Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why Inky Johnson Thanks God for Ruining His Career

Inquoris “Inky” Johnson used to play football for the University of Tennessee. But on September 9, 2006, his lifelong plans for the NFL were shattered. During a game against the Air Force, Inky experienced a life-threatening and, ultimately, debilitating injury on the field. He was left with the inability to pursue an athletic career of any kind.

Weaker men would have shaken their fist at God and wallowed in the mire of bitterness. But that’s not how Inky responded to his injury. Even though he wakes up each morning with constant pain and a paralyzed right arm, he smiles and embraces life. That’s the response, not of a weak man, but a meek man. 1

In contrast, I’m the kind of guy who becomes agitated if I get behind a slow driver on the freeway. I can respond poorly when my plans—even my minor plans—aren’t fulfilled.

That’s why I asked Inky, whom I have come to call my friend, to share a little with me, and the readers here at Happier Far, about what it looks like to trust God when all our plans seem to fail. I asked Inky three simple questions. He gave me three amazing answers. I hope they bless and encourage you as much as they have me.


In your book you mention how, when we fail to achieve our dreams, it may not be us failing so much as it is God prevailing. Could you expand on that concept?

My eighth grade mentor once said, “Inky, at the end of the day, God is going to get done what He wants to get done. As hard as you may try to force something to happen or put yourself in the position for something to happen, what God wants to get done is going to get done.”

And so I came up with the approach of, “Okay, I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can in the areas of my life where I’m trying to improve and I am going to try to be intentional about certain things in my life. But when those things don’t work out, is it really me failing if God has a plan for my life?”

If you fail at something I don’t think it’s really making you a failure, because God has a bigger purpose for your life. Period. And so everything I go through, it’s about my mindset and perspective and my attitude towards it. I know who’s in control, and that helps me a lot. I know God is in the driver’s seat. I know God has the steering wheel and I’m just a passenger along for the ride. But it took me a while to figure that out.

Many people view suffering as proof that God is cruel or evil. What enables you to look at your suffering and conclude that God is good?

You have to pay attention to God and when He’s at work in your life. You know, I faced a lot of adversity before this point. When I was younger, me and my family went through a lot—a lot of trial, a lot of opposition, a lot of adversity. I look at it today and I see what God has brought us from, and how God has used my situation and my circumstances to mold me into the man I am today.

When I think about me sleeping on the floor when I was a kid—those were some of the best times of my life, I kid you not. It was our perspective. First and foremost, someone always has it worse. We just always had a spirit of gratitude.

But I look back at the drive that it created because when I played sports I would be thinking, “Man, I gotta go to the NFL so my family can have a better way of life.” I would get up off that floor every morning and I would be in grind mode. I wasn’t bitter because of my circumstances, I was thankful, but it created a certain drive and a certain mindset that I have used to approach every aspect of my life.

What would your advice be to someone who is going through a trial and is tempted to doubt the goodness of God?

I’m a firm believer that God has never made a mistake. I’m also a firm believer that the things that happen to us are not designed to stop us but to reposition us so that we come into contact with what God really has for us.

But just being honest, I think people miss the boat on the whole concept of God being good. You know, most people consider God being good if He blesses them with a big house or new cars. It’s mostly based upon superficial, material things. Whereas me, I can wake up and say, “God is awesome. I woke up today.” You know, somebody didn’t wake up this morning. You don’t know what God has protected you from while you were sleeping—you and your family. And so if a person is up, if a person is alive and well, that’s enough right there.

I’ve been living 27 years. And so I get to this point when I’m 27 years old and I pray and I lead a godly life. And then I see something that I want. I feel I deserve it. I pray for it, I work for it. Then it doesn’t happen. I can take that circumstance and say, “Man, I’m mad at God. Why didn’t God give me this? I felt I deserved this. I worked for this. I’ve been patient. I stayed prayed up. I’ve helped some souls come to Christ. Why didn’t I get this?” And I can forget about the other 26 years of my life, when God has blessed me tremendously.

I can make a permanent decision over a temporary situation and consider myself to be mad at God. Why? God blesses us in so many ways every day that we don’t even pay attention to. And so it’s not as bad it may seem to an individual that may be going through something. Stay the course. Thank God every day, all day.

God says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” When you hear something like that, take it for what it’s worth. It’s not a man talking, it’s not a lady talking. It’s God talking.


I would like to express my gratitude to Inky for graciously granting me time for this interview. He has nothing to gain from this other than encouraging the faith of those who read it—which, in Inky’s mind, means he has plenty to gain from it. (That’s just the kind of guy he is. It comes with being meek.) Thank you, Inky!

1 Thayer’s Greek Lexicon refers to meekness as a disposition toward God “in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” It is “the opposite of…self-interest” and it “stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation.” Finally, it is “a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will (Gal. 5:23).” This description fits Inky to a T.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blog First, Ask Questions Later

By now, you’re probably aware of the controversy surrounding a Presbyterian Church (USA) decision to bar the song In Christ Alone from its upcoming hymnbook. This decision was based on the church’s discomfort with one line from the hymn about the wrath of God. The line espouses what theologians refer to as the penal substitution theory of the atonement.

As the story spread through the Internet like a vicious virus, I desired to weigh in on the matter myself. Like numerous bloggers and newspaper writers, I have my own thoughts on the subject.

I won’t be writing about the debate, however. Not just yet, anyway. I don’t want to perpetuate a problem that I see everywhere—including in my own heart. That problem is the unhelpful urge to talk without listening. It’s so easy to turn oneself into the Sheriff of Doctrine-ville and shoot down offending parties before they can even open their mouths.

I’m all for debate, of course. Having a conversation about issues like the atonement is important. But if we’re all quick to speak, slow to listen, and easily angered, we end up talking past each other and not truly engaging in a beneficial exchange. That doesn’t glorify God or show love for our neighbor—even if our neighbor is, in the end, wrong.

Two recent experiences have helped to solidify this conviction in my mind. In both cases, I encountered an online declaration by a public church official stating sentiments about the Bible that were outlandishly preposterous (in the first case) and possibly dangerous (in the second).

In the first situation, several other online voices swiftly and viciously denounced the prominent church leader. I almost joined the fray, but then decided it would be better to contact the person directly and ask her for clarification. She responded to my email graciously, although it became more clear that she really had forsaken sound biblical exegesis. This realization led me to pray for her—something I probably wouldn’t have thought to do if I had simply added my voice to the public outcry against her.

In the second situation, I again decided to email the church leader and ask for clarification about his statement. He thanked me for my inquiry and admitted that he should have been clearer. In this case, if I had decided on pointing out the error in a blog post, I would have ended up publicly criticizing a man with whom I actually agreed, and who hadn’t even meant to imply what I thought he had implied.

Both of these cases have helped me see my need for greater charity in dealing with others. And part of that charity involves asking questions and listening to what people have to say. Speaking too hastily is, after all, an expression of foolishness (Pr. 10:19, 17:27, 18:13).

At this point, I need to make a couple clarifications. First, I’m not saying that everyone who has recently posted an opinion piece on penal substitution has done so maliciously—or even unwisely. I’m also not implying that there’s never a time for public or private rebuke. I’m just stating a general principle and giving some personal examples of how the principle is helping me grow.

Second, I’ve been using language inspired from James 1:19, which states, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (NIV). We might be tempted to use the verse itself as a proof text for how to interact with others. But when we look at the verse in context, we see that James is talking about something else entirely—something that affects how we interact with others, for sure, but by addressing a deeper issue. That issue is how respond to the preached Word of God.

We are to receive the “word of truth” (v. 18) with meekness because it has saving power (v. 21). We are to be hearers and doers of this Word (vv. 22-25). To quote Doctor Edward T. Welch in an article on this passage, “if you are disrespectful toward others with your speech, don’t start by trying to listen to the person in front of you who drives you crazy. Start with meekness before God (1:21).”

He goes on to say that my problem as a listener may not ultimately be poor communication; it may be arrogance before God himself. If I cannot sit and listen to God’s Word without arguing, grumbling, or complaining, how will I be able to listen to others—especially when it concerns the Bible—and not respond similarly?

I may eventually blog about penal substitution. The controversy surrounding the atonement isn’t going away anytime soon, so there will be ample opportunity to address the topic. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to listen, both to God’s teaching on the matter and to the opinions of those who disagree with me.

And you know what? Even in these short few weeks, I’ve gleaned some valuable information. I have truly benefited from this time. If I ever do write about penal substitution and the wrath of God, I think I’ll be able to do so with much more love, humility, and wisdom. That’s worth keeping my proverbial mouth shut—for now.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Being Offensive and Charitable

A “prodigal daughter” rebelled against her parents and ran away from home. Alone and in a different city, she turned to drugs and prostitution. Even after seeing a missing persons report with her face on it, she refused to contact her family. After a couple years, she found herself thrown out on the streets with no one to turn to—except her family. She called her parents and let them know she was taking a bus back home.

Rand Alcorn relays this story (originally told by Philip Yancey) in his book The Grace and Truth Paradox. I’ll let him finish:

As she steps off the bus, she finds herself greeted by forty brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and her parents, all wearing party hats, with a huge banner stretched out saying, “Welcome home.”

Before she can finish saying “I’m sorry,” her father murmurs, “Hush, sweetheart, we’ll talk later. We’ve got to get you home to the party; there’s a banquet waiting for you!”

This is just one of many stories told in Alcorn’s Grace and Truth Paradox. It’s a small hardback—under 100 pages—and the pages fly by. But for its brevity, it says a lot.

I wish I’d have read this book shortly after its release ten years ago. If you’re familiar with my story, you’re aware that God is using various elements like wet pants and the Hebrew language to teach me how to more fully experience and demonstrate God’s love. This book is a huge encouragement to pursue love by focusing on two elements that we might naturally think are opposites: grace and truth. The paradox of its title, however, is imagined. Grace and truth are complementary to the highest degree. As Alcorn says, “Anything less than both is neither.”

In this powerful little volume, Alcorn explores the scandalous nature of unrelenting grace and unbending truth. Using poignant stories from Scripture and his own life, he illustrates the world’s desperate need for the church to weave grace and truth into the fabric of its walk and talk. He warns against abusing grace by lowering Christ’s standards in the name of tolerance. He warns against abusing truth by using it as a weapon for self-righteousness and condemnation.

Something’s wrong if all unbelievers hate us.
     Something’s wrong if all unbelievers like us.
     If we accurately demonstrate grace and truth, some will be drawn to us and others will be offended by us—just as they were by Jesus.
     When we offend everybody, it’s because we’ve taken on the truth mantle without grace. When we offend nobody, it’s because we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace.

Most importantly, Alcorn shows us the Savior, who acted as our substitute and example by being “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 14). It is His display of grace and truth for us that enables us to display grace and truth for others. Because God designed grace and truth to work together, Alcorn proposes that we can support the ownership of private property and the need to voluntarily share wealth with the needy; we can oppose injustice to minorities and the unborn; we can oppose greedy ruination of the environment and anti-industry environmentalism; we can oppose sexual immorality in all its forms and show genuine compassion to those trapped in destructive lifestyles.

When you’re caught committing adultery, probably the last person you want to be brought before is the person who outlawed adultery in the first place. But that’s exactly what happens to the adulteress in John 8. And yet, the outcome wasn’t what she might have expected. As Alcorn explains,

     Jesus rebuked the woman’s accusers. But that isn’t the end of the story. He could have said,
     “Go burn for your sins.”
     “Go and feel free to sin some more.”
     What He did say was, “Go and sin no more.”
     Jesus didn’t deny truth. He affirmed it. She needed to repent. And change.
     Jesus didn’t deny grace. He offered it. He sent her away, forgiven and cleansed, to a new life.

If you struggle at all with using truth as a weapon of war instead of a tool of love, I recommend reading this book. If you struggle at all with using grace as an excuse to overlook sin (either in your life or the lives of others), I recommend reading this book. You will be challenged and encouraged. You will be humbled and amazed. And you will encounter a glorious Savior who will draw you into His arms with grace and truth.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

How to Keep from Wasting Your Life

What do you do after coming back from a vacation where you photograph wild eagles, kayak amidst playful seals, hike Mount Rainier with extended family, catch and cook your own seafood, and reunite with siblings who haven’t all been together in 25 years? Well, if you’re me, the answer is get depressed—or, at least, face the temptation to get depressed. Routine, daily life just isn’t as spectacular as an amazing vacation like that.

Let’s be honest. If we had our way, all of life would be a vacation. Our time would be just that—“ours,” unclaimed by the demands of anyone’s will but our own. No longer would we need to make a living just so we could spend time doing what we really want. We wouldn’t need to live for the weekend because we’d be in a perpetual weekend.

But that’s a dangerous way to think. There’s something amazingly beneficial about the daily grind that is easy to miss—and knowing it can make the difference between wasting your life and enjoying your life. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 says, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.”

God expects us to work for our livelihood. Not working at all is living in a “disorderly manner.” In other words, to not work is to deviate from God’s prescribed order, and it leads us to busy ourselves with trifles. We may think that endless free time provides the euphoria we seek, but it’s actually the breeding ground for a disorderly and wasteful life.

Have you ever neared the end of a vacation—or a regular weekend—and realized you’ve accomplished practically nothing? You had such high hopes for what you were going to do, and yet somehow the time just slipped by. That’s what time does when it’s not protected by boundaries.

So, how can we keep from viewing work as an intrusion that sucks the life out of our life? Here are two helpful practices.

1. Cultivate a Biblical Perspective of Work

In the beginning, there existed three divinely ordained aspects of man’s life. One of them was labor. Adam was to “tend and keep” the garden (Gen. 2:15). In an unfallen world, this responsibility would have been enjoyable and even restful. When sin entered the world, it didn’t destroy the God-given mandate to work, although it did add the ingredients of pain and toil.

Nevertheless, we can still enjoy the labor of our hands (Ps. 128:2; Ec. 5:18, 19; 1 Cor. 15:58). Work can provide us with a sense of purpose. It provides us a way to glorify God by acknowledging Him as our ultimate employer (Col. 3:22-25) and loving our neighbor by providing goods and services for those around us. It can, I think, be one way in which we “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16). Schedules and deadlines and responsibilities are God’s provision to keep us from wasting our lives with trivialities. “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty” (Pr. 14:23).

2. Cultivate a Biblical Perspective of Rest

Part of why we hate work and crave free time is that we never experience true rest. Weekdays and weekends are jam-packed with activities. We need a rhythmic break from the busyness. I’m not talking about getting enough sleep each night. I’m talking about scheduled, weekly rest where we put aside our to-do lists and bask in the refreshment that God instituted at the end of creation. Yes, I’m referring to the Sabbath rest.

It’s hard to see work as a blessing if we there’s never any end to it. God has built into His moral law (the Ten Commandments) a provision for one seventh of each week to be work-free—a built-in vacation, if you will. It’s ironic that we too often ignore the Sabbath in order to get everything done, only to find ourselves longing for the rest we say we have no time for.

I’ve written extensively about the Sabbath; see my introductory post on the topic, as well as my two-post summary of the Scriptural principle. (My wife Shannon has also written a powerful testimony about how the Sabbath rescued her from the endless rigors of grad school.)

There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecc. 3:1-8), including work and rest. Both are essential. Both were designed by God for our good. When we embrace God’s provision of vocation and vacation, we can experience a fulfilling life. Instead of hating our work and bemoaning the end of vacations, we can rejoice in the parameters God has set in place—not to keep us from enjoying our lives, but to keep us from wasting our lives.