About johnblackmon

Just a thirty-three year old guy pastoring in Central Georgia. Happily married to Cheryl. Love all things historical, real, interesting, spiritual and flavorful. Swimming now in the inkwells of indelible grace.

Rich Words

I wrote this post two years ago. Today, on the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most brilliant lyricists and brave poets in Christendom, I thought it worth sharing again.

Johnblackmon's Blog

MullinsI wrote this post two years ago. Today, on the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most brilliant lyricists and brave poets in Christendom, I thought it worth sharing again.

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Eighteen years ago this month I remember riding to school and the announcement that Rich Mullins had been killed in an accident involving a jeep and eighteen wheeler the day before came on the radio. All I knew then was that he was the author of “Awesome God.” The radio station then said, “Rich is now experiencing God’s awesome presence. . .” and they went immediately in to the song. For whatever reason, the moment impacted me. Over the past nearly two decades (particularly the first), especially after viewing the documentary, “Homeless Man,” the life, words, and music of this eccentric (ragamuffin) child of God have been formative for me. One object I have in my office is…

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Home. Free.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” 

There are many times at funerals I either neglect to mention something I intended to say or there is just simply too much to say. After my grandfather Bob Drye’s memorial service this past Saturday, I remembered a conversation we had in which he reflected on coming back from Germany where he had been stationed with his artillery battalion during the Korean conflict. He said seeing the Statue of Liberty was one of the most beautiful sites he’d ever seen and he thought of all the others who must’ve been so glad to see her. As he was the grandson of a German immigrant, I always thought this was particularly poignant. Today I am thankful for the freedom, home, and safe harbor she represents to all who have fought for and all who have sought after the Liberty for which she holds the flame.
My grandfather came home from Germany.

His grandfather came from Germany seeking a home.

This is America.

How Montana Prepared Me for International Missions

tipiFor the past five years, our church has partnered in multiple ways with Montana Indian Ministries and Pastor Bruce Plummer based on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. In this partnership we have been part of effective evangelism through service by partnering with local Christians who will continue discipleship long after we have gotten back on the plane. This mission and ministry is a worthy end it itself. However, my experiences as well as those of our teammates, have served and can serve as preparation for missions and ministries in other places around the globe. Here are several things I have been exposed to and a few things I have learned:

All “Nations”

It is important to note that in some significant ways, this mission and ministry actually is international missions. This comes from a proper understanding of the word “nation.” Native Americans themselves grasp this as they refer to themselves as “nations.”  A nation is a “people group” – a group that shares common traits, religion, language, way of life and cultural distinctives. Once you begin to understand the differences between Gross Venture, Assiniboine, Cree, Crow, Cheyenne (Northern and Southern), etc. you begin to have  a further delineated understanding of people groups that further prepares you for understanding tribes and “nations” throughout the world.

Spiritual Warfare

We must remember if our aim is to share the Gospel, we are engaged in Spiritual Warfare. In fact, if you are a believer and it’s not your aim to share the Gospel, you are on the defensive of spiritual warfare already (and you are losing the battle). We have to be prepared for this, and the way to prepare is detailed in Ephesians 6. Spiritual warfare is all around us. It’s more real where you are than you think, you are just not paying attention. That notwithstanding, the palpable nature in a place where many do not worship the Son of God is intense and the darkness feels darker than you know until you have been there. What is important in these moments is to remember that He is the Light of Men and even the darkness is not dark to Him. Do not go in to battle without preparing to go in to battle. The most important thing we can do is pray constantly. If your assignment is to “prayer walk” take it very very seriously.

Local Partners

It is important to remember what our role is when we go to other places to participate in global evangelization. If there are pastors and missionaries on the field then it is our job to help them and not hinder them. The best way to know how to is to ask straightforward questions. We have a role in the disciple making process, but if we have not moved our lives to these places among these people then we will not be the most effective at this, so it is important that we follow any and all instructions we receive. If there is a local Christian presence, it is also important that we recognize we have come alongside them to partner with them and to investigate what ways we can help stimulate and support what God is already doing. We did not come to “save” whatever people group we are among but to help our brothers and sisters in this process. God saves them, we are just the messengers.  I have grown to know and love others in different places in the globe of different tribes and tongues and there is nothing like the partnership in the Gospel we share. Look for and forward to these opportunities. In many places, they will be the ones who actually get to carry the Gospel to the most extreme unreached because frankly they can go places you and I can’t. If we are not humbled by carrying the Gospel and aiding others in carrying the Gospel, then it may not be the Gospel we carry.

Minority Status

There is nothing quite like realizing how different you are all the sudden. When you are accustomed to being the majority culture and suddenly find yourself as a minority surrounded by a great majority, it can be a bit shocking and maybe a little unnerving.  Preparing for this is only helpful for missions and ministry, particularly if your background is similar to mine. This also prepares you to identify with what is the experience of the vast majority of the scattered peoples in the world. Curious stares by children and looks from adults ranging from interest to disdain will be commonplace no matter where you go. My wife, with her beautiful red hair, is an even further curiosity in some places. In other places in the world we have even had people take our picture just because of how different we are. So prepare yourself and smile for the camera (if culturally appropriate) !

Cultural Sensitivities

You will offend people. Unfortunately you may not know it. This is why it is so important to have familiarized yourself with the culture to which you are going to spend time as much as possible. How loud do they speak? Do they maintain prolonged eye contact? Do they shake hands? How do they feel about feet ( I know you may not like them either, but it some places they really don’t like them)? Will there be venerated or religious objects or symbols around that I wouldn’t have even considered? It is essential in sharing the Gospel, which is offensive, to minimize incidental offensiveness as much as possible by being culturally sensitive.  The best way to prepare or this is to ask a Christian brother or sister who is either from this culture or who has spent a great deal of time with this culture.

Hospitality Culture

Native Americans are very hospitable as are many cultures throughout the world. It is important to both gracefully receive and extend hospitality.  Where I am from, people will offer things and we often over politely decline. This is unacceptable among Native Americans. Anything from a cup of water to a personal gift is to be received and not declined.  In other places you might need to be careful with complimenting certain things, because individuals may feel obligated to give it you.  In other settings, hospitality is extended in order to merit or earn grace, karma, etc. Though that is an uncomfortable reality, receive the hospitality with a genuine heart with the intent of sharing the Gospel.

Real Poverty

There are impoverished people in every region and amongst every people of the globe. However, if we cannot imagine going to sleep on something that is not a bed or even in a “house” or going to “bed” unsure of where our next meal will come from, then we do not understand real poverty. If we engage at any meaningful level this is something we will encounter no matter where we go.  It is important that we are prepared to encounter real and extreme poverty so we know the best ways to help (which are not always what we think).

Differing Worldviews

If your intention is to share the Gospel with any people group, worldview considerations are of the utmost importance. One thing they all share in common (including non-Christian Native Americans) is not understanding exactly Who Jesus Christ is and what He came to do. On Reservations the overwhelming majority are monotheists who believe in a single Creator. This is a great place to begin the conversation. In other parts of the world, people have no concept of a Creator in the established philosophy and religion. At any rate, no one really cares for the One Who has created his or her heart unless their hearts have been newly created (Romans 1).  It will serve you well to be familiar with the local worldview(s) in order to have effective conversations.  However, I can also personally attest to the power of the Gospel that transcends worldviews.

I will add: though we share a lot in common if our starting place is as a Christian and our minds are formed by the Bible, there will still be vast differences in worldviews with our brothers and sisters around the globe. Though it will be easier to discuss these issues with Christians, there will still be areas of local sensitivity. Just be aware and prepared to be forgiving and to be forgiven.

The next several items are practical in nature but will greatly serve you in preparation.

Uncertain Hygiene

You may not get a shower. It may not be available. This can range from a limited time to a way of life. If you cannot sleep for more than few days without a shower, then you need to prepare for this possibility. In some places where you get a “shower” there may be no stall and there may be little water pressure. There may be an extreme limit in available clean water. Long showers are rarely appropriate.  So, pack some hand sanitizer and prepare to get dirty for the Gospel.

Uncomfortable Bathroom Situations

It’s going to be uncomfortable. Count on it. In our time with Montana Indian Ministries we have grown accustomed to porta-potties (I may or may not have participated in a covert operation to temporarily relocate said porta-potties). In other places in the globe you will inevitably find yourself behind a tree or in a “squatty potty” and your digestive system will enjoy choosing this time to do acrobats for you. In some places only natural waste is flushable (if indeed there is any flushing involved). Here is another area to be aware and prepared and you do want to bring your own paper and wipes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Extreme Weather Conditions

Montana is notorious for extreme weather in both directions. You can experience 100 degree heat and ice in the same twenty-four hour period. The saying is, if you don’t like the weather, just wait around ten minutes. Extreme weather (heat, rain, cold) will be fact wherever you go to serve and to share the Gospel. Pack appropriately and prepare to endure, drink plenty of water, and wear appropriate shoes.

Unreliable Internet

We live on the internet. It is no longer a destination, it is where we live our lives. There are many positives to this constant interconnectivity and many negatives. With this said, Montana prepares you to know you may go days on end without an Imessage or email. In some situations around the globe you may have to be cautious about what you post and how you post it. To prepare for these situations, try doing internet fasts before travelling and taking all your extra time (which you will have) to pray and prepare.

Travel

Going from here to there is often for many the hardest part of sharing the Gospel. This can be as small as crossing the street (which seems to loom pretty large for most people) or as big as a few connections and layovers to the other side of the globe. The only way to prepare for travel is to travel. Being on a plane for several hours and making connections to get to Montana will prepare you to multiply it times three to go to Africa or Asia. An important note however is to remember getting on a jet does not make you a missionary. If you are not crossing the street, then you are not prepared to cross the continent or the ocean.

The Challenge of Cohesiveness

It is important for the sake of the Gospel that we do our best to live peaceably with all those we are working alongside of. Personalities will come in conflict. The question is, how will we respond and make reparations where necessary? I have been on mission trips in which the “team” consisted of my wife and I. We have struggled with this and this is only multiplied by the number of personalities. It is important to prepare to bear with one another in all patience and humility. You will ultimately grow in respect for one another and in awe of a God who can put together people who are so different for His global purposes.

Now Go.

If anything on this list has caused you to second guess going somewhere close like Montana or even further like Southeast Asia, then you need to reconsider immediately. Though exhausting and draining, spiritually and physically, making disciples of all nations and participating in global evangelization is well worth every possible cost and sacrifice you can imagine. So, let’s seek to be obedient, and let’s get to work!

When Steve Lawson Told Me I’d Never Preached

IMG_0004About nine years ago when I was an associate pastor in south Louisiana, Dr. Steven Lawson taught a workshop for our local association on Expository Preaching. I was actually sick and had a headache at the time but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Dr. Lawson did a phenomenal job (as he always does) of explaining the nuts and bolts of Expository preaching and its Biblical mandate and model.

At the time I was still young(er) and had not had the pulpit time or pastoral experience I have now had. I was a good student at an undergrad Bible college and was currently enrolled in seminary and had spent a lot of time with biblical languages, background, and even travel in biblical lands. When I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Lawson after the seminar I remarked to him, “I think I am really good at giving biblical background and an explanation of the text, but where I really struggle is the application of the text… ” Dr. Lawson, in a kind and pastoral tone, basically told me I had never preached. He responded, “well, I believe application is when a sermon becomes a sermon.” That gentle correction has helped me over the last near-decade in thought and preparation for sermons. Not that every sermon has been a “homerun” or that I’ve even felt good after every message preached, but I have made it a pastoral priority in study to consider how the text actually applies to the group I am speaking to and how the biblical truths touch our every day lives.

As Dr. Lawson himself would point out, the Puritans were quite effective with this and would’ve spent anywhere from a third to a half of their sermons on application (after textual explanation and doctrinal truths). We should never go to the pulpit claiming to be expository if we are not also explanatory in how these biblical truths speak to our lives.

I doubt Dr. Lawson would remember me, but I am thankful  he took a moment to be pastoral and prophetic in my life and I pray that it has resulted in pastoral benefit to many other lives. Thank you Dr. Lawson!

Fruit in Its Season: An Ode to Psalms.

psalmslight

“everything written about me in the. . .Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Jesus. (Luke 24:44)

Tonight I end a journey that began on Wednesday night, August 26, 2011. It was on that evening I began walking Psalm by Psalm, stanza by stanza, and at many times verse by verse through the book of Psalms with our Wednesday night Bible study. Our time has been broken up by once a month business meetings, travels, and special events such as VBS and special guests, so by God’s providence tonight is the end of that journey as we study Psalm 150. It is with a jubilant heart of peace and tears of thankfulness I arrive here today. This will not be my last journey and I encourage you as an individual or pastor to take a similar journey. To encourage you, here are a few of my reflections on the Psalms.

The Psalms are the heartbeat of the Bible and therefore the heartbeat of God.  If you want to stay close to His heart, you need to hear His heart. You will find the rhythm in the book of Psalms. I knew as a first time/ full-time senior pastor, I desired to lead in prayer meeting by focusing on prayer. This led me to the conviction (before I knew for sure when and where I would go) our Wednesday night Bible study would initially consist of a study in the book of Psalms.  I read early on, “the Psalms paint pictures.” With that in mind the journey over the landscape of this vast book has been like a hike through the largest National Park with the highest of heights, the deepest of valleys,  with the brightest of sunlight, the darkness of night, the bitterness of stagnate water (of my own heart) and the refreshing and reviving coolness of a mountain stream (of God’s heart). The Psalms tickle the imagination and inoculate the heart with Truth. Spend time in this book and you will find the words more delightful than honey and more valuable than gold.

There are so many things I have learned throughout the study of the book it would be impossible to innumerate them all. However, there are three returning truths one can see from the vantage point of every hill and valley in the book: the mercy of God, the justice of God, and the mission of God. I have also included a word on His protection, providence, and Messiah.

His Mercy

By far, one of the most repeated words in this book is kesed – God’s love. I will never forget an evening cup of coffee with my pastor and a Hebrew professor, Dr. Wayne VanHorn, when he walked me word by word through Psalm 23 (I carry those notes in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia to this day) and his bright eyes as he spoke of God’s love (most often translated “mercy”) in Psalm 23:6. Without this kind of love, all of our lives, efforts, and trials are in vain. This is the kind of love God has for His people – very well characterized by the translation “mercy.” Dr. VanHorn told me that night (and I’ve never forgotten it) that one could consider this the “Covenant Love of God”. I have also seen it recently rendered by Alec Motyer as “God’s committed love” and it is also often translated “steadfast love” and “lovingkindness”.  Just as we would have no hope or salvation apart from the kesed of God, there would be no book of Psalms apart from that same kesed. Go to great lengths to find this covenant love throughout the book. It is never far away.

His Protection

We are all refugees. If we do not recognize this, we do not understand the mercy of God. He is our Rock, Fortress, Refuge, Strength and many such other names by which He is called that means He is our home (or “dwelling place” Ps.90:1). We find our rest in the shadow of His wings – in the midst of the “mercy seat” beneath the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. This picture alluded to by David many times is proof positive of his understanding of Salvation. Without God’s atoning sacrifice and the blood upon the mercy seat – there is no hope for sinful mankind. There is power in the blood after all. I have told our Wednesday night gathering, “we enjoy singing ‘the old rugged cross’ for David the song was ‘the old mercy seat’.” It is little wonder Luther was teaching Psalms alongside Romans and Galatians when he came to his core understanding of the Gospel.

His Providence

He cares for us. Jesus makes sure we know this when he quotes Psalms to us in the “Beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount. God is a God who fills us with “the finest of wheat.” Without the Psalms of David, there would be no songs of Mary and Zechariah in the book of Luke.

His Justice

Some of the most puzzling lines for many in the book of Psalms are those lines labeled “imprecations”. However, in the full counsel of God’s word and understanding of His character, they are not as difficult as they would be isolated from the context. God is a just God. He has or will visit justice on all of His enemies. This includes and is not limited to sin, death, hell, the wicked, and those who cause His little ones to stumble. Every prayer in the book of Psalms will be answered, including the imprecations against the Psalmist’s enemies. The reason for this is that all of our true enemies, are actually God’s enemies.

His Mission

Psalms is a missionary book. One does not have to read too long about God’s special people to realize He desires all the goiim (Greek: ethnay) to become part of His special people. This is the staff on which the music of the book of Psalms is written. The Psalms by nature are invitational and provide motivation for God’s chosen people to be missionaries to the ends of the earth. They will be drawn in by our pure worship of Him as Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.  This is perhaps best illustrated with the shortest Psalm – also the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117. This Psalm is not only the heartbeat of the book of Psalms, but is quite literally the heart of the Bible. This Psalm has the same number of chapters from Genesis 1 to its first verse as it does from its last verse to Revelation 22.

Praise the Lord, all nations!
    Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

His Messiah

From the prophecies of Psalm 22 to the promises of Psalm 91, one finds Jesus fulfilling every ounce of unrequited expectation of the couplets and questions of the book. As with the Bible, so goes Psalms. If one reads the Psalms and misses Jesus, he has missed the book of Psalms.

Praise Him!

As I close this time and study in Psalms, I have also crossed another great milestone in reading through Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. Having spent so much time with Mr. Spurgeon, it seems fitting to give him (almost) the last word from his final introduction of a Psalm,

“We have now reached the last summit of the mountain chain of Psalms. It rises high into the clear azure, and its brow is bathed in the sunlight of the eternal world of worship, it is a rapture. The poet prophet is full of inspiration and enthusiasm. He slays not to argue, to teach, to explain; but cries with burning words, ‘Praise him, Praise him, Praise ye the LORD.’

“Here, the word says, ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord,’ what if that were reversed and it said, ‘let everything that praises the Lord have breath?’” – David Platt.

Indeed. Hallelujah. Amen.

I praise Him not only as one who was found in mud and brought to new heights, but as one who hopes to be planted deep in mud with roots reaching down to the waters of life. On His word, may I meditate day and night.

Study Materials

There is nothing quite like reading the Psalms in one’s heart language and “meditating on them day and night.” However, I have found many sources to be of great value for further reflection and recommend them to the pastor wishing to embark on a similar journey or as the leader of in-depth Bible study. Of irreplaceable value has been the original language of the book of Psalms. This, coupled with Koehler and Baumgartner’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon has been a treasure trove of riches. If your Hebrew waxes and wanes, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Hebrew Reader’s Bible (it’s “Bible” feel, sizable font, and accessibility is superb). Of inestimable value at different intervals for personal devotional reflection have been the Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon, Calvin’s commentaries, W.S. Plummer’s Commentary on the Psalms (Banner of Truth Trust), and lately The Psalms by Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. Of instructional value have been Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato and David M. Howard, Jr., the ESV Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible.

The Color of Bravery

halfstaffrespect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed – Romans 13:7

Recently while walking on one of those picturesque Southern courthouse squares, I was troubled while looking upon the granite memorials sitting atop the Saint Augustine carpet. On both the World War I and World War II monuments in this small southern town, there were not one, but two alphabetical lists of men who died in their country’s service. On one monument there were two sides, “Colored” and “White”. On the other monument the “Colored” list came after the first list (presumably the “white” list).

It is one thing to be divided in life, it is quite another to be divided in memoriam. I know the history. I know units were desegregated in 1948. But these monuments are not military rosters, they are monuments dedicated by a small town to honor their local heroes (both monuments were erected in the 50’s).  To add insult to injury, there is not one, but three Confederate monuments on this same lawn (not to say having one is inappropriate).  I am not necessarily advocating the removal of any monument or even necessarily the replacing of present monuments, I am simply reflecting on the sad state of a community that differentiates its heroes in such a graven way. I am not an advocate of erasing history, but I do hope for the day of an equalizing of history. We may also note not in this town, but in other towns, there are courthouses built of red clay bricks bearing the thumb prints of the slaves who made them and laid them while the granite cornerstones give credit to white architects, civic leaders, and financial contributors. Acknowledgement is due to all who built and contributed to communities regardless of their lineage or heritage. Every man and woman who lived, loved, and died in these communities loved freedom and is an indelible part of the American fabric – a quilt woven together by the lives given to hold her together.  The artificial division of those lives on a stone monument is a travesty. What differentiates the men on these monuments is not their color but their courage, not their status but their sacrifice.

The colors that matter are the red that ran through their blue veins and the white in their determined eyes. On this Memorial Day, let us be grateful for all of America’s true heroes with no distinction but the bravery with which they fought.

Where the Fire is Hottest

Johnblackmon's Blog

watergiftLast week at the Together for the Gospel conference, I had a new experience. For the first time, I heard Dr. David Platt sound his usual resounding call to the nations with me knowing I had to some extent answered. Don’t let me misrepresent myself. A little over a week, strange food, and jet leg are no sacrifice. However, I did get to look through the open 10/40 window and see at least, in part, what is before us. Due to a life-long friendship, I have a direct connection to a part of the world where one of the five largest unreached people groups still are lost in darkness, superstition, idol worship, and daily dissatisfaction with life. I’ve walked the streets, I’ve smelled the smells, I’ve seen the people. I’ll never forget my first impression of smells: incense, cigarette smoke, and human feces – in that order. I’ve heard the…

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