The girl who changed my life – Christie Jo Johnston

I have been thinking about her all day.  She is so kind and has a heart filled with such goodness.  If she has any fault, she ignores herself and puts everyone and everything before her.  So, I asked my wife, Cristie Jo Johnston, to head home and begin an new era where once-and-for-all she put “Cristie first,” after, of course, our wonderful Lord.

Ours is a love affair.  It began in October of 1978.  On March 6 we will celebrate 36 years of marriage,  Sincerely, I have enjoyed every day of it!  I thought I might incrementally tell you how we met and why the sizzle of our romance never faded.

I’ll make our introduction brief:  Cristie, age 18, after high test scores was told she had failed the State of Michigan Board to receive her cosmetology license.  To say she was shocked would be an understatement.  Every semester she receive straight “A’s.”  Simultaneously to this jarring disappointment, her Dad, Al Huf, was asked by a friend to come here a young 19-year-old evangelist named, Jerry Johnston, holding an evangelistic outreach at Calvary Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan.  Confused and disheartened by her failure, she reluctantly accepted her Dad’s invitation to attend and they sat on the second-row-from-the-front of the church auditorium.

God was moving mightily and the crusade had extended to three weeks every night.  Thousands of people attended.  On the second Sunday night, prior to my message, as spiritually as I knew how I leaned over to the pastor, Earl Webb, and asked, “Who is that gorgeous girl on the second row?”  He told me she was one of the four Huf girls.  Immediately, I was interested.  One week later when she asked me to sign her Bible I doted and took my time really transfixed just looking at her.

Cristie would later learn there was a clerical error in Lansing, Michigan, and she had, indeed, passed the bar exam with high grades and her cosmetology license was immediately granted with a written apology.  Was it an accident that the registrar made the error?  Cristie probably would not have accompanied her Dad to my Crusade had she had not been asking, “God, what is going on?  I have a job already secured at one of the best salons in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”  The Lord used that “disappointment” as a big “appointment” for us to meet.  I’ll give you the next chapter in a few days.  By the way, I married her 5 1/2 months later, and I am crazy about her.

Daniel Plan With Pastor Rick Warren Part #3

Pastor Rick Warren is the founding Pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, California. He is also a best selling author of several books including “The Purpose Driven Life”. Most recently Pastor Warren has Co-Authored the book “The Daniel Plan”. The Daniel Plan is a groundbreaking, healthy lifestyle program where people get better together. With love as the motivation, it’s a story of abundance, not deprivation. Relying on God’s power and the support and encouragement of friends, get ready to be transformed from the inside out. www.thedanielplan.com

 

 

Why? Philip Yancey responds …

Philip Yancey says he wrote his first “real book” at the age of twenty-seven:  Where Is God When it Hurts?  If you haven’t read it, you should — 1.5 million copies have been sold.  Yancey came to visit @100Huntley Street TV program with his latest book, The Question That Never Goes Away: WHY?  We all ask “Why,” don’t we?  Why did you allow my Mom to die, God?  Why did Kyle, 16, hang himself.  I was suppose to conduct his funeral but my flight was delayed by bad weather.  The funeral home was filled to overwhelming with his teenage friends asking, WHY?  My wife Cristie stood before those young people in my absence, explained the Gospel, and invited anyone and everyone willing to pray with her and invite Jesus Christ into their lives.  Many did as their collective voices echoed together.

I asked Yancey what his answer would be to atheists and agnostics who have experienced and studied tragedy.  Romans 8:28 has two qualifiers.  It reads,  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”  The promise is not universal — it is uniquely applicable to true believers in Jesus Christ:  the called, and those who love God.

We trace some tragedies to sin that is ever present in our world.  The signature of sin has destroyed many lives and marriages.  But there are some tragedies we will never be able to understand until we enter heaven and possess perfect knowledge in a perfect land.  The prophet Habakkuk wrote “But the just shall live by his faith” (2:4).  Someday we will know.  Someday we will understand.  But now we must take every experience in life by faith – trusting in a God who has everything perfectly in His control even when it seems things are out of control.

At a Leaders Luncheon @ Crossroads on Tuesday we listened as Philip Yancey told us how Francis Collins, the American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project and Director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, reached out to noted atheist Christopher Hitchens as who died of Esophageal cancer, tumor(s) of the esophagus.  While some professed Christians were filling the internet with vitriol condemning Hitchens to hell, Dr. Collins was quietly extending the finest and latest medical research and suggestions possible in hope that Hitchens might be cured.  Simultaneously, Hitchens was writing articles periodically appearing in Vanity Fair of his cancer journey and continued firm commitment to atheism undeterred.

Collins showed love  to Hitchens.  This was Philip Yancey’s admonition to us – the church must be there demonstrating love at all times, particularly, the difficult, extreme trials people endure.  Hitchens wrote something curious shortly before his death.  He said that if he had met Christians, who were more like Dr. Francis Collins earlier in his life he might have considered Christianity.  Think about it.

Do you see something profane?  Are you exposed to a person, made in the image of God, walking in darkness.  Show them love.  Yancey’s message registered loud and clear with me.

To see our interview go to www.100Huntley.com or go to this link: http://www.100huntley.com/video?id=bg3SIHhM–k

North Korea #1 Country Persecuting Christian – Rev. Paul Estabrooks

For the last 13 years North Korea has ranked as the #1 country persecuting Christians!  The intense persecution has continued under the new leader Kim Jong-Un.  It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in horrific prison camps.  By the time you read this www.openarms.org will release (January 8) the 2014 list of the Top 50 countries where Christians are imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for their faith.  Be sure to download the list and add it to your daily prayer journal.

The Top 10 Persecuting countries in 2013 after North Korea are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.  Eight of the Top 10 are Islamic majority countries.  In addition, to Mali at #7 and Tanzania #24, other newcomers on the Top 50 list are Kenya #40, Uganda #47, and Niger #50.  The Arab Spring has definitely turned into an Arab Winter for Christians!  The civil war in Syria, which has killed at least 40,000 people, boosted the country standing to #11.

Today I interviewed a true experienced, compassionate veteran to the persecuted church, Rev. Paul M.F. Estabrooks, Minister-At-Large for Open Doors, the world’s largest outreach to persecuted Christians in the most high-risk places.  I can’t say enough good things about Paul.  For 34 years he has encouraged and ministered to suffering Christians in Cuba, Tibet, Iraq, Bhutan, Mongolia, Iran, India, Russia, and the Middle East.  Go on Amazon.com and get his books.  Escape from North Korea is a breath-taking story of one valiant believer’s escape from North Korea.   Be sure to watch today’s interview on 100 Huntley Street: http://www.100huntley.com/video?id=F4AJiFscqNA.  I was so touched by Paul’s ministry and our interview revealed a stunning fact most people don’t know.

Kim Il-sung was the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea, since its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994, and revered as a god.  Did you know his mother was a believer in Jesus Christ!  Faithful Canadian missionaries came to North Korea and God used them to ignite the Pyongyang revival of 1907-08 when the church grew from 800 to 23,000 in one year!  Paul led a Canadian prayer team through North Korea three years ago and prayed for the communist Colonel at the DMZ.

Is you day filled with you just thinking about your petty problems and life’s minor aches?  Transition your mind – every day pray for Christians who are dying for their faith and experiencing such unspeakable horrors.  May God comfort their dear hearts and may we each day pray earnestly for them.  Thank God for Brother Andrew and his team.  I read his book, God’s Smuggler, shortly after I became a Christian and I never forgot it.  Today was one of those touching days for me – Paul Estabrooks challenged my walk with Jesus Christ.  God bless and protect your Paul!

Daniel Plan with Pastor Rick Warren Part #2

Pastor Rick Warren is the founding Pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, California. He is also a best selling author of several books including “The Purpose Driven Life”. Most recently Pastor Warren has Co-Authored the book “The Daniel Plan”. The Daniel Plan is a groundbreaking, healthy lifestyle program where people get better together. With love as the motivation, it’s a story of abundance, not deprivation. Relying on God’s power and the support and encouragement of friends, get ready to be transformed from the inside out. www.thedanielplan.com

The Tragic Illiteracy of the Mental Illness of Adolescents

New York Times OP-ED columnist, Nicholas Kristof, in the January 4 edition ask readers to “suggest issues that deserve more attention in 2014.”  Kristof adds, “My own suggestion for a systematically neglected issue: mental health.”  And, I could not agree more.  But, my focus is on adolescent mental health … almost an unmentionable.  Pastors, youth pastors, parents, and faculty are often illiterate to the signs of a teen suffering from mental illness.  How can we effectively minister to these needy young people?  The average pastor, youth pastor, and faculty member is interfacing on an almost daily basis with mentally ill youth who are hoping someone will understand their pain and help them.

A few months ago I visited the Columbine Memorial where each of the deceased children’s names and epitaphs are written in a sacred spot behind the school.  Craig Scott, a decade plus later, told me how the pain has lingered.  His sister, Rachel was shot at close range in the school yard.  Craig suffered by playing dead in the library next to a dead student.  Thirty plus years of ministry has taught me there are both spiritual and mental health issues at work in the lives of youth and we would be wise, attentive, and informed, on both, as we interact with these dear people God has entrusted to our care.

Adam Lanza, who shot his mother, and inflicted such carnage in a classroom full of elementary school children at the now demolished Sandy Hook Elementary School was mentally ill.  He idolized two other mentally ill students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers.  But, mental illness does not restrict itself to violent homicide.  I am convinced five informative documentaries need to be produced on the following mental illnesses and how they inflict young people:  1). depression,  2). Hyper Active Attention Deficit Disorder,  3).  Bi-polar,  4). Schizophrenia, and 5). Eating disorders.  Incalculable training from these documentaries could prevent the suffering so many young people and their parents and families endure.  When you have a relative who is mentally ill, as I do, you truly understand the profound empathy needed in this area of acute need.

Kristof writes, “One-quarter of American adult suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, including depression, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, according to the National Institutes of Health. Such disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, the N.I.H. says.”  And, the real tragedy is that most mentally ill young people are mostly a danger to themselves more than others.  That helps explain the 38,000 suicides annually in the United States.

Kristof gives hope, “The truth is that mental illness is not hopeless, and people recover all the time. Consider John Nash, the Princeton University mathematics genius who after a brilliant early career then tumbled into delusions and involuntary hospitalization — captured by the book and movie ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Nash spent decades as an obscure, mumbling presence on the Princeton campus before regaining his mental health and winning the Nobel Prize for economics.”

If we could become literate to warning and interventions signs of adolescent mental illness and carefully and tenderly respond, just as we would if a student broke an arm or leg, think of the dramatic, exponential positive good that could be done.  Is there a spiritual component to mentally ill youth? Yes.  But, we cannot continue to be ignorant as we watch tragedy after tragedy occur and families and parents live in continued agony and remorse.  Education is needed.

Let me leave you with a final thought Kristof expressed, “Children in particular don’t get treated nearly often enough. The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that of children ages 6 to 17 who need mental health services, 80 percent don’t get help. Racial and ethnic minorities are even more underserved.”*

[*Source:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/opinion/sunday/kristof-first-up-mental-illness-next-topic-is-up-to-you.html?emc=eta1 (accessed January 5, 2104).]

Daniel Plan with Pastor Rick Warren Part #1

Pastor Rick Warren is the founding Pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, California. He is also a best selling author of several books including “The Purpose Driven Life”. Most recently Pastor Warren has Co-Authored the book “The Daniel Plan”. The Daniel Plan is a groundbreaking, healthy lifestyle program where people get better together. With love as the motivation, it’s a story of abundance, not deprivation. Relying on God’s power and the support and encouragement of friends, get ready to be transformed from the inside out. www.thedanielplan.com

 

Lunch w/ Dr. Jay Sekulow – Pray for Pastor Saeed in Iran Prison

I had lunch today with Dr. Jay Sekulow.  I appreciate so much all his organization is doing to see Pastor Saeed Abedini, a dual U.S. – Iranian citizen, released from a cruel prison.  Saeed has been detained in Iran since the summer of 2012 and was incarcerated in Evin Prison.  A former Muslim who became a believer in Jesus Christ, in the early 2000s, Pastor Saeed became prominent in the house church movement in Iran.  He is credited with establishing about 100 house churches in 30 Iranian cities. With the election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in 2005, the house church movement was subjected to a crackdown by Iranian authorities and the Abedinis moved back to the United States.

Abedini’s first trip back to Iran was in 2009 to visit his family, when government authorities detained him.  Abedini was threatened with death during his interrogation over his conversion to Christianity. In July 2012, Abedini made his ninth trip to Iran since 2009 to continue his work and to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht. While in Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard confiscated his passports which led to his incarceration.

On January 27, 2013, Judge Pir-Abassi sentenced Abedini to eight years in prison. According to Fox News, Abedini was sentenced for having “undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and … attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.”  In early November 2013, Abedini was transferred from Tehran to one of the deadliest prisons in the world, Rajai Shahr, in the town of Karaj.

Pray for his wife, Naghmeh, who, accompanied by Jordan Sekulow, told lawmakers in a joint subcommittee hearing for the House Foreign Affairs Committee on December 12, 2013, that Saeed had been subjected to torture and told that if he converts back to Islam, he would be set free.  Pray also for their two children, 7 and 5 years of age.  Naghmeh stated, “The Iranian regime sends prisoners to Rajaï Shahr to disappear.  It sends prisoners to Rajaï Shahr to deny them their human rights. It sends prisoners to Rajaï Shahr to die.”  The next time you feel like complaining about life’s aches and pains – think of Pastor Saeed.  Earnestly pray for the Abedini family

In addition to being my attorney and advisor, Jay is a great friend to my family and me.  He has keen insight and intellect and is equally blessed with such a wonderful family with two very talented, knowledgable sons.  I always appreciate our times together — and he is a great drummer!

 

Christmas 2013 w/ my 86-year-old Dad, John Wesley Johnston

I called my Dad and told him I was coming to see him for Christmas.  We had just a few hours alone together before I had to leave.   And, we had the best time together.  I asked for his advice on a number of issues.  As he spoke, it occurred to me that I have been doing this for 40 years — seeking advice from my father.  Dad gave me wise counsel.  I saw how much I need him and wondered how much longer the Lord will steward him to me and others.  Below is a picture of us together when I was 4-years-old on  a family vacation to Galveston, TX, and today.  God knew what he was doing when he put a “Dad” in our life. We have always been close.  We shake hands often when we greet and occasionally hug when we depart.  Through my entire ministry he has always been supportive, prayerful, contemplative, and available.  He has given me confidence that anything I attempt in the name of the Lord, I can fulfill.

Dad reads his Bible from Genesis to Revelation every 10 1/2 weeks. He prays fervently, every day, on his knees with an extensive list written in his mind.  Only in heaven will I will learn how his prayers carried me, shielded me, and protected me.  My father has high moral standards.  There is no foolishness in his life.  He has set an example for me.  He reminds me of an Old Testament “Levite,” always preoccupied with the things of God.  “JW,” as he is called unconditionally loved my Mom, Joyce, for nearly 60 years.  Mom died one year ago and we think about her all the time.  When she was struggling with alcholism Dad would often write on notes and cards and give to her:   John 3:17, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” His patience, and God’s power, delivered her from that bondage and she jerrry2enjoyed 23 years of sobriety.

Dad teaches three Bible studies a week.  He loves to the Word, and he is gifted at teaching its truths and challenging those who listen.  For 40 years it has been my privilege to teach and preach.  He has always critiqued my sermons, and I always listen to his input.  How I will miss him when he is gone.  So, I wanted to savor the moments alone with him.  It was hard to leave and he told me loved me.  “I love you, too, Dad,” was my reply as it came time to go.  My Dad teaches me character, honesty, a strong work ethic, loyalty to Christ and the Bible, and wisdom and insight in working with others.  Merry Christmas Dad!

Dad & me