The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Christian Living (page 1 of 21)

A Christian Response to COVID-19

Although it is not an official policy of mine, it is pretty rare that I write in response to major events that are going on in the world. It is not that I am unconcerned with current events, but usually, there are already a ton of voices weighing in on a given issue, I rarely feel like an expert who needs to have his opinion shared, and in general, I try to be more proactive than reactive in what I write and post.

I am not totally sure what prompts me to write in this case; certainly, there are a lot of people talking about Coronavirus already, and I am definitely no expert. Perhaps I am writing because (1) I feel a sense of uneasy concern, so the reminders I will share below are reminders that I need to hear, and (2) I took the day off of work so I could focus on watching the SEC Basketball Tournament, which has now been canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, so it is on my mind and I have a little time on my hands.

So here is the issue: we have what is now a global pandemic on our hands, which is leading to unprecedented cancellations of major events. It is quite contagious, and many times more lethal than the flu. Although many people who contract it barely suffer at all, it is particularly dangerous for those who are elderly and those who have compromised immune systems. It light of these realities, what might be a “Christian response” to Coronavirus?

Here are a few ideas, all taken from the Sermon on the Mount.

Christians are not to live in fear.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

(Matthew 6.25-34)

There is a lot of fear and anxiety in the world right now. Plans are being upset and lives are being unsettled. A lot of recreational events that normally help to distract us from the concerns of life are being canceled, which seems to magnify the problem. It is easy to be afraid.

But it is inherently un-Christian to live lives that are driven by fear. We are not called to be people of fear, but people of boldness who absolutely rely on our Heavenly Father to protect us.

Currently, there is cause for concern and a need for wisdom and discernment in what we do. But we should not be alarmists or fearmongers.



Christians are to value truth.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

(Matthew 5.33-37)

This one should be pretty obvious; we know that we are supposed to be people of truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught His followers that they should be people of such absolute integrity that it wouldn’t be necessary for them to take elaborate oaths because others implicitly trusted them.

Christians should value truth at all times, but perhaps especially so in times of fear and uncertainty. Part of that means that we should be careful about what sort of information we share online. I have seen multiple people (some of them preachers no less!) share disdain for the “hysteria” surrounding Coronavirus saying it is nowhere near as deadly as the common flu. Although COVID-19 is not nearly as widespread as the common flu (currently), it is far more lethal to those who contract it—that is a statistical reality. We need to be very careful about the information we share, and make sure to verify that it is accurate.

Related to the point above, it seems to me that a remarkable number of my online friends and acquaintances have suddenly become amateur epidemiologists, and speak with a great deal of certainty that is probably unwarranted. Part of being truthful is not giving the impression that we know more than we do; I am the first to admit that I am not the most informed about what is going on. I want to be careful about who I listen to, careful about what I share with others, and careful that I do not give the impression that I am an expert. I want to value truth.

Christians are to love their neighbors.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5.43-48)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

(Matthew 7.12)

A common response I have seen from many people, a lot of them Christians, is something like, “What’s the big deal? Maybe I’ll get the virus, and if I do, I’ll probably recover. And even if it kills me, as a Christian, I don’t fear death. I’m  not going to change what I do just because of this virus.”

There’s some truth to that, and it would be a great perspective…if we all lived on islands by ourselves. The reality is that whether or not you are concerned about catching the disease yourself (and personally, I am not), you should be concerned about the possibility of spreading the disease to others, especially those who are less able to fight it off, and those who may not share the same Christian hope of conquering death that you do. Loving our neighbors means that we want to go to reasonable measures to keep them safe from the spread of illness.

Also, loving others means that hoarding supplies probably isn’t the most Christian thing you can do either. Sure, it is important that you have enough to provide for your family, but a Christian response to possessions—at any time—is that we should be prepared to share whatever we have with others (so if you have 300 rolls of toilet paper stocked up, you might want to keep an eye out for people lamenting that they can’t find any and help them out!).

Christians are to pray.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6.9-13)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Matthew 7.7-11)

Prayer should always be at the forefront of how Christians respond to…anything. We should pray for those in positions of authority who are making decisions about how best to proceed while limiting the spread of the virus. We should pray for those suffering from financial fallout from the effects of travel being limited and events being canceled. We should pray for those who are sick. We should pray for those treating and caring for them. We should pray for those working for vaccines and anti-viral drugs. We should pray for those who have lost loved ones. We should pray for those dealing with the difficulties of quarantine. And as Jesus reminds us, we should pray with fervency and perseverance.

Prayer reminds us of our own limitations and is an acknowledgment of our unlimited God. Prayer leads us to trust instead of fear. Prayer makes us mindful of others rather than just ourselves.

Conclusion: Christians are to let their lights shine.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5.14-16)

Jesus says that His followers are like a city set on a hill—incredibly visible to the world around us. The reality is that people in the world see how Christians behave, and they are paying attention. Perhaps this is especially true in times of uncertainty. When we fail to live as we are called to, it is incredibly damaging to the cause of Christ. But when we live according to the commands of our King, others see that and are brought to give glory to God:

  • In a world filled with fear, Christians are called to rely on our Heavenly Father.
  • In a world filled with misinformation, political posturing, conspiracy theories, and hysteria, Christians are called to value truth.
  • In a world filled with shortsighted self-interest, Christians are called to love others.
  • In a world filled with uncertainty of what to do, Christians are called to pray.

May we seek to live as Jesus calls us to, and in so doing, to bring glory to God our Father!

Are You Like Jesus’ Enemies?

If you are familiar at all with the life and ministry of Jesus, you know that He encountered opposition from various groups. In Mark’s gospel, the controversy surrounding the ministry of Jesus begins very early. In chapter 2, Jesus is criticized in the following circumstances:

  • In 2.1-12, Jesus receives criticism from some scribes when He forgives the sins of a paralyzed man after healing Him.
  • In 2.13-17, the “scribes of the Pharisees” criticize Jesus for having table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners. This occurs after Jesus calls Levi/Matthew to follow Him and then goes to eat at his house.
  • In 2.18-22, Jesus seems to receive a mild criticism because He and His disciples are not fasting, while John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees do.
  • In 2.23-28, the Pharisees again criticize Jesus, this time because His disciples were plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath day.

These events provide the immediate context for Mark 3.1-6, which is the passage that I want to look at a little more closely:

“Again He entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.”

Although there are several aspects of this account that we could focus on, I particularly want to look at a couple of characteristics of Jesus’ enemies, characteristics that I think a lot of people—even those who are supposed to live as citizens of God’s kingdom—continue to exhibit today.

First, watching people and waiting for them to mess up is a characteristic of Jesus’ enemies. The text says in verse Mark 3.2 that the Pharisees “watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.”

The Pharisees watched Jesus carefully, not to glean wisdom from His teaching, or to be awed by the miracles He performed, or touched by the compassion He showed, but to catch Him in some alleged mistake that would provide grounds for accusation.

Unfortunately, I have known people like that…

  • People who miss the main thrust of a 30-minute sermon because they focused in on one statement that they disagreed with or one Bible verse that was incorrectly cited.
  • People who come to Bible class not to learn or to grow as a part of the body or to be transformed by Scripture, but instead to correct the teacher every time they hear something they disagree with.
  • People who ignore the constant, tireless, loving care of the shepherds of their congregation and instead look for missteps or questionable decisions so they can loudly voice their criticism.

Watching people just so we can catch them doing something we don’t like in order to criticize them is not a characteristic of Jesus, nor of those who would be His followers. It is a graceless way of approaching life, where we feel justified in neglecting all of the good things a person does in order to focus in on their faults. It is what the enemies of Jesus did.

Second, making immediate plans to punish or pronounce judgment upon others is a characteristic of Jesus’ enemies. Mark 3.6 states that “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.”

If you are very familiar with the Gospel of Mark, you know that “immediately” is a key word. Mark is a gospel of action, and people are portrayed as quickly moving from one thing to another. In this instance, the clear implication is that the Pharisees take no time to absorb what Jesus is trying to teach; rather, without reflection, they rush headlong into a meeting with another group that is opposed to Jesus to begin making plans on how to bring Him down.

Although we should not be waiting and watching for people to mess up (see above), the reality is that people will mess up from time to time, or they might say something that we disagree with. When that occurs, the solution is not to go flying off the handle, enslaved to the demands of our emotional responses in the moment. Sure, there are times when someone says or does something that is so incorrect or inappropriate that it must be dealt with immediately, but not everything is a big deal.

A better course of action is to address the situation after our emotions have cooled and after we have had time for reflection, study, and prayer. And when we do that, many times we realize that it wasn’t such a big deal after all.

Without a doubt, our 24-hour news cycle-documented and social media-dominated society provides an environment where people can always be looking for the mistakes of others and can immediately condemn them. On top of that, it is an election season, which always seems to reveal that many of us think we can respond to political figures however we want to regardless of the fact that we claim to be disciples of Jesus, and that claim should have a major impact on our behavior. But let us be aware that when we take part in those practices, we look more like the enemies of Jesus than we do our Savior.

Reading in 2019

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2019:

  1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker
  3. Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks
  4. Success Sparklers: A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Sparkling Sayings for the Positive Person, compiled by Ivy Conner
  5. The Honorary Consul, by Graham Greene
  6. Small Group Strategies: Ideas & Activities for Developing Spiritual Growth in your Students, by Laurie Polich and Charley Scandlyn
  7. Walking Away From Idolatry, by Wes McAdams
  8. The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas
  10. The Hidden Harbor Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  11. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander
  14. Selected Stories of O. Henry, Introduction and Notes by Victoria Blake*
  15. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  16. Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross, by N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst
  17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter
  18. God, Guys, and Girls, by Derry Prenkert
  19. Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann
  20. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best When the World is at Its Worst, by Ed Stetzer
  21. How To Lose a Kingdom in 400 Years, by Michael Whitworth
  22. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  23. The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
  25. I Am A Church Member, by Thom S. Rainer
  26. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
  27. That’s Why We Sing: Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing, by Darryl Tippens
  28. Fire Upon the Earth: The Story of the Christian Church, by Norman F. Langford
  29. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  30. Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney
  31. The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan
  32. The Yellow Feather Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  33. The Clue in the Embers, by Franklin W. Dixon
  34. Murder at Wrigley Field, by Troy Soos
  35. Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ, by John Young
  36. New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young
  37. Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
  38. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  39. Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change, by Chris Field
  40. The Secret Agent on Flight 101, by Franklin W. Dixon
  41. Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  42. Discipeshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, by Jim Putnam & Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman
  43. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
  44. Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matter, by David Fraze
  45. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  46. The Fourfold Gospel, by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton
  47. Prayer, In Practice, by J.L. Gerhardt
  48. It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, by Peter Walsh
  49. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, by Jonathan Merritt
  50. D2: Becoming A Devoted Follower of Christ, by Phil McKinney II
  51. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  52. One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, by Clinton De France

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total decreased from 54 books in 2018 to 52 in 2019. I was pleased with this number considering that we moved in the middle of the year, my life was crazy busy preparing for that move and adjusting to it, and my reading time was (probably) somewhat less.
  • For the last several years, I have been between 48-54 books per year. This really seems to be my sweet spot.
  • This was my first full year removed from grad school, so I wondered how that would affect my reading. I still read a lot, with a decent amount of reading still geared toward faith, ministry, discipleship, biblical studies, etc.
  • I enjoyed my reading this past year. There were some books I didn’t love, but really, no major disappointments.

I want to share my Top 10 books for the year, but before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 10, but I still wanted to comment on:

  • The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter: this was a great book of memories of baseball players from the early 1900s. As a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I was delighted to recognize that this book was a major primary source for many of the quotations for that series.
  • Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney: This was a very short, yet very convicting, read. Christan parents, we really don’t have a good excuse for not having regular worship or devotional time at home with our families. If you want motivation, guidance, or conviction related to this, read this book.
  • The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan: This was a novel for children written by a friend, and I loved it. It is currently unpublished, and I read an early draft. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hands and tell you about it.
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith: This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it frequently. It doesn’t make my Top 10 list because that feels like cheating. Otherwise, it would be there almost every year.
  • Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans: RHE was just a couple years older than me, and tragically died from an illness earlier in 2019. I am not really the audience for this book, but I listened to the audio version (read by the author) and am so glad I did. I disagree with Evans on a variety of issues, but she is incredibly likable and it is clear that she genuinely loved God and other people, and wanted to remove barriers that prevented people from knowing the God she loved so much. It was good for me to read.

My favorite books from 2019.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs: This was a fascinating and tragic true story of a man who grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Newark but managed to find his way out and graduate with honors from Yale, only to end up back in his former neighborhood where he ultimately was murdered in a drug-related crime. This story was well-written and gripping, and also filled with impending dread, as you knew from the title that it would not end well. Memoirs are not the best way to analyze complex social issues, but this book did provide for thoughtful reflection on racial issues (which, between this book, The Other Wes Moore, and The New Jim Crow {described below}, was a repeated focus for me in 2019).
  • The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament Worldby Bruce W. Longenecker: Longenecker, a well-known biblical scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, writes this epistolary novel that consists of a series of letters between several characters, including Luke the Evangelist. What results is a moving story that helps to illuminate the New Testament world including aspects such as honor-shame culture, patronage, the nature of letter writing, and Roman persecution. It took a little bit for me to get into it, but by the end, I absolutely loved it.
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expeditionby Caroline Alexander: This was a fascinating account of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition complete with penetrating character studies and amazing photographs. This is simply an incredible, unbelievable tale. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah: I have discovered that I love reading fiction set in WWII, and this is a good example of this. This novel tells the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France, and the very different ways they seek to survive and resist during a very difficult time.
  • The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentaryby Robert Alter: Alter is a world-renowned expert on the Hebrew Bible who gives special attention to its literary features. This is his own translation along with commentary, which I used for my daily Bible reading early in the year. I don’t know Hebrew well enough to evaluate how great his translation is, but it was certainly readable, and I found his commentary to be frequently insightful.
  • New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young: I mentioned this book, and Young, in my recap of this past year’s Harding Lectureship, where I heard him speak three times. The short version of the book is that Churches of Christ (and really, churches across the spectrum) are declining in the United States, and the solution to this problem is to get serious about prayer, making disciples, and planting churches. If you have come to suspect that church should be about more than a social gathering, worship wars, and a consumeristic buffet of programs catering to the whims of members, this book is for you (wow, that was a little preachy!).
  • Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Changeby Chris Field: I did not have high expectations for this book, but I really liked it. Basically, it is a book about how to bring about culture change: you have to find a problem that really bothers you, and then attack it with creativity and perseverance. Most of the book is a series of inspiring vignettes of people who did exactly that. This was a really encouraging book for me.
  • Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matterby David Fraze: I already reviewed this book here on the blog, so I don’t feel the need to say much here, other than the fact that this is now one of my favorite youth ministry books (I read a lot of them), and I plan on using it from now on with all of my youth ministry interns.
  • 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson: Although I have friends who are big fans of Peterson, I was not a fan, and actually began to read this book with a great deal of skepticism. Peterson’s breadth of knowledge is so vast that I found it difficult to evaluate at times (Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?). At other times, when he crossed into areas I could better evaluate, I was blown away: his handling of the biblical text, especially the Book of Genesis, was very impressive (he is a little shakier on the teachings of Jesus—on a very deep level, I don’t think Peterson knows what to do with Him). Ultimately, what I would say is that each of Peterson’s rules range from helpful to profound, even if I don’t fully agree with all of the reasoning he uses to arrive at them. I “read” this book in audio format, and will likely reread it, soon.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander has two basic arguments in the book: (1) the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color (specifically through the War on Drugs), relegating a large chunk of African American society to being residents of an “undercaste”, and (2) this has been done intentionally. Although I don’t believe she established her second argument (to be fair, I don’t want to believe it), her first point seems absolutely clear to me. For those who do not understand (or worse, deny) the reality of systemic racism, this is a great book to read.

That was my reading for 2019. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2020, and can’t wait to get into them.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Book Review: Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry

Recently, I was taking advantage of a sale from Leafwood Publishers when I happened upon David Fraze’s Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths that Matter, and decided to buy it. I am so glad that I did! Simply put, this book was outstanding; it is the youth ministry book that I was planning to write one day, and now I don’t have to (which is good, because Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry is better than what I would have produced!).

The book is split into 22 chapters of different concepts and aspects of youth ministry that matter. It is a diverse list, including topics ranging from The Bible, to Office Hours, to Sexual Purity, to Volunteers, and beyond. Each chapter is short, and contains three sections: “Why?”, “How?”, and “Now?” In the “Why?” section, Fraze discusses why a given topic matters, engaging the biblical text and providing theological justification for his point. In the “How?” section, he then offers practical tips to improve your ministry in that area, and in the “Now?” section, he offers first steps for improvement moving forward.

There were a lot of ideas in the book that I found to be very helpful, but here were some of my favorite quotations:

“Adult involvement is a key factor in measuring youth ministry success. In fact, adults are one of the main reasons students stay involved with the church after graduation.…To be most effective, youth ministers need to work to get the entire congregation involved in youth ministry.” (43-44)

“Marriage is intended to be a reflection of the intimate love, devotion, and sacrifice Christ has for the church. Therefore, a youth minister’s marriage is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, testimonies and tools he has to impact the lives of teenagers with the gospel of Jesus.” (80)

“Regarding Mondays after a weekend trip, most of the jobs your parents and adult volunteers work at expect that office hours be kept with excellence and responsibility. Regardless of whether they sponsored a weekend you retreat, they will be at work, on time, the next day. I expect the same type of office hours out of my employees. If it is not a day off, then get to work, on time.” (101-02)

“If your students and adults do what you do, would there be any outreach happening in your student ministry?” (121)

“While important, the events of youth ministry in and of themselves do not possess the life-changing power often bestowed on them by youth ministers. The events possess life-changing power to develop and support relationships with God’s people. The relationships are what matter.” (136)

It is really hard for me to overstate how much I enjoyed this book. While it does not offer an in-depth look at any of the topics included, it is an excellent introductory work for youth ministry. It would provide an invaluable resource to new youth ministers, but also is a helpful refresher for youth ministry veterans like myself, and also a way for me to reflect upon and improve in areas where I am weaker. I strongly recommend this book for anyone involved in youth ministry work (youth ministers, youth ministry students, youth deacons and elders, youth volunteers, etc.).

Imitating the Devil

Introduction

A central Christian teaching is that for those who are in Christ, our lives are spent in the process of sanctification—in conjunction with our own efforts and desires, God’s Spirit works in us to transform our lives into conformity with that of Jesus Christ. In short, we seek to imitate Christ, and the Spirit helps us to do that.

While this is the goal, the sobering reality is that if we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves imitating someone very different—the Devil. That perhaps seems like a sensationalistic claim—what Christians actually set out to imitate the Evil One? By intention, it may not happen, but by action, it happens all too frequently. Let me explain.

Titles, Not Names

It will be surprising to some to hear that the Evil One mentioned in Scripture is nowhere given a name; he is repeatedly given titles and descriptions: the dragon, the serpent, the devil, the father of lies, etc.—even Satan is not a name—in the original language, it is used with a definite article (“the Satan”).[1]

What I think is helpful about realizing that this murky character is only described with titles is that these titles tell us something about his character—a character that Christians can emulate if we are not careful.

The Father of Lies

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(John 8.44)

This one is pretty obvious: the Evil One is a liar. We see it in his deception of Adam and Even in the Garden, and we see it on a regular basis as he whispers to us that the ways God has laid out for us aren’t really the best ways, or that we are too broken to be loved by our Creator and to be used by Him. He is a liar and the father of lies.

And here is the scary part: when we lie, not only do we fail to imitate Christ, but we are actively imitating the father of lies. Being people of integrity is such a fundamental characteristic of Jesus’ disciples that He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.33-37), but we easily resort to being people of evasion, partial truths, and outright dishonesty. When we do this, we may not be intentionally imitating the Devil, but in our lack of careful intention to be people of absolute integrity, we imitate him nonetheless.

The Devil

This one may be less obvious to us because we tend to associate devil with a red creature with horns and a pitchfork, but really, the Greek word that is translated devil is διαβολος (from which we get our word diabolical), which means “the slanderer.” Obviously, this term is also related to the notion of dishonesty, but slander is more specific. Slander is “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.”[2]

Interestingly, this same word is used in Scripture to describe people:

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

1 Timothy 3.11

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3.1-5

Depending on translation, this Greek word can be rendered as “slanderers” or “malicious gossips,” but the basic idea is clear enough: talking bad about people is diabolical. The Evil One is a slanderer. He is the Devil.

And here is the scary part: when we slander, when we talk badly or share untrue statements about people, we do not imitate Christ, but we are actively imitating the Devil. Being people who consistently speak in God-honoring ways is a huge challenge for followers of Jesus, and Scripture is full of admonitions regarding how we use our tongues and words (Ephesians 4.15; Colossians 4.6; James 3.6). This does not mean that we can never say anything negative about another person, but I do think it means that we should refrain from saying things about people that we wouldn’t say to them, that we should make sure that what we say is true, and that we should make sure that what we say is said in love. 

The Satan

This one may be the hardest of all for us to see initially, because we are so used to thinking of Satan as a name. But it is actually a title. Ha satan (הַשָּׂטָן) literally means “the adversary” or “the accuser”. It can be used in a general sense:

And the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite.

(1 Kings 11.14a)

The Angel of Yahweh is referred to this way:

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary.

(Numbers 22.22a)

But when the term is used with the definite article (“the”) before it, it specifically refers to the rebellious spiritual being who has set himself in opposition to the will of God. This is how he is described at the beginning of the Book of Job, as he brings the case of Job before God and stands as an adversary against Job, accusing him of possessing a love for God that is shallow and deficient. We see a similar characterization in the Book of Revelation, where the evil creature variously described as the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan hurls accusations against God’s people day and night (Revelation 12.9-10). The Evil One is an adversary of God’s people, who lobs accusations against them.

And here is the scary part: when we oppose and accuse God’s people, we are not imitating Christ, but rather, are actively imitating the Satan. This is challenging for me. There are a lot of believers who are different than I am in various ways. Some of these differences are significant, and at times it is tempting for me to magnify the differences and question the hearts and motive of people with whom I disagree. But this is dangerous spiritual ground to occupy. I am sometimes humbled by the words of Jesus in Mark 9.40: “For the one who is not against us is for us.” I struggle at times to know how to apply these words, but I know that my perspective is often closer to that of the disciples than Jesus. And I know that I don’t want to be an accuser or adversary of God’s people. I don’t want to imitate the Satan.

Conclusion

This has not been an exhaustive post—there are other titles of the Evil One (like, for example, “Evil One”!) that we could look at, but I think the general point has been established. Rather than talking about an evil figure named Satan, Scripture uses lots of titles to describe this character. These descriptions let us know what he is like and what his motives are, and should also provide conviction for us that, if we are not careful, we can in a very real sense imitate the Father of Lies, the Devil, the Satan. For those of us who are instead called to be imitators of Christ, this obviously will not do.

Father of mercies,

Forgive us our sins and shortcomings.

May your Spirit,

Day by day,

Transform us into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.


[1] I don’t have issues with people using Satan as a name; I am just pointing out that this is not a name in Greek or Hebrew, and is not how biblical authors used it.

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slander

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