The Evangelist on the Titanic

800px-RMS_Titanic_3Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the most famous boating accident in history. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40pm. It sank into its watery grave on April 15, 1912 at 2:20am. The vessel settled 13,000 feet below the surface 400 miles off of Newfoundland, Canada. The wreckage, discovered in 1985, sits as a haunting monument to the ship that was hailed as the unsinkable ship. The maximum capacity on the lifeboats was not enough to rescue everyone aboard. As we now know, death awaited 1500 of the 2200 aboard that fateful night. While the ship was sinking, the good news of Jesus Christ was preached to those on board in the waning minutes of life. A man named John Harper used the last moments of his life to talk to others about their eternal destiny. Here’s the account as published online by Dan Graves, “While Titanic Sank, John Harper Preached.” Even though 1500 people entered eternity that night, perhaps some received the gift of eternal life as a result of one man’s faithful witness of Christ’s love to those who were perishing.

The clear April night sky was filled with sparkling stars as the largest and finest steamship in the world sped through the calm seas of the icy North Atlantic. Many of the passengers had gone to bed, but some still could be found in the lounges, enjoying the Titanic’s luxury. No one was alarmed by the slight jar felt around 11:15, but many noticed when they no longer felt the vibrations of the engines.

Ignoring iceberg warnings, the Titanic had been steaming full speed ahead. Suddenly she struck a large iceberg which ripped her side. Within fifteen minutes the captain realized the danger of the situation, and the wireless operator put out a call for assistance. Sailors made lifeboats ready and ordered women and children to get into them first (Christian culture had stamped the ideas of chivalry into men, making them willing to give up their lives for women and children as their protectors, something rarely seen in other cultures). There were 12 honeymooning couples on board the ship. Though all of the brides were saved, only one of the grooms survived.

The captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a rag-time tune, but soon was playing hymns.

There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner– barely enough for 1/3 of the passengers and crew. Not all of them could be lowered. All 85 engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. At the end many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them.

Throughout the mournful, evacuation, with loved ones being tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what was played that night. Several people in the life boats heard “Nearer My God to Thee.”

One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year old daughter into a life boat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man “Are you saved?” When the man answered no, John said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

When the Titanic sank early in the morning on this day, April 15, 1912, John Harper was among the 1,522 people who died. The band went down with the ship. The last hymn they played was “Autumn,” which concludes with the prayer

Hold me up in mighty waters
Keep my eyes on things above,
Righteousness, divine Atonement,
Peace, and everlasting Love.

An Outreach Parable

The year is 1621 in Massachusetts.  The English settlers have endured a brutal winter.  Their numbers are fewer; some contracted illness Massachusetts Winterand died.  Others survived.  And now it’s finally Spring.  A man wakes up to the melodious sounds of birds singing.  The man knows that the time has come to prepare the soil and plant the crops.  Supplies are dangerously low and they will last the man and his family until harvest but no longer.  This man contracted a severe illness along with others but as Providence would have it, he survived.  Though he is much improved, his body is still feeling the effects of the illness.  Even so, he knows in spite of his personal discomfort he must labor in the field.  The lives of his wife and children depend on it.  He goes out to the field and labors but before too long he is tired and his health rapidly deteriorates.  Based on his level of discomfort, he leaves the field.  One day passes and then another.  Days turn into weeks.  The field is never prepared and no seeds are ever sown.  The family prays for an abundant harvest because their rations are nearly depleted but they pray in vain because no seeds were ever sown.  Harvest comes.  The family eats their final meager portions.  The man now sees the irrevocable and tragic effects of his decision to consider his own comfort before the well-being of his family.  Their supplies are spent.  The man and his family die.  Unknown to this family, many of the other settlers also experienced severe personal discomfort while laboring in the fields but they persevered because the lives of others depended on them.  They prepared the soil and unsparingly sowed seeds.  They prayed for God to bless their labors.  He rewarded them with a bountiful harvest.

There are two lessons on outreach from this parable.

  1. We are often quick to succumb to our personal discomfort when it comes to being a witness for Christ.  Sadly, this means our discomfort is more important to us than the lost souls of men. So are you willing to move beyond your personal discomfort in being a witness for Christ, especially this Easter season?  Are you willing to labor in the fields of the gospel for the sake of others regardless of the personal cost?
  2. We cannot pray for a gospel harvest if we never sow gospel seeds.  God cannot and will not bless outreach efforts we never carry out.  Are you praying for God to bless your non-efforts?   Conversely, we can and should pray for God to bring forth a harvest of souls when we faithfully and liberally sow gospel seeds.  The gospel is still the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes!

Who Will Go?

John Piper writes in his biography on Adoniram Judson,

Patrick Johnstone says in Operation World that only in the 1990s did we get a reasonably complete listing of the world’s peoples. For the first time we can see clearly what is left to be done. There are about 12,000 ethnolinguistic peoples in the world. About 3,500 of these have, on average, 1.2% Christian populations—about 20 million of the 1.7 billion people, us­ing the broadest, nominal definition of Christian. Most of these least reached 3,500 peoples are in the 10/40 window and are religiously unsympathetic to Christian missions. That means that that we must go to these peoples with the gospel, and it will be dangerous and costly. Some of us and some of our children will be killed (John Piper, Adoniram Judson: How Few There Are Who Die So Hard!, 6-7).

The need is mind-boggling in scope.  So the question remains, “who will go?”

Halloween: Redeem or Retreat?

LS014997Should Christians participate in Halloween festivities?  Should Christians seek to redeem Halloween?  If yes, how should they go about it?  If no, what should Christians do when little trick-or-treaters come all festooned to their door?  These are questions I’ve wrestled with every Halloween.  Like our forty-fourth president said on a different matter, my views on these questions are “evolving.”  Should Christians seek to redeem Halloween or retreat from it?  Here are four observations about Halloween and four actions my family will take this year.

Four Observations

1. It is true, Halloween has a dark and diabolical history.  Albert Mohler has written about this.  This is the main reason most Christians struggle with how to approach Halloween.  We must also come to terms with the reality that while Halloween is still very much about ghouls and gore it is also significantly about green.  According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend $75.03 on decorations, costumes, and candy for Halloween.  Total spending on Halloween will approach $7 billion (that’s right billion) this year, second only to Christmas for retailers.  This holiday represents consumerism as much as it does evil.  This observation reminds us that every holiday is touched by the prince and power of the air and tainted by depravity to some extent.

2. Halloween is a celebration of that which is evil and ugly.  A friend of mine, Greg Stiekes, introduced me to this consideration some years ago.  He wrote,

Nevertheless, as believers in Christ, we must be wise in our approach to this holiday, for no matter how innocent our celebration there is still one part of Halloween that remains: the spooky, ugly, eerie, horrible, vile, scary, fearsome, grotesque, and ghostly.  Remember, a holiday is a celebration.  And when we celebrate those kinds of qualities, we are very close to celebrating that which is bad, and what is bad is very close to what is evil.  Halloween has always been connected to the monstrous, dark spiritual, demonic, and mysterious.

By contrast, Paul said this to the believers in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).  As believers, we are to celebrate the noble and good.

This consideration makes me want to approach Halloween discerningly so that my family doesn’t move from redeeming the holiday to being immersed in the trappings that militate against biblical virtues.

3. Christians should be willing to wrestle with the “in not of” principle as it relates to Halloween (cf. John 17:13-16; Romans 12:2).  We are in the world but not of it.  So to what extent can we use Halloween as a redemptive opportunity without being swept away by the eerie and evil torrent of the holiday?

4. Christians should be guided by their conscience.  Whether Christians should redeem or retreat on Halloween is a matter of “opinion” (Romans 14:1, ESV, NASB; “doubtful disputations” KJV; “doubtful things” NKJV; “doubtful issues” HCSB; “disputable matters” NIV).  As a Christian, I have two Biblical responsibilities on how I approach Halloween according to Romans 14.  First, I must be persuaded in my own mind about whether or not to observe this holiday (Romans 14:5).  Second, I must not condemn a fellow Christian who comes to a different conclusion than I do (Romans 14:10, 13; cf. Colossians 2:16).  So do not feel obligated to participate in or make an effort to redeem Halloween if your conscience forbids you to do this.  On the other hand, do not judge another believer whose conscience permits him or her to participate in or redeem Halloween to some extent.

Four Actions

As for me and my house…

1. We plan to leave the lights on.  In the past, we have turned the lights off and not responded to the summons of the doorbell when trick-or-treaters came to our door.  We did this with good intentions but this approach was awkward.  We will leave the lights on this Halloween.

2. We plan to distribute treats and tracts. One good article I came across, “12 Simple Ways to Be on Mission this Halloween,” suggested not to give out tracts because kids want candy not tracts.  The author makes a good point—sort of.   Why settle for an either/or approach—either candy or tracts?  We will take a both/and approach—both candy and tracts.  We will distribute EvanTell’s “CrossTalk” tract along with candy.

3. We plan to be hospitable.  As I write this the forecast shows rain with a high of 47 degrees on Halloween.  It appears that it will be a cool and damp night.  Offering hot apple cider is a possibility.  We are still relatively new in our neighborhood so we don’t want to miss the opportunity to meet and greet neighbors who will come to our door.

4. We plan to involve our children.  The kids will help prepare and pass out the treats and tracts and may dress up in some of their superhero or soldier outfits.

It’s a very simple approach for us but different from what we’ve done in years past.  I know this is an issue that can generate more heat than light.  Nevertheless, I would enjoy hearing about what others do on Halloween.  What have you done on Halloween?  What do you plan to do this year?

Harold Camping and Family Radio Letter

This news story caught my attention a few moments ago, “Calif. Preacher: World’s End Prediction ‘Wrong‘”.  Curious, I went to the Family Radio website.  Sure enough, there is a letter posted on the Family Radio website.  There is a link to “An Important Letter from Mr. Camping” under the “Click to listen” golden microphone at the time of this post.  You can read the entire letter here.

I have little interest or time to parse the letter.  I am taking it at face value.  However, as I read it I was struck by the very real tone of humility.  Camping writes,

The May 21 campaign was an astounding event if you think about its impact upon this world. There is no question that millions, if not billions of people heard for the first time the Bible’s warning that Jesus Christ will return. Huge portions of this world that had never read or seen a Bible heard the message the Christ Jesus is coming to rapture His people and destroy this natural world.

Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way. In the months following May 21 the Bible has, in some ways, come out from under the shadows and is now being discussed by all kinds of people who never before paid any attention to the Bible. We learn about this, for example, by the recent National Geographic articles concerning the King James Bible and the Apostles. Reading about and even discussing about the Bible can never be a bad thing, even if the Bible’s authenticity is questioned or ridiculed. The world’s attention has been called to the Bible.

We must also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.

We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours! We humbly recognize that God may not tell His people the date when Christ will return, any more than He tells anyone the date they will die physically.

We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking. But we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.

I would have liked to see the pronoun “we” changed to “I” throughout the letter since the May 21 date for the apocalypse was Camping’s baby.  Nevertheless, while I have significant points of theological disagreements with Harold Camping and Family Radio, I commend him for his humility.  We ALL, every one of us, know how hard it is to say “I was wrong.”  In any case, the whole May 21, 2011 fiasco is a hit-you-between-the-eyes illustration that we must not be consumed with end-time date-setting.  The Father has fixed the time of His Son’s return to establish His kingdom and it is not for us to know, period.  In the meantime, we must be witnesses to the risen Christ while still exclaiming, “Maranatha!”

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ [7] He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. [8] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ (Acts 1:6-8, ESV)

Respectable Accomodation?

Douglas Wilson wrote a good word in an article reflecting on the death of Christopher Hitchens, “Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects“.  As I read and interacted with Hitchens’ writings, I found that Hitchens’ was likeable.  I haven’t found the same to be true about the others who are of the same philosophical ilk as Hitchens, such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  Consequently, the news of Hitchens’ death saddened me.  What is even more sad is that Hitchens’ views led him down a path that now is unalterable.  The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19).  If Hitchens repented of his sins and placed his faith in Christ, the Lord knows it and has welcomed Hitchens into heaven on the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If he didn’t, the Lord knows this too and Hitchens will spend an eternity in hell away from the presence of the Lord he rejected (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

One part of Wilson’s article caught my attention because I’m teaching a class at church on the gospel and evangelism.  This Sunday we will talk about the importance of knowing, believing, and defending our faith.  Wilson mentioned this in his article.  You cannot approach a person like Hitchens and be tentative about your faith.  You cannot strive for respectability and accommodation at the same time.  You either believe it with conviction or why bother.  I hope this citation spurs you on to be a Christian who holds your faith with conviction instead of seeking to accommodate for the sake of respectability.  It won’t work.  Here’s what Wilson said,

So we [Hitchens and Wilson] got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10). Ironically, the branch of the faith most interested in getting the “cultured despisers” to pay us some respect is really not that effective, and this is a strategy that can frequently be found on the pointed end of its own petard. Respectability depends on not caring too much about respectability. Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”

A Lesson from General Dwight Eisenhower on the Importance of Christian Witness

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five-star general who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of France and Germany in 1944-5.  He went on to become the 34th president of the United States from 1953-1961.

Eisenhower told his soldiers to be good witnesses of all they saw during World War II, specifically of the Holocaust.  Why?  He had enough insight to recognize that if the embers of a historical event fade from the memory of first-hand witnesses, they will never be rekindled.  Eisenhower visited concentration camps with reserve but compelled by the necessity to be an eye-witness of the horrors that occurred at these places of indescribable human suffering.  Following one of his visits, he sent a cable to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, General George C. Marshall.  It said, in part:

The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they [there] were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit [to Gotha] deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda” (Michael Hirsch, The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust; emphasis added).

Eisenhower was prophetic.  While few, some have dismissed the Holocaust as a fabrication.  The Holocaust was an awful event that has been propagated by those who were first-hand eyewitnesses.  As followers of Christ we have the glorious event of the gospel that was propagated by the apostles who were first-hand eyewitness of Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is now our duty as witnesses to carry forward the message that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.