for comfort, for strength; not realizing that we face struggles every day, too … just like them. Here in China I’ve been the poster child for “Jehovah-jireh” for nearly six years – for helping them to see in my own difficulties how God will part the troubled waters for us. It’s what we preachers do.

We talk a good game, but I can assure you that all of us have those private moments where we wonder if God is really there – really listening to us, or even concerned about us. The disciples had Jesus right in the boat with them, and yet even to them – men who could talk to Him about their problems, face to face – it seemed as if He was oblivious to the tragedy that was confronting them. What chance does a West Side Negro from Detroit have in a place like this, when it looks like the devil is about to capsize his boat?

So let me get to the point. I’ve been trying to get home for over a month, now. at the end of last semester my university made a decision to eliminate all but two foreign teaching positions in the English Department. I’ve managed, with a little help from friends to stay afloat, these five months – even complying with the visa requirement to go out of the Mainland, every 30 days; and forking up the $400 USD in visa fees for renewal. But the money has run out – as has my Chinese friends’ ability to bolster me up. I am literally down to my last $75, and under pressure to move out of the apartment where I’ve been boarding.

Anticipating this day, I started last month to ask for help from acquaintances in America – but to this day, no answer. More to the point, no answer from the few people whom I’ve even felt comfortable enough to ask for help: family, friends, and fellow-laborers in the Cross. I’ve left subtle hints on Facebook; and even asked some people directly, in emails – still no answer.

The one person who said they thought they might be able to get me home VANISHED two weeks ago – not available by phone, not answering emails, hasn’t logged in to Facebook. In the past week I’ve reached out to 3 people whom I’ve never met – on two different continents – still no answer.

And I’ve been in God’s face, asking Him to give me just a glimpse of His plan to get me out of this mess, and bring me home. I’ve spent my whole life as a wanderer, and have never been what anyone could call “homesick,” but right about now I don’t care where my feet land, as long as it’s on American soil!

In Detroit, I could just go to a shelter and ride it out. I did that once before, and a whole world of doors opened up for me: I got hired at Ford; I met my good friend, the late Bishop Jack Wallace; I found a house to rent on terms I could afford; an old beater of a car; and I managed – as a single parent – to get my son as far through high school as he chose to go.

But this is China, and I’m a sojourner here. There are no shelters for me.

Growing up my step-father enjoined us from asking for so much as a glass of water from anyone. In his view, asking for anything – no matter how insignificant – was tantamount to begging. As a young man in the Nation of Islam, it was a slogan we learned, “Do for self.” In the end, I’ve spent a lifetime being totally averse to asking anyone … for anything. So for me to open up to my peers, and even relative and total strangers, and ask for help took all the strength I could muster.

At the end of the day, what I actually needed was not cash, or even a ticket; but SkyMiles. A ticket home on Delta costs 70,000 SkyMiles. I have just over 57,000. So MOST of the people I emailed, I asked them to gift (or lend) me any SkyMiles they could spare, to help me make up the deficit.

But still no answer.

I wrote my brother, a few days ago:

“You remember the old Chinese laundry slogan: "no tickee, no washee?"

“I mean whether I'm in China or in the States, I have to meet recurring expenses for meds. And here I have the added recurring expense of having to go out of the country every 30 days.

Those are not options.

“So whether He keeps me in China or provides a way home, GOD has GOT to provide me with an income ... IMMEDIATELY, or I'm in real trouble!”

Last week I finally saw Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns.” In one scene Brenda tells Miss Ruby she’s tried to pray but nothing happens. Miss Ruby tells her, “That just means you’re about to get a breakthrough.”

Maybe I’m about to get a breakthrough.

Perhaps my brother was right in his response, perhaps the lack of communicating is folks’ way of saying they are “tapped out,” themselves; or perhaps God is just trying to say, “Wait a minute …”; or that He hasn’t finished working out the details on where I will live and work. Or maybe He’s telling me there’s still things He wants me to do here.

For as hard as I’ve prayed about this thing, maybe it’s time to just be quiet and listen for what God is trying to tell me. Whatever the case, I’m gonna be in real trouble unless He puts something on the plate, REAL soon!

What can YOU do? Read on ...

When the devil's about to capsize your boat -- pt 2

There’s one more part to this diatribe.

Everybody who responded to me that they had some obstacle that made it impossible to help – even a little – was unanimous in assuring me to just have faith; and everything will be all right. This goes back to the thing I wrote in the second paragraph above.

Everything's gonna be all right. We say that – preachers do – even sing it; but in a world of realities, we now that it’s at least possible that things WON’T be all right.

For years I’ve wanted to preach or at least write an exposition on James 2:26. We love the codicil, “faith without works is dead;” but everybody I’ve ever heard cite this passage ONLY talks about that. It’s such a pervasive thing that I believe it has led to a warped understanding of what James was talking about when he said “works.”

As a former Jehovah’s witness, I have indulged in an apologia against what we call “works-based Salvation;” on the premise that “works” is a code word for good behavior. But if we look at the passage in context – beginning at, say, verse 12; maybe we come away with a different viewpoint.

I like verses 14 - 16, because they nail James’ intent, I think.
New King James Version:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

New Living Translation – straight as an arrow to the heart of the matter:

Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well" -- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James is saying, it’s USELESS to pat a brother on the back and wish him well, and then drive away in your Benz to gorge yourself at P. F. Chang’s. James is saying, God doesn’t want you to wish your brother well, and hope he gets the stuff he needs, God wants you to give him some of yours!

I’m stranded, 7,000 miles from my homeland, with barely enough for a night’s stay at a hotel. While I appreciate anyone’s prayers, what I need is a plane ticket.

I have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook. Were it not for the aversion to asking people for anything, I’d post a note on my wall asking for 75 cents from each of them – a dollar to be on the safe side. (Actually, if I knew who to call on to handle the influx in an expedient manner, I might do it anyway; but since the only person who’s even answering me right now is in South Africa …)


I’m still gonna be in real trouble unless God puts something on the plate, REAL soon!

I've been trying for the past six weeks to find a way to help get home. (read on, below)

Talking to my brother, a moment ago, he suggested something I hadn't thought of:

You could help me get home by making an offering through my PayPal account: become a Covenant Partner for $10, $25, $100, or you tell me how much.

I realize that times are tough, and so something as large as a whole plane ticket might be out of the question; but with almost 2,000 Facebook friends, you could help me get home for the price of a Happy Meal. C'mon, friends and family, help me keep MY boat from capsizing!
If you'd consider it, email me offline at Keep My Boat Afloat, and I will email you the PayPal method; as well as a small "thank you" gift.

Ask your friends if they'll help
I haven't tried this, yet, so I don't know how well it will work, but let's see!


Friday, March 11, 2011

At the end of the day ...

I cannot say categorically if Brother X is gay or not. The old folk always say "there but for the Grace of God go I." This is why I resist letting people put me up on pedestal.: pedestals are far too unstable.

Thus much I do know: Jesus' message was not about condemnation -- but rather about restoration and reconciliation.

Our duty as pastors and bishops is not to cast our fallen brethren away ... our duty is to go get them, and bring them back to Christ. That's what a Ministry opf Restoration is all about.

Keep the faith

Restore Fallen brethren in Love

I’ve been in a discussion on Facebook with a brother-Bishop about a particular man of God recently involved in a scandal. The Facebook size limitations make it impossible for me to answer fully on that application; so I am writing m response here, and will post it on his Facebook page. That will also allow me to share this to a broader audience.

HIM: Don't be silly... Brother X will never admit to being gay...that doesn't mean that he, and Brother Y, and Brother Z, etc. aren't...wake up!

Me: But even in satan's world, a man is presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. Not being silly, I just know how satan uses gossip to divide us against each other.

I have been an adjutant to 2 of these 3 brethren, and know [the third], through working for brother K.. I've NEVER seen any indication of either of them being gay ... and I've chauffeured them, eaten with them, and shared the pulpit with them

Back in the eighties they ran an article in the black paper about my father-in-Ministry. Not an OUNCE of truth to it, just he-say/she-say. We can see the slop in the bucket ... don't mean we should pick it up and carry it.

If you tell me you know from firsthand experience, I am all ears; but WE can't be the ones trashing each other. Heaven forbid anyone should ever say anything to me about Hancock: I'm not gonna hear it until I hear it from YOU!

HIM: The problem is this Johnson...we cover for these guys because they can raise big money...the truth is..all of them are gay! Too many people with encounters...sad to say but true. I do believe that people spread untruths about Pastors...unfortunately because of the real desire of people to respect these offices, where there is smoke, there is often times know just like I do, the church has been covering for years...ask the Pope...he has shelled out 100 million dollars worth of proof!

ME: But these are cases where the priests – or the Church – either admitted guilt or were otherwise confronted with compelling evidence. I’m saying to you that I know these men, for years, and have never seen any evidence to suggest that they are either gays or strays.

Shooting our wounded
But let’s – for the sake of argument – assume that they were. What should our response be? Should we ostracize them? Should we hold them up to scorn and derision?
If a horse breaks a leg, especially a foreleg, we are usually compelled to shoot him, because in most cases he will never be able to support his own weight. When a child breaks a leg we set the bone and put it in a cast while it heals. When a preacher is broken we want to treat him like a horse and shoot him. We’re justified in our indignation, because – after all – we are so very, very holy!
The Bible, though, tells us something entirely different:

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also. 2 Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he is deceiving himself. 4 But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. 5 For each person will have to carry his own load. Holman

1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody. 4 Be sure to do what you should, for then you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of having done your work well, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct. NLT

1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load. NIV

The Greek word for “restore is καταρτίζω (katartizo)

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown
restore--The Greek is used of a dislocated limb, reduced to its place. Such is the tenderness with which we should treat a fallen member of the Church in restoring him to a better state.

John Gill
restore such an one,
that is overtaken and fallen. The allusion is to the setting of bones that are broken, or out of joint, which is done with great care and tenderness. Professors fallen into sin are like broken and dislocated bones; they are out of their place, and lose both their comfort and usefulness, and are to be restored by gently telling them of their faults, and mildly reproving them for them; and when sensible of them, and troubled for them, by speaking comfortably to them, and by bringing them again, and resettling them in their former place in the church, and restoring them to their former usefulness and good conduct: and which is to be done.

in the spirit of meekness:
in the exercise of that grace which is a gift and fruit of the Spirit of God; or with a meek and humble spirit, not bearing hard upon them, and treating them in a supercilious and haughty manner, upbraiding them with their faults, aggravating them, and using them roughly, and with sharpness, which in some cases is necessary, but not in this:

considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted:
a spiritual man should consider himself as in the body, and as carrying about with him a body of sin, a corrupt and treacherous heart, that is full of deceitful lusts, by which he may be tempted also, and drawn away and enticed; and as being liable to the temptations of Satan, and of being overcome by; them, against which he should watch and pray; and should think with himself what he would choose, and should desire to be done to him in such a case, and do the like to others that are in it.

John Darby
If any one, through carelessness, committed some fault, the Christian's part was to restore this member of Christ, dear to Christ and to the Christian, according to the love of Christ, in a spirit of meekness, remembering that he himself might fall.

the spirit of meekness--the meekness which is the gift of the Holy Spirit working in our spirit ( Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:25 ). "Meekness" is that temper of spirit towards God whereby we accept His dealings without disputing; then, towards men, whereby we endure meekly their provocations, and do not withdraw ourselves from the burdens which their sins impose upon us

Matt Henry – 1706
The apostle having, in the foregoing chapter, exhorted Christians by love to serve one another (v. 13), and also cautioned us (v. 16) against a temper which, if indulged, would hinder us from showing the mutual love and serviceableness which he had recommended, in the beginning of this chapter he proceeds to give some further directions, which, if duly observed, would both promote the one and prevent the other of these, and render our behaviour both more agreeable to our Christian profession and more useful and comfortable to one another: particularly,I. We are here taught to deal tenderly with those who are overtaken in a fault, v. 1. He puts a common case: If a man be overtaken in a fault, that is, be brought to sin by the surprise of temptation. It is one thing to overtake a fault by contrivance and deliberation, and a full resolution in sin, and another thing to be overtaken in a fault. The latter is the case here supposed, and herein the apostle shows that great tenderness should be used. Those who are spiritual, by whom is meant, not only the ministers (as if none but they were to be called spiritual persons), but other Christians too, especially those of the higher form in Christianity; these must restore such a one with the spirit of meekness. Here observe, 1. The duty we are directed to—to restore such; we should labour, by faithful reproofs, and pertinent and seasonable councils, to bring them to repentance. The original word, katartizete, signifies to set in joint, as a dislocated bone; accordingly we should endeavour to set them in joint again, to bring them to themselves, by convincing them of their sin and error, persuading them to return to their duty, comforting them in a sense of pardoning mercy thereupon, and having thus recovered them, confirming our love to them. 2. The manner wherein this is to be done: With the spirit of meekness; not in wrath and passion, as those who triumph in a brother’s falls, but with meekness, as those who rather mourn for them. Many needful reproofs lose their efficacy by being given in wrath; but when they are managed with calmness and tenderness, and appear to proceed from sincere affection and concern for the welfare of those to whom they are given, they are likely to make a due impression. 3. A very good reason why this should be done with meekness: Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. We ought to deal very tenderly with those who are overtaken in sin, because we none of us know but it may some time or other be our own case. We also may be tempted, yea, and overcome by the temptation; and therefore, if we rightly consider ourselves, this will dispose us to do by others as we desire to be done by in such a case.II. We are here directed to bear one another’s burdens, v. 2. This may be considered either as referring to what goes before, and so may teach us to exercise forbearance and compassion towards one another, in the case of those weaknesses, and follies, and infirmities, which too often attend us—that, though we should not wholly connive at them, yet we should not be severe against one another on account of them; or as a more general precept, and so it directs us to sympathize with one another under the various trials and troubles that we may meet with, and to be ready to afford each other the comfort and counsel, the help and assistance, which our circumstances may require. To excite us hereunto, the apostle adds, by way of motive, that so we shall fulfil the law of Christ. This is to act agreeably to the law of his precept, which is the law of love, and obliges us to a mutual forbearance and forgiveness, to sympathy with and compassion towards each other; and it would also be agreeable to his pattern and example, which have the force of a law to us. He bears with us under our weaknesses and follies, he is touched with a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; and therefore there is good reason why we should maintain the same temper towards one another. Note, Though as Christians we are freed from the law of Moses, yet we are under the law of Christ; and therefore, instead of laying unnecessary burdens upon others (as those who urged the observance of Moses’s law did), it much more becomes us to fulfil the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. The apostle being aware how great a hindrance pride would be to the mutual condescension and sympathy which he had been recommending, and that a conceit of ourselves would dispose us to censure and contemn our brethren, instead of bearing with their infirmities and endeavouring to restore them when overtaken with a fault, he therefore (v. 3) takes care to caution us against this; he supposes it as a very possible thing (and it would be well if it were not too common) for a man to think himself to be something-to entertain a fond opinion of his own sufficiency, to look upon himself as wiser and better than other men, and as fit to dictate and prescribe to them-when in truth he is nothing, has nothing of substance or solidity in him, or that can be a ground of the confidence and superiority which he assumes. To dissuade us from giving way to this temper he tells us that such a one does but deceive himself; while he imposes upon others, by pretending to what he has not, he puts the greatest cheat upon himself, and sooner or later will find the sad effects of it. This will never gain him that esteem, either with God or good men, which he is ready to expect; he is neither the freer from mistakes nor will he be the more secure against temptations for the good opinion he has of his own sufficiency, but rather the more liable to fall into them, and to be overcome by them; for he that thinks he stands has need to take heed lest he fall. Instead therefore of indulging such a vain-glorious humour, which is both destructive of the love and kindness we owe to our fellow-christians and also injurious to ourselves, it would much better become us to accept the apostle’s exhortation (Phil. 2:3), Do nothing through strife nor vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Note, Self-conceit is but self-deceit: as it is inconsistent with that charity we owe to others (for charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 1 Co. 13:4), so it is a cheat upon ourselves; and there is not a more dangerous cheat in the world than self-deceit. As a means of preventing this evil,III. We are advised every one to prove his own work, v. 4. By our own work is chiefly meant our own actions or behaviour. These the apostle directs us to prove, that is seriously and impartially to examine them by the rule of God’s word, to see whether or no they are agreeable to it, and therefore such as God and conscience do approve. This he represents as the duty of every man; instead of being forward to judge and censure others, it would much more become us to search and try our own ways; our business lies more at home than abroad, with ourselves than with other men, for what have we to do to judge another man’s servant? From the connection of this exhortation with what goes before it appears that if Christians did duly employ themselves in this work they might easily discover those defects and failings in themselves which would soon convince them how little reason they have either to be conceited of themselves or severe in their censures of others; and so it gives us occasion to observe that the best way to keep us from being proud of ourselves is to prove our ownselves: the better we are acquainted with our own hearts and ways, the less liable shall we be to despise and the more disposed to compassionate and help others under their infirmities and afflictions. That we may be persuaded to this necessary and profitable duty of proving our own work, the apostle urges two considerations very proper for this purpose:—1. This is the way to have rejoicing in ourselves alone. If we set ourselves in good earnest to prove our own work, and, upon the trial, can approve ourselves to God, as to our sincerity and uprightness towards him, then may we expect to have comfort and peace in our own souls, having the testimony of our own consciences for us (as 2 Co. 1:12), and this, he intimates, would be a much better ground of joy and satisfaction than to be able to rejoice in another, either in the good opinion which others may have of us or in having gained over others to our opinion, which the false teachers were wont to glory in (as we see v. 13), or by comparing ourselves with others, as, it should seem, some did, who were ready to think well of themselves, because they were not so bad as some others. Too many are apt to value themselves upon such accounts as these; but the joy that results thence is nothing to that which arises from an impartial trial of ourselves by the rule of God’s word, and our being able thereupon to approve ourselves to him. Note, (1.) Though we have nothing in ourselves to boast of, yet we may have the matter of rejoicing in ourselves: our works can merit nothing at the hand of God; but, if our consciences can witness for us that they are such as he for Christ’s sake approves and accepts, we may upon good ground rejoice therein. (2.) The true way to have rejoicing in ourselves is to be much in proving our own works, in examining ourselves by the unerring rule of God’s word, and not by the false measures of what others are, or may think of us. (3.) It is much more desirable to have matter of glorying in ourselves than in another. If we have the testimony of our consciences that we are accepted of God, we need not much concern ourselves about what others think or say of us; and without this the good opinion of others will stand us in little stead.2. The other argument which the apostle uses to press upon us this duty of proving our own work is that every man shall bear his own burden (v. 5), the meaning of which is that at the great day every one shall be reckoned with according as his behaviour here has been. He supposes that there is a day coming when we must all give an account of ourselves to God; and he declares that then the judgment will proceed, and the sentence pass, not according to the sentiments of the world concerning us, or any ungrounded opinion we may have had of ourselves, or upon our having been better or worse than others, but according as our state and behaviour have really been in the sight of God.

Sin and Love – Raymond Allan Johnson
February 2005


God hates SIN. And there is no point trying to categorize it, sin is SIN, and all of us have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23)

I found myself immediately thinking about how God’s love comes to the forefront in a conversation like this – and the Spirit dropped in my spirit what a wonderful Valentine’s message this would be. I want to be quiet for the most part and let the Scriptures speak for themselves, but to interject at certain places to tie it all together to this week’s theme.

So our lesson is very simple. GOD HATES SIN, but God does NOT hate the sinner. In fact the Bible says God LOVED the world so much that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. (John 3:16) This is a very common memory verse – one that many or you learned as a child, in Sunday school. When I started preaching I found myself struck by the fact that we typically stop at John 3:16 – and in the process completely miss the point of the very next verse:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:17 When God got through giving me the revelation about John 3:17, I made Him a promise, that,

“Lord, from this day forward, I’m not preaching another soul into hell! Anoint my message, Lord, so that I’ll be able to preach the Hell outa them!”

He said, “OK, but you’ve gotta promise that you’ll still tell them the truth about Sin!”

Read the whole sermon, here:

Jamieson, Robert; A.R. Fausset; and David Brown. "Commentary on Galatians 6." . Blue Letter Bible. 19 Feb 2000. 2011.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Social Network

In 1998 my boss at Ford Motor Company presented me with an opportunity that would change my life forever. He asked me if I was interested in learning how to design the web pages for Ford’s Market Research Office (MRO), where we worked. At that time he also helped me to get my very first email address – – the one which I continue to use as my primary email address, to this very day.

I became addicted to the Internet, to the extent that it was the first thing I went to when I got to my office each morning; and the last thing I looked at in the evening. That same year I created two online Ministries, “XJW-Central,” and “ERAJEMI” (Elder Raymond Allan Johnson Evangelistic Ministries, Inc.).

The following year, the world gasped in nervous anticipation of “Y2K”, and at Ford I became responsible for communicating with the heads of the 100+ companies that supplied services to the MRO. Some of these companies were industry giants, like Milward Brown, Ogilvy, and J. D. Power, and as a result I got to know some very important people in the business. But that wasn’t the most important thing that happened in 1999.

As I thought about the approaching new Millennium, and how the Internet was already making it possible to talk to people from all over the world, I realized that soon a church could expand its horizons to a global audience, without needing to have the multi-million dollar budgets that until now had made it possible for only the so-called “mega-churches” to reach out so far. It dropped into my spirit that this is truly “ ... an AMAZING time to be alive!”

My students at the university think it’s hilarious that there was ever a time when mobile phones, and video games, and portable computers didn’t exist. Every semester I try to show them in classroom lessons how many of the devices and applications that we take for granted today didn’t exist on the day they were born. What they can’t appreciate is the pace at which technological development has accelerated in the past twenty-five or thirty years: truly for somebody like me an awesome testimony to the intellectual gifts that our great God has given to the world.

But I digress from the reason I am writing this particular blog.

It’s now almost twelve years since I made the declaration about our place in history. Five years afterwards a young man at Harvard launched Facebook. I was excited about being able to reach across the globe by email and web pages, and even the earlier iterations of blog pages; but Facebook has opened a whole new door.
Today I remembered a dear brother in Ministry from whom I first heard a phrase I’ve used often in my own Ministry – “The Least, The Last, and The Lost.” So many times I’ve tried to remember back 30 years, wishing I could find him. Today, I found him on Facebook.

Thanks to Facebook I can keep abreast of what my family and friends are doing, and I can simultaneously let them in on important things that are happening all the way over here, in China. MySpace and Twitter do an OK job with this, but Facebook does it so much better – and at the same time provides a vehicle by which I can meet new people from all over the world.

Thanks to Facebook I have had a chance to meet brothers and sisters in the Gospel I might never have met on any of the other networks. In fact I’ve met many new friends because they happened to be friends of another friend, or shared some profound word from God that caught my attention, or – remarkably – in some cases because a particular brother or sister desired to extend their hand of fellowship in new directions.

In either case, now I have a whole treasure trove of new friends to break bread with; and every day God deposits more into that treasury. Today I’d like to say one thing to my new friends in Ministry, as well as to some of you I haven’t spoken to for quite some time: I thank God for you! And for this new tool, that God has given us to help us expand our friendship. I am looking forward to visiting the States for vacation, this Spring (tentative preliminary dates are May 15 to about July 5); and I hope that I will have a chance to meet at least some of you face-to-face, when I come.

Keep the Faith

Friday, March 4, 2011

On the Pulse of the Millennium ...

This is an excerpt of the first page of "", my first ever web site, created in 1998-1999.

“This is an AMAZING time to be alive!"

We have been blessed to see innovations and advances in technology, far beyond the scope of what anyone could have imagined fifty years ago.

Technology has made it possible - for once in history - for us to visualize the fulfillment of Jesus' mandate to the Church:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'' (Matthew 28:19-20)

And still there are MILLIONS who have no relationship to Jesus Christ - in fact, who have never so much as heard the message of the Gospel. And so we carry the challenge of global evangelism before us, into the New Millennium; and the Ministry of Evangelism is compelled to devise innovative strategies for reaching and winning the Lost.

Yes, there are many in the Body of Christ who look at Y2K with apocalyptic expectations - looking for return of our Lord Jesus Christ at some point in the year 2000. While I acknowledge that the year 2000 A. D. has as much potential for prophetic significance as any other year - and while I admit that these are indeed perilous times that we live in - I don't believe we can afford to quit doing Ministry until we actually hear the blast of the trumpet.

If the Lord should tarry - say for another five, or ten, or even fifty years - I believe He will expect us to continue to be diligent about reaching the "Lost" for His Kingdom. It is our singular task - our mandate - to snatch them back out of the fires of Hell, by any means necessary!

This Ministry was established for the purpose of spreading the Gospel, in accordance with the stipulation of the Great Commission - for the purpose of carrying on aggressive warfare against the kingdom of satan right up to the moment that the Lord appears in the sky and summons us to come be with Him. It is also our goal that we should be a Ministry tool - a resource for professional services to other fellow-Ministers, that will enhance their abilities to meet the challenge of global Ministry, in the coming New Millennium.

The Challenge

I believe that Ministry in the 21st Century will present a different set of challenges than any of us could have ever imagined. I believe that it is imperative for those of us who have been called to the work of the Ministry to recognize the tremendous ministry potential in the new technologies that have evolved during the latter half of this century. For many of us that will mean learning to put away "conventional" thinking, and moving beyond the familiar clichés and paradigms that have dictated how we do ministry, since - well - before the end of the last century.

In short, if we are going to be effective - in the 21st century - in reaching the lost for Christ, we must evolve past the19th century ideas about how to do Ministry, that have prevailed up to now.

The Internet has created a gateway that will enable us to do Ministry on a global level; but, the only way we can ever hope to DO Ministry on a global level is if we can BELIEVE that we are capable of doing Ministry at that level. We have to overcome small-mindedness.

While most Christian leaders have learned to adapt to new technologies and modern innovations - in their personal lives - some have found it difficult accommodate new ideas, and methodologies, in anything related to Church Business. In the meantime, the kingdom of satan has exploited every available technology as a tool in its campaign to lure men away from Christ - to the extent that its influence is even felt within the Church.

I believe the Church must be as aggressive as kingdom of satan in exploiting every available resource to turn the eyes of men toward Jesus. It is our task to "snatch them out of the fire;" by any means necessary - but if we are to succeed we must continue to be forward-thinking and contemporary. In short:

The Church cannot expect to be effective in the 21st Century, using 19th Century Ministry strategies.

We must understand that being "contemporary" does NOT mean we are not spiritual. Jesus, Himself, faced controversy from His opponents - not so much because of His theology, but - because He dared to Minister to the people on their level. It might even be argued that He was a "Modernist" - possibly even a "radical." But He preached the Gospel by whatever means necessary.

Now, we have the opportunity to cross the threshold of the Millennium - equipped with unprecedented resources for reaching the Least, the Last and particularly the Lost with the marvelous message of the Gospel.
-- Fall 1999

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Confessions of an ex-XJW

This is a message to all my brothers and sisters in the “XJW” community. I regret to inform you that, effectively immediately, I am no longer an “XJW.”

Last night I was “ruminating,” as I sometimes do, and it occurred to me that I cannot in good conscience continue to be an “XJW.” In reality, I haven’t been one for quite some time; given the fact that I’ve been a Christian for ten years longer than I was a Jehovah’s witness. I’ve been a preacher for more than 35 years, ordained for more than 33, and a Bishop for more than four years. Being an “XJW” doesn’t define me, any more – has not defined me for many years.

The fact is I’ve been out for so long that I no longer have a clue about what’s happening inside the Watchtower Society. Their doctrines have so long ago stopped making sense that I cannot even imagine anymore why anyone would ever follow them.
I don’t have any loved ones still inside the Watchtower Society; except my younger brother – whom I haven’t spoken to for more than 35 years, and a couple of cousins – whom I’ve also not spoken to since my mother’s funeral, in 1988.

I don’t harbor any ill feelings for the current leadership of the Watchtower Society. Most of the guys who were in charge when I left, in 1974 are dead now, as far as I know; and the fact is I didn’t harbor any ill will against them either – just pity.

I guess in the final analysis I just don’t care about that, anymore. I look at the shenanigans of the current batch of “XJWs” engage in, and find it rather silly: why go to their “Memorial?” If you have family members inside it’s an embarrassment for them, and I doubt that anyone has been convinced to leave because of your actions.
I do admire the work that whistleblowers like Bill Bowen have been doing, don’t get me wrong; but let’s face it Jehovah’s witnesses aren’t the only ones who have problems with pedophiles. In the end pedophiles are pedophiles, and they must be exposed regardless to their religious ties.

My biggest regret is that I haven’t given XJW-Central the chance to live up to its potential. We were one of the “pioneer” groups to come onto cyberspace, in its early years – and have been around before some of the frontline groups were even conceived.
In a time when Wiccans, and Baha’i, and atheists and other detractors were dominating the “XJW movement,” XJW-Central was the one place where Christians could come, without fear of being run off. But I lost the passion for the web site over five years ago, and didn’t have the time or resources to keep up with some of the “new kids on the block.”

And then last night, as I was “ruminating,” I read a blog entry by Gus Astacio – one of the Moderators of XJW-Central. He posted a flyer, under the heading, Best Tract for JW's ive ever seen!!!! Of the groups listed at the bottom of this flyer, XJW-Central doesn’t even get an honorable mention.

I hope we’ve done some good, these 13 years; and I hope someone will step up as Senior Moderator, to keep the list going – and perhaps lead it to its full potential. For me, I intend to slip into the background, as a sort of “emeritus.” I’ll still be around, and still contribute to the conversation from time to time; but it’s time to turn my attention to the Church – and to maximizing the exposure to the outside world of the events that are troubling the Body of Christ, here in China.

Keep the Faith

Help, Help! I'm homeless!!!

Growing up, we weren't permitted to ask anyone for anything. (well ... I wasn't. At the time this edict was first declared my sister was just a little lamb, not even in kindergarten) In my step-father's eyes, to ask for so much as a glass of water, at one of his friends houses, constituted begging.

I never had much respect or regard for my step-father; but two things about growing up in his house stuck with me for life: (1) he taught me a LOT about good barbecue, and (2) I have an almost paranoid obsession about not asking anyone for help. This may I admit have had a lot to do with my son and I having to resort to living for three months in a homeless shelter -- not to mention many other inconveniences I've experienced due to not being able to ask anyone for help.

At the same time, over a lifetime I've come to think maybe Albert D. Sample had a point. Every time I've broken the curse and asked for help, people have disappointed me: from people in the church, to friends, to family.

A few weeks ago I came to the realization that I could not escape reaching out, once again. After four years, the university here suddenly decided to do away with most of the foreign teachers, and replace them with Chinese. The short notice ruled out finding another post to replace that one, and repatriating is not an option at the moment, for a number of reasons.

But I'm a preacher! And I have a word from the Lord -- not to mention a story to tell about the mission field, here in China. It took me almost a month to get up the nerves, but I finally reached out to four of my good friends in ministry, to ask them to help me organize a crusade, in the States. No answer from any of the four.

I'm guessing each guy figured the other guy would take up the charge. Three weeks later, and neither of them has sent so much as a sympathy card.

Now my reason for writing this post is not to cast aspersions on these brothers -- or anyone else, for that matter. It just got me to thinking about where we are today, in the body of Christ. My friends are good brothers, who have for the large part joined the fraternity of preachers preaching messages loaded with words like, "deliverance," and "wealth," and "enlargement," and "destiny." But they are preaching to an audience in denial. They are preaching to a church full of people who are standing individually and collectively on the brink of financial meltdown.
They are preaching to folk, many of whom have to rob the proverbial Peter to pay the proverbial Paul. I know these people -- you know them too. They're the ones running to the front with their rent money in their hands EVERY TIME sosmebody calls a prosperity line. They're the ones with the litanyof politically-correct words condemning the very poverty that surrounds them like a blanket. There but for the grace of God go tomorrow's homeless.

Which makes me wonder: isn't it time that we preachers got back to preaching the Gospel. Isn't it time we took the mantle of responsibility for the poor in our community off the shouldres of the government, and placed it on the shoulders of the church, where it belongs? Shouldn't someone facing a financial crisis be able to take comfort in the fact that the church is there, because as long as the church is there the means is there for all of my needs to be met?

James said:
Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup - where does that get you? - James 2:14-16, The Message

Now, there's an indictment. James message was an indictment against the spirit of self-centeredness. I believe today the church is plagued by this spirit, most bitterly. That's the reason, I think, that the message of the Gospel has been replaced with messages promising riches, and fortune, and even fame and success. Not that those aren't good things -- nor that our Father doesn't wish them for us -- just that that is not what we were commanded to preach.

A couple of days ago, I was talking to my brother by email; and I told him, "Be encouraged. This thing ... this episode ... God has already written the epilogue, and is busy with the next chapter. It only remains for us to se where He is going to take us." As many preachers as I know, I only reached out to these four because I didn't feel comfortable sharing my apprehension with anyone else. Their silence tells me God has another solution in store.

I ask you to sand with me in prayer, while He works it out.

Keep the Faith