Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
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A Leader’s Greatest Need

Last night I spoke with a family member who has caught the COVID-19 virus. A sure and confident voice was replaced with one much weaker. Between coughs and gasps for air, we talked about life as it is in these days. He is hopeful that he might be past the worse of it. Just days ago, he was not sure he would make it through the week. Ironically, when the body is failing, the mind becomes stronger, clearer. You talk about the things that matter. We did.

With life coming to an end, the apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy to avoid godless chatter, “because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” In the same letter, Paul warns his son to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, “because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Tim 2:16, 23). Imagine what he would have said if social media and newscasts dominated the day!

When one stares at death, there is no time for these things. But then, in the peak of health, we should have no time for the inane drivel, the cr—” that so plagues us today. Books like Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer, Wiser Life (or at least Carter’s “Why the News Makes Us Dumb,” First Things) should find their way to our reading shelves.

So what does one talk about when all that you really want to talk about are the things that matter? We talked about mutual honor. Respecting one another, even if we disagree. We seem to no longer know how to do this. There’s little civility in our day. We’ve lost our ability to listen, show deference. We watch the news with a kind of tunnel vision. We let someone else’s anger become our outrage.

The tragedy is that it is happening on multiple levels, including nation, family, and church.

Yes, there are times we must be intolerant. As believers, we must have the compulsion—and the courage—to speak and act intolerantly toward what we see as evil. This will have its cost. As Peter Leithart puts it, “When all convictions are sacrificed to tolerance, the intolerant become intolerable.” Those of us who have convictions about character, lifestyle, life, purity, and integrity are increasingly becoming unbearable. We have a prejudice for truth, and this is coming with its costs.

We will need the words from this same letter of Paul’s to Timothy: “Guard the truth, stand your ground, keep what you have heard, do not be ashamed, and keep your head.”

Yet, in the same letter, Paul also tells Timothy to be strong in grace. It’s a dangerous text to reflect on. I know. God may just bring to mind someone you disagree with, someone who might see a different evil. Someone who has one’s own arguments. Someone you may need to call and say, “Help me to hear your heart.” Someone you may need to humble yourself and ask, “Can we focus on the bigger things?”

Grace is the essence of who we are in Christ. It is showing goodness to those who deserve severity, receiving even if we have not been received, and kindness to those who take a different position. It is about mutual honor and respect.

If we are not strong in grace, it doesn’t matter if we are strong in anything else—strong in how much we give to a work, how much we pray, how well we write or teach. Or how competent we are in our leading.

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