Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

When should you stop listening to this podcast? Who would ask such a question in the first place? Well, we did. This was our very first episode we recorded together on stage, in public. We pulled it off at the Getty Sing! Conference in Nashville. About 2,500 friends joined us early in the morning. Have a listen.

How many of you are regular listeners to the podcast by show of hands? Oh, wow. Thank you. Thank you for listening. This is not how we do it, in front of a live audience. Typically, Pastor John is in his home study and I’m in my home study, and we connect over Skype.

In listener emails, I see a lot of recurring questions that come in to us that are very situational. So, should I marry this lady or this lady? Should I marry this guy or this guy? Should I take this job or this job? And we appreciate those situational questions. But it raises another question for me: Where do you want this podcast to serve our audience when they have spouses, they have parents, they have pastors, they have churches, they have other voices in their lives? Where do you want Ask Pastor John, and your wisdom, to come into their lives in light of all the other voices God has given to them as well?

So the question is about how to listen to APJ, or how to fit it into your life, if it fits in at all. This should probably be something that you decide on the basis of what it is. So, what are we trying to do? Why do you guys do this? You’ve been doing this for six years, 1,400 episodes. Why in the world do you do this? Let me give you some roots and then answer whether you should listen in view of those roots and what we’re doing. And if so, how it relates to your pastor’s preaching, and so on.

See, Savor, and Speak

So go back with me to 1966. I’m in the hospital with mono at Wheaton College. About two hundred yards away is Edman Chapel, and Harold John Ockenga, the pastor of a big church in Boston, was the guest preacher in spiritual emphasis week. WETN is the radio station, and I was listening on my bed to his preaching.

Now, I was a premed student and excited that God had made plain to me that I was going to be a medical doctor. And lying there and listening to him, my world absolutely changed. To sum it up, I came away from those several days of listening with this passion that has never died. It is as close as I’ve ever had to a call. And it was, “You’re not going to be a medical doctor; you’re going to be a Bible guy. And your job for the rest of your life is going to be to look at it, see what’s there, try to savor it according to its value, and then say it for other people to enjoy.” And I have not been able to shake it for fifty years now. What I do and what we do is look at the Bible, try to understand what it says, love what it says, and then tell people what it says. That’s what we do.

“Think of me as a guest preacher at your church.”

Fast-forward to 1980. Now, during my first year in the pastorate, I get to preach twice on Sunday. Back in those days, we had evening services, and I preached twice on Sunday. And everything in me said, “That’s not enough. I have so much more to say. This is my flock. My job is to tell them what I see in the Bible. I’m seeing things in the Bible every day, and I can’t not want to tell people. That’s just what it means, I think, to be called in this way.

‘I’m Just a Guest’

So, we created The Bethlehem Star. There was no email, no internet, no nothing in 1980. It was just a snail-mail, one-page letter from Pastor John with what I’m seeing in the Bible, and the other side had announcements and events. We would fold it up and mail it to every member.

That’s APJ. That’s me not being able to not savor and to not say what I’m seeing in the Bible about all kinds of issues, like billboards with half-naked women. That’s what my people are driving by every day. So, I’m writing. I’m going to say something about that from the Bible. I’m a pastor. And then you advance forward to when we started this in January of 2013. I’ve done Star articles for 33 years. Some of the articles have even made their way into books.

But I’m done. I leave the pastorate. I’m not preaching every weekend. I’m not counseling anybody. I’m just working for DG. What should we do? And let’s do some pastoral counseling. Let’s read our Bibles, and let’s tell people what we’re seeing in the Bible. So, that’s what we did. We started APJ long-distance while I was down in Tennessee.

And so, basically think of me as a guest preacher at your church. I’m invited by your pastor to come, I preach a sermon, and then he does a little Q&A with me in the afternoon or something like that. And you miss it because you’re sick. And the pastor says, “It’s not a problem. We’ve got our little website, and we’ll just put it up there, and you can go and listen to it.” And that’s the way you should listen. And that changed my life when Harold John Ockenga did a little guest preaching at Wheaton College. My life got turned upside down.

Test All Things

Now, should you listen? And my answer is this: “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Here’s how you decide whether it’s good:

  1. After I’ve listened to a handful of APJs, do I love my Bible more than I love APJ? Do I go to my Bible with more confidence and more joy because of APJ?
  2. Do I love Jesus more than APJ? Do I love Jesus more than I did before I listened?
  3. Do I love my church more? Do I love my pastor more? Do I pray for him more earnestly? Do I care for the people in my small group? Do I do my Sunday school class better? Am I better invested locally because I listen to this guest preacher?
  4. Do I love lost people more? Do I love the nations more? Am I praying more earnestly for the mission of the church?

If those four things aren’t happening, then don’t listen. Is that what you would be getting at, Tony?

Different Kind of Doctor

Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. But here’s the question that lingers for me: Did your wife think she was marrying a medical doctor?

No, but she thought she was falling in love with a medical doctor. So, I did bait and switch. But not intentionally, and she was very forgiving. We fell in love on 6/6/66. It’s an easy date to remember; we celebrate it still. That’s when we met in Fischer Hall, and we were madly in love. I was basically telling her, “Yeah, I’m going to be a doctor, like your dad.”

“Do I love Jesus and his people more than APJ? Do I love Jesus and his people more than I did before I listened?”

And then, three months later, she can’t find me on the first day of class, and I’m in the hospital. And then, two weeks later, she walks into that room, and I look at her and say, “I’m going to seminary. Hope that’s okay.” She’s been great all the way along. We were married fifty years last December.

I got so depressed my first year in preaching. I thought, “Oh my, have I done the right thing? I love teaching, and now I have become a pastor.” And I was just depressed out of my mind. One Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting at the dining-room table. The bedroom is just off to the right here, and she’s in the bedroom doing something.

And I’m sitting at the table, and I say, “I think I’m going to go to Africa.” And do you know what she said from the other room? “Tell me when to pack.” That’s an awesome woman. So I didn’t throw her off too much when I moved from doctoring bodies to doctoring souls.