Suffering and Singing: A Conversation with Joni

I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken. Joni is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. She shares her story on the podcast, discusses how to love people affected by disabilities, and provides insight about how she deals biblically with chronic pain and suffering.

Joni is one of the godliest people I have ever met. She is genuine, sincere, and full of love. I don’t think it is possible to feel awkward around her. If you are nearby, she welcomes you like Jesus Christ would welcome you. I want to be like Joni and exude with the Holy Spirit’s love. I’m confident that meeting her for this podcast is one of the highest honors of my life.

I hope you enjoy this 45 minute interview that is personal, encouraging, and challenging. Personally, my favorite part of the podcast is when she sings a few stanzas in response to one of the questions.

 

New Podcast: How to Turn Down a Date

The task of turning down a date can be tricky. I (Spencer) continue the casual, candid, and sometimes funny conversation with Sean on the topic of declining a date.

There are numerous reasons why a girl would not be interested in a romantic relationship. Here are some of the questions we talk about in this brief (8 minute) podcast:

  • What are some basic biblical categories to think through on this topic?
  • How should a girl say “no” to a Christian guy she doesn’t like?
  • What if someone declines a date and they ask again?
  • What if someone isn’t getting the picture that I am not interested?

 

This is the third unspokenblog podcast. Other episodes are Intro to the Bible, Dating, and Courtship and Early Marriage: Are You Ready?

A Young Pastor’s Prayer

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by Spencer Harmon

Lord,

I’m no war-torn pastor.  There are many trenches to come, trials to endure, taunts from the enemy. Every faithful shepherd I know walks with a limp from years of wrestling with Sunday’s text, Monday’s discouragements, Tuesday’s fatigue.  Despite this, your triumphant grace soaks their stories as they tell of your sustaining staff through the darkest valley.  They tell me that in every cross they carried, resurrection life bloomed.

Lord, these stories are grave and glad.  Trembling and hope gather in my soul like Joshua crossing Jordan on the brink of the Promised Land.  And so, Lord, I pray to you.

Although I need your endurance for the suffering to come.  Although I need insight to explain your word.  Although I need wisdom to give your people vision.  Although I need compassion for the needs I will see.  Although I need love for my enemies.  Although I need zeal to lead your people.  Although I need these things from you, I do not pray for those now.

My prayer is this:

Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

I have been in your fields for only 8 months now and the stories reverberate in my soul: shepherds leaving their gates open to wolves with false teaching; shepherds leading their sheep over the cliffs of their own selfish ambitions; shepherds so busy tending to the sheep of the field they forget the flock at home.

So, Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

All of these shepherds started just like me:  watchful, sensitive, vigilant.  I don’t presume to know the path that took them from here to there.  I only note it’s existence and plead with you to keep me far from it.  I do not ask that you would keep me from stumbling.  I know I still fight my flesh and that you tend to teach through my weakness.  But I pray that as Satan roars at me during your discipline, your fatherly voice would lead me to repentance.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace when frost forms around my marriage.  Prevent me from growing content in giving my wife the leftovers of my time, presuming our love would be unblighted.  I have already seen once thriving marriages rotting like old fruit from a famine of time and affection.  Give me grace to answer my wife’s honesty with humility, her needs with nourishment, her cares with concern.  Lord, take my ministry if I ever begin to lose my marriage, for the former is void without the latter.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace when my chest swells with pride.  Guard me from the perils of “success.” If full pews mean a vain heart, bloated with self-sufficiency, deflate me with my weakness and confront me with my limits.  If I begin depending on my tools and abilities to reap a harvest, drain me of my fruitfulness until I am desperate again for the rain of your Spirit.  Give me grace to receive the wounds of friends with humility when I’m blinded by arrogance.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace to keep the windows of my soul open through regular confession.  Provide brothers who don’t fear me, mentors who see through me, partners who listen to me.  I’m finding that hypocrisy disguises itself as “privacy”, and I fear everyone will assume I’m always fine.  Keep me from valuing my reputation more than my soul.  When I begin to live heedlessly, assuming confession needs no place in my life, show me the danger of isolation without giving me over to its full effects.  Let your Spirit prevail in my life through the normal means of grace you have given me.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Lord, give me grace to not neglect a loving and warm relationship with you.  When I begin to see your Word as a commodity of my profession rather than bread to my soul, a set of facts rather than a feast – draw me back into warm fellowship with you.  Wield the sword of your Word to cut through my excuses and make me tender to your shepherding voice.  Graciously bless me with a soul stirring vision of your Son in your Word when I grow dull and numb.  Lord, give me grace when I stumble.

Father, lift these these hands when they droop in weakness, strengthen these knees when they buckle under burdens, loosen my tongue with stammers with sin, open my eyes afresh to the glory of your character.  I tremble when I consider my own strengths, abilities, and gifts.  But I find comfort in your grace, your earnestness, your mercy, and your zeal for your own name.  I take confidence in you, and shepherd your people as you shepherd me.

And as I carry this staff, still green and not well worn, I pray this prayer acknowledging your power and my great weakness: Lord, give me grace when I stumble.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

Early Marriage | Are you ready?

In this new 10 minute podcast, I (Spencer) talk with Sean about why he chose to marry Jenny early.
Questions discussed in this podcast:
  • You had many years to live as a single person. Why would you get married so young?
  • How did you know you were ready to get married?
  • Does the Bible allow for young people to get married early?
  • What are some of the indicators that you are ready for marriage?
  • How much money do you need in the bank before marriage?
This is the second unspokenblog podcast. The first podcast was Intro to the Bible, Dating, and Courtship

Pig Out on Animal Farm

 

I finally got around to reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. The book is a political parable using pigs, humans, and other farm creatures. Perhaps you hated the book because a high school teacher forced you to read it (hopefully they didn’t look like a pig). Or perhaps you have never heard of the book until now. Either way, the book is worth reading (or re-reading) and I have been challenged by it.

5 Takeaways from Animal Farm:

  1. Knowledge, intellect, and critical reasoning skills are essential for a healthy society.
  2. It is imperative to hold politicians to the original guiding documents of a society and to beware any reinterpretation.  
  3. People who stay silent when evil unfolds are responsible in the end.
  4. Anyone who believes that human nature (or animal nature) is naturally good is deceived.
  5. Tyranny and abuse of power does not happen overnight and is often slowly unveiled in public overtime.

I won’t go into all of these themes in this post, but I want to briefly address #1 and #3.

Common Animals

The “common person” often has untapped potential. Knowledge, intellect, and critical reasoning skills are essential for a society to have a healthy democracy. Many of the animals start allowing the pigs to overreach their authority because they either cannot read or cannot articulate their concerns properly. When they do articulate their concerns, they are unable to counter any reasonable explanation given to them. They are also unable to discern when the pigs make illogical conclusions.

On several occasions, convincing the common farm animals was all too easy. The pigs would remind them of a legitimate threat they all felt. No one wanted Mr. Jones (the human) to come back to the farm. Therefore, the pigs were able to use this real threat as a means to justify a lot of questionable activity that was, in reality, unrelated to the return of Mr. Jones.  For instance, the pigs worked hard planning the farm schedule and “therefore” needed milk and apples. No one else got those treats even though “All animals were equal.” When asked why the pigs got special food, the Mr. Jones card was played. “You wouldn’t want Mr. Jones to return now then would you? Mr. Jones is going to return if X-Y-or-Z doesn’t occur.” The pigs took a genuine threat – Mr. Jones returning – and used it to persuade the animals of their slowly unfolding unjustifiable actions.

The pigs were always able to persuade the animals on the farm to their side. The person with the most persuasive argument in the moment won the day. Whenever something smelled foul, all it took was a reasonable explanation to satisfy. The pigs could easily flip-flop on their ideas for the farm as long as a reasonable explanation – asserted in a sincere and authentic way – was presented after the fact. A “reasonable explanation” was always able to convince those who raised questions and cover up the inconsistencies of the pigs.

It seems the only one who could reason critically against the pigs was Ben the donkey.

The Dumb Donkey

Ben the donkey could read and was intelligent. Yet he was silent. He wasn’t dumb but he was dumb. Always kept to himself and didn’t want to interfere. This all came crashing down when his friend was taken to be slaughtered.

Those who are quiet will not escape and they will reap the consequences of their non-actions. The silent only pave the way for the wicked to rule and spread. The silent knowledgeable ones are not innocent. In the book, the one who kept his mouth closed, actually played into the hands of those who want all mouths to be closed. A closed mouth is an open hand to oppression.

These are just a few of the thought provoking elements of the book. I found Animal Farm to be an invigorating read with a challenge to sharpen my reasoning skills and to speak up for the oppressed (Proverbs 31:8). You have my permission to pig out on it.

– Sean

Intro to Dating, Courtship, and the Bible | New Podcast

I (Sean) sat down one night in the Harmon home to have an informal conversation about dating, courtship, and the Bible. We recorded several podcasts in Spencer’s upstairs loft. This conversation was impromptu and unscripted.

This 10 minute podcast includes questions such as:

  • What does the Bible have to do with dating?
  • Are you against courtship?
  • Should couples feel pressure when dating?
  • What should a first date look like?
  • Where did you and Taylor go on your first date?

We plan on releasing several more of these conversations in the months ahead. You can subscribe to the new “Unspokenblog” podcast on iTunes or listen via SoundCloud. As always, if you have any questions you want us to discuss, we would love to hear them.

What is Godliness?

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by Spencer Harmon

It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships.   It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday.  It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:

Godliness.   

But godliness is dangerous.  Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may.  Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will.  Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will.  No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.  

Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much.  And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind.  As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root.  As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.  

When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides.  The same is true with godliness.  We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.  

WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T

Godliness is not gifting.  God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness.  The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22).  Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.

Godliness is not personality.  Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers.  He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs.  He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples.  Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles.  James rebukes the rich.  All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.  

Godliness is not knowledge.  A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly.  Knowing things makes us accountable for them.  The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).    

Godliness is not a leadership position.  The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character.  Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room.  Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church.  No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.  

Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful.  They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit.  But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness.  Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.

CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS

Godliness believes the truth.  The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth.  Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth.  The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction.  False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death.  The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16).  The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).  This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)

Godliness is dignified.  In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership.  We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).

Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart.  Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others.  The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17).  It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.  

Godliness is marked by good works.  The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible.  Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness.  Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16).  Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).

Godliness is a fight and race.  Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence.  Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).  Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal.  This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.  

GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US

Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness.  The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for.  Godliness doesn’t just happen to us.  Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.  

The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth.  God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8).  The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts.  May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.  


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).