Johnny serves as World Harvest Mission’s Cross-Cultural Renewal and Leadership Development Specialist and has served in East and West Africa, Madagascar, the UK, and has taught recently in Chile, Spain and the Ivory Coast. In addition to him and his wife, Becky, being Creekstone supported international missionaries, Johnny has been one of the primary influences in my life concerning what it means to believe, live and preach the gospel.
Johnny, if you had to summarize the concept of “adoption” or God’s “fatherhood” what would you say?
J.I. Smarter-Than-Me-Packer said: “Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation.” (p.194 Knowing God) “Adoption” means making us his children, “through” points to how it happens, “propitiation,” a BIG word meaning “the removal of wrath by a sacrifice.” We enter His family through faith in Jesus (not doing) and our faith is itself a gift. That’s necessarily so since every one of us was a rebel. When he adopts us, we’re his, body and soul, lock, stock & barrel, forever. That’s comforting! Do you know what made the Pharisees madder than anything? That Jesus kept calling God His Father (Jn.5:18), and teaching others that through Him, they could have that relationship too. (Check out Matt. 6.) And what does your Father want from you? Your heart, and when He has your heart, He has all of you. He wants you and me to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Nope, we’ll never do that perfectly, but Jesus did it for us, and then sent us His Spirit to empower us to give it our best shot.
What does it look like when the average person “forgets” who their Heavenly Father is?
“Spiritual amnesia” is not a pretty sight—to get up in the morning forgetting who you are! Oh, we remember our name and how to brush our teeth, but we’ll have forgotten who we are in God’s sight. Problem: God’s view of things is reality, so we go through our day living in a false reality! I know all about this because I lived like this for the first 25 years of my Christian life. Yes, even as a pastor and missionary to Kenya! (NOT FUN!) What were the symptoms? I felt like I had to control everybody and everything around me. I lived like an orphan who had to fend for myself and make life work. I had a hard time loving people. My mind was theoretically but not consciously rooted in the unconditional love of God for me. So, my wife Becky suffered, our three children suffered and the people I ministered to suffered because I was a taker, not a giver. I could not really love people; I just used people and loved and served myself.
What are some tell-tale signs that a church is struggling to understand their Heavenly Father?
Oh, this is tragically easy to answer. Hearts that are not rooted in the conscious awareness of the Fatherly love of God—and the all-sufficient righteousness of Jesus clothing them, will revert to thinking and acting like “spiritual orphans.” They’ll be unloving, critical, controlling, demanding, always have to have things their way and have everyone agree with their vision of things. It’s ugly, and this was me,as a Christian, before I came to know more deeply my Father’s love for me and before I learned that the perfect, all-sufficient righteousness of Jesus for me, as my “conscious clothing,” was where the joy and power of the Christian life comes from.
Is there any practical way you have found to keep your status as a son in the forefront of your heart and mind?
Okay, I’ll say yes to that, but, I’m still a big mess sometimes. Before I didn’t know what was wrong. Now, when my heart strays, I can see what’s going on and repent. (I repent a lot!) Before, I thought I just needed to be stronger when what I really needed was to be weaker “so that the power of Christ might rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9) The battle against an “orphan spirit” starts the minute I wake up. That’s why I have my morning devotions every day. I don’t do it to tick off a box because God might swat me if I don’t have a quiet time. Shucks, I’ve got to spend time with my Abba, read His Word and talk to Him so that I can be sane again! If having God as my Father is not the thought that prompts and controls every aspect of my life, I’ll live like a Christian DUFUS! Let me quote Packer again: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all… ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.” (p.182, Knowing God) So, HOW do I keep my status as a son in the forefront of my heart and mind? I don’t! But, when I feel a creeping heaviness of heart, a weakness of soul (as I do daily!), that’s a signal that it’s time I talk to Him, thank Him, rest in Him and surrender to His love for me all over again. That’s the key: not try, but surrender.
This interview was originally posted by Southwood PCA in Huntsville, AL.