A Subway Sermon

At the Radio Station in Seoul

I loved riding the subway trains in Seoul. They are incredibly clean, amazingly safe and very efficient. One day I was riding home after we finished taping a radio program for the Christian Broadcasting System. The train pulled into a station and a street evangelist hopped on carrying a life-sized cross and an amplified sound system. He set up his pulpit in the center of the train and preached with all his heart to the captives on the subway who did their best not to look at him. When he finished his two-minute lesson, he looked around the car and his eyes lit up when he saw me watching him. He lit up and rushed over. Then he bent down so we were face to face, smiled from ear to ear and asked, “Are you,” he struggled to find his words in English, then he demanded, “Are you … Christian?”

Now the whole train was watching us. “Yes,” I replied smiling.

He danced triumphantly speaking in tongues and then shouted, “Hallelujah! Amen!” at the top of his lungs. People started to grin at my predicament. Then he stooped down again and asked, “Are you … Presbyterian?”


Undaunted, the little man continued, “Are you … Catholic?”

“No,” I answered again.

Puzzled, he simply asked, “Baptist?”


He was truly puzzled now. “Methodist?”


In desperation, as the subway was slowing down to enter the station, he asked, “Mormon?”


He couldn’t stand it. People were beginning to pick up their belongings as we slowed to a stop. Finally, he cried out, “What are you?

I grinned from ear to ear and replied, “Just Christian!” and I jumped off the train.

People are shocked to learn there are over 33,830 different denominations in the world today.[1] This is true despite Jesus’ telling his Father, “2My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” (John 17:20-21).

So how can we all be one? Perhaps we need to first ask, “What divides us?” A simple answer might be our different doctrines and dogmas, that is, our different interpretations of what it means to be a follower of Christ. For example, the battle cry of the Reformation was “Scripture alone!” The Protestants were opposed to the idea that God’s will was revealed in the Bible and by the traditions of the church, but what is ironic is, the Protestants, whose war-cry was “Sola Scriptura” quickly codified their interpretations into creeds with the practical result, they were doing the very same thing they were protesting – following the Bible and their codified traditions.

Enter the American Restoration Movement whose cry was “Just Christian! Just Bible!” How is that possible? By depending on “book, chapter and verse” for their interpretations. The key is to have scriptural support for their practices and beliefs, but not write them down. Unfortunately, the written traditions reflected in creeds was oft times simply replaced by oral traditions. Rather than each generation searching afresh to see what God said in his Word about various questions, people began to rely on customs and traditions. (“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”)

To truly be “Just Christians” requires continual renewal and three special attitudes: (1) an agreement to allow the Bible to speak, (2) an agreement to recognize some things are simply “matters of opinion,” and (3) a commitment to love, because without love it is impossible to be a Christian.


[1] According to the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford Press, in 2001 there were 33,830 denominations claiming to be “Christian.”

The Seed Principle

Methuselah – Judean Date Palm

They were dark days for the land of Judah. Josiah’s grandfather, King Manasseh, was captured by the Assyrians who put a hook in his nose and led him captive to Babylon. Josiah’s father, King Amon, was completely corrupt and his officials assassinated him. Josiah was only 8 years old when he was crowned king.

In those days, people worshipped any number of deities and idols and who was to say if there really was only one true God? Confusion reigned in the land, morality plummeted and corruption was everywhere.

At 16, the young king decided to worship only the Lord, the God of his great, great, great, great grandfather, King David. By age 20, his zeal knew no bounds as he systematically destroyed the idols that filled his kingdom. At 26, he began to restore the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and the workers discovered an ancient scroll, the Book of the Law.

Now Josiah had the guidance that he needed. Before, his reform was blind. He did what he thought was the right thing, but now he had a plan and the reform, like all good reforms, began with the king’s own heart. On hearing the words of the scroll, the king tore his robes, humbled himself and wept bitterly. With the Bible before him, Josiah learned how to be pleasing to God. King Josiah discovered the “seed principle.” (See 2 Chronicles chapter 34.)

The Seed Principle

In 2005, Israeli scientists announced to the world, a Judean Date Palm – a tree long thought extinct – had just germinated. Today that plant is over 3 meters high and doing well; the first of what will hopefully be many, many more. How did that happen?

Forty years before, archaeologists, excavating King Herod’s desert palace at Masada, uncovered a jar full of 2,000-year-old date palm seeds. No one thought seeds that old could possibly grow, so they sat in a professor’s desk drawer for four decades! Then a botanist planted one and the rest is history.[1]

The Apostle Peter told Christians the word of God is seed. When it is planted, it produces people of God (1 Peter 1:23). Josiah understood that and so do we. Rather than becoming enmeshed in the minutiae of people’s opinions, dogma and theology, why can’t we just be Christians and read the Bible for ourselves? Just as tomato seeds produce tomatoes and strawberry seeds produce strawberries, so the word of God, when planted in good and honest hearts, produces Christians. It’s ancient seed.


[1] Science 13 June 2008, pp. 1464

Photograph of Methuselah By Benjitheijneb – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20441116

Pie and Biblical Interpretation

PieWhen I first heard the US House of Representatives passed HRES 224 in support of National Pi Day (March 14th), I became very excited. Visions of apple, cherry, Dutch chocolate and banana cream pies danced in my head. Then Ray Caswell explained, “The number pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159.” I was so disappointed, but also intrigued.

In fact, there are two national holidays for the number pi. March 14th – which represents the first three digits of pi: 3.14, and July 22nd which is national Pi Approximation Day, (22/7 is commonly used to approximate pi.) But why is there a national holiday for a number in the first place?

Pi is a crucial constant in so many formulae in trigonometry and geometry. For example, imagine you are trying to make a table cloth for your new round kitchen table. You will need to use pi (3.14159 …) to compute the area to cover your table (πr2) and you’ll need to use pi to figure out how big around your new kitchen table is (circumference = π × diameter = 2 × π × radius). Mathematicians also point out pi is both irrational (it’s decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern) and transcendental (“a number that is not the root of any non-zero polynomial having rational coefficients” – ask Ray).

Over the centuries, mathematicians have competed to solve pi. (You can try it yourself by dividing a circle’s circumference by its diameter. The result will be 3.141592653589793 and on and on and on.) In 2015, using a super computer, scientists solved pi to over 13.3 trillion (1013) decimal places! And that brings up the sad case of amateur British mathematician, William Shanks (1812 – 1882).

In the days before computers, William Shanks spent 27 years calculating the value of pi, by hand, to 707 decimal places. Each new calculation was based on the results of his previous calculation. At long last, Shanks published his results in 1873. However, in 1944, D.F. Ferguson, using a mechanical desk calculator, checked Shank’s math and made a horrific discovery. Unfortunately, Shanks had made a mistake in his math at the 528th decimal place and spent the last years of his life calculating the next 179 decimal places in vain.

Poor Mr. Shanks’ mistake has caused me to wonder about spiritual matters. It is essential we keep an open mind in our interpretations and sometimes examine our assumptions. Could it be we made a mistake somewhere in the past that has dangerous consequences for our interpretations in the present? A fundamental principle of the Restoration Movement is: each generation has the responsibility to examine the Bible’s teachings for itself.

I remember a speaker from my youth who pointed out how a movement can only last for five generations. He held up his hand with fingers spread as he ticked off each generation. The first one “discovers” a basic truth. The children, the second generation, are nearly equally excited about the principles their parents unearthed, but by the time we get to the third generation, tradition begins to take over. We begin doing things because we have always done them that way. By the time we reach the fifth generation the discoveries have grown cold and it is time to resume the quest again.

Jesus warned the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first,” (Revelation 2:4, 5).