Archives for August 2006

Unto You is Born This Day

Tonight is Christmas in our church. We are beginning our study of the harmonized New Testament, reading through the NT chronologically for about 7 or 8 months. We are harmonizing the Synoptics which will take us 8 and a half weeks. Tonight we begin.

I preached a message entitled, Unto You is Born This Day. The message encompasses the whole of the Christmas story. By my calculations, this is 5.66% of the Gospels. (That would be just over 1/20th, for the fractionally minded.) There is really no way to adequately deal with the content of the Incarnation in one message.

I remember Michael Barrett teaching us about the ‘Immanuel concept’ a quarter of a century ago. There really is no greater story. Every other religious guru of history has told us the way to find enlightenment and escape sin is “be like me”. This Messiah became us. He became sin for us. He humiliated himself for the purpose of enabling our escape from ourselves. What grace.

We had no planned songs tonight, I just had our folks pick favorites, with this stipulation, they had to be Christmas songs. The Christian worship of the Incarnation is precious to me. We sang Joy to the World first, picked by one of our dear old saints. She is usually first on favorites, unless we cheat and don’t tell her we’re asking for favorites until after the first pick is in. “Let earth receiver her King!” What a hymn! We sang O Holy Night; Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne; The Birthday of a King; O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; and closed with O Little Town of Bethlehem.

The proposition for the message was this: Only one kind of Saviour can make you better than what you are, the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

He is the One all men need to follow.

The notes are posted here.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bonding with the wonders of our own mind

I read a little paragraph in Stein today that stirred me up. It reminded me of something I have often said about pet doctrines. Here is Stein:

On numerous occasions, however, passages are difficult to understand not so much because of the text itself, but because of the popular and erroneous interpretations associated with it. Rather than modify or give up these precious interpretations, we prefer to force the text to fit them. In actuality, however, no biblical text can be forced to fit an interpretation. The text has meant, means, and will always mean exactly what the author consciously willed it to say. As a result we can never force a text to mean what the author did not mean. It means today what the author meant when he wrote it. And this cannot be changed. We can, however, consciously or, more often than not, unconsciously misinterpret the text to fit our own views, but in so doing we do not change the meaning of the text but only place on it an alien meaning.

Robert H. Stein, Difficult Passages in the Epistles, p. 47.

My theory is that we have a lust for our own thoughts. When we birth them, we look them in the eyes, we coddle them, we coo to them, we bond with them. The more novel, cute, and unique our thoughts, the more they delight us. So pet doctrines are birthed and brought into the world.

The only thing that is worse is when we grow so fond of our intellectual offspring that we simply must show them off to all. What is even better is when “the great scholar”, Dr. HuffnPuff, says something similar to us, or (praise be to God) he agrees with us. What a wonder our thought-child is then!

What dreariness it is to discipline our minds to think God’s thoughts after Him! Or…

What safety and blessing there is in excising from our hearts the delight for novelty and simply learning to delight only in Him and in His Word.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

P. S. I was so glad to see Dr. Stein agreed with me. He is making great progress, don’t you think?

August 27 Sermon Summaries

Chris Anderson got me started a few months back contributing to Sermon Summaries on his blog. I enjoy thinking through them again, so I am going to post a synopsis here. (Chris must be busy since he hasn’t called for the summaries on his blog today.)

In the Worship Service, we began our look through the New Testament (see previous post). I preached a message entitled “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”. This is the title of our entire series. I did a survey of the New Testament, beginning in Mk 1.1, covering the gospels, Acts, epistles and Revelation in order to show that the NT is The Revelation of Jesus Christ from start to finish. It is “the unfolding of the life, work, words, acts, mind and coming again of Jesus Christ.” This revelation is the Gospel, the Good News, which comes to every man: There is a man who is the Son of God, the saviour of the world. My proposition was this: The New Testament is your mandate for life change. You should stake your life on it.

I have posted the outline for the message here, I am planning to post each message in this series in the same place if you care to have a look. I am using my personal web space provided by my ISP, so far I have room. I am hoping later this fall to transfer this to a larger server.

During our Bible Study Hour, I preached on “The Importance of Faithful Church Attendance” from Heb 10. I pointed out that this is not a command, but an exhortation based on the access we have to the Holy of holies through our great High Priest. As an exhortation, it is addressed to the heart, as opposed to the will, it is meant to be a delight, not a duty. It’s motivation is not what good it will do for me, but what good I can do for others, and especially what I owe God for His great good to me.

In the afternoon, we finished up Malachi with a message on Mal 4, “Behold, the Day is Coming”. Proposition: The only way to be prepared against the day that is coming is to know and heed God’s word. I pointed out the two outcomes of that day, the outcome of the day coming as a burning oven or the outcome of the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings. On the second outcome, those who fear the Lord are told they will be like calves, leaping out of their stalls and treading on the ashes of the wicked. I worked through Dan 9.26-27, Rev 11, 12 and 19 to show how that last is likely to be literally true. Then we turned to the admonitions: Remember Moses, Consider Elijah who is to come. And last Malachi closes with a warning, ‘lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’. The Jews of John the Baptists day (and Christ’s day) did not heed, for the most part, and the Lord did smite them with a curse in AD 70. The message was Malachi’s conclusion and a blunt call to heed the Word of God.

I must say that I have enjoyed the series on Malachi and wish it could have been longer. I managed only 12 messages out of it. I have called it ‘the most New Testament-like of any Old Testament book’.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Update: Oops! That would be 8/27 Sermon summaries. I am so bad with simple things like what day is it, what town am I in, who am I? etc. I am usually not late for supper, though.

Why I am reading Difficult Passages in the Epistles

I have on the sidebar a list of books I am currently reading. There are probably a few others, but these are the ones I am mostly carrying around with me. I just finished Pickering, and have blogged a bit from his ideas. I will be doing some more on that one shortly, The Tragedy of Compromise (and every one of Pickerings books and booklets) should be required reading for every fundamentalist.

One of the other books on my list is a little book I picked up a few years ago. It is called Difficult Passages in the Epistles by Robert H. Stein. Robert Stein is currently a professor at Southern Seminary. At the time he wrote this book, he taught at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I believe that is a Baptist General Conference school. These schools are evangelical schools that I cannot recommend, although some good work has come out of them.

I ran across Dr. Stein’s book when I was researching the subject of Christians and alcohol. For the record, I am a vehement opponent of the use of alcohol. As my father says, “It is a curse.” Christians should stay away from it as far as possible. They are fools for playing with it.

In my research on the subject, I ran across a number of articles in Bibliotheca Sacra that referenced an article written by Dr. Stein in Christianity Today in 1972. The quotes from the article intrigued me and I searched in vain to find a copy of the article. Some time later, I decided to search Dr. Stein’s name on Google and found the link to his bio on the Southern Seminary faculty. So I wrote to him, asking him if he was the author of the article and indeed he was. He told me that I could also find the article in his book Difficult Passages in the New Testament. At the time, I had trouble finding the book, but I did find two books called Difficult Passages in the Gospels and Difficult Passages in the Epistles. I ordered both, in the hopes that one of them might have the article.

Well, the book on the epistles has the article. It is an excellent treatment of the word oinos, the Greek word for wine and agrees with some of the research I had done in secular writings on the history of wine and alcohol. I highly recommend the book to you for that article alone, but the book is more than that. It is a collection of essays teaching careful hermeneutical (bible interpretation) principles and is well worth the effort.

With respect to the article on wine, Dr. Stein shows that the way the ancients drank and produced wine is very different from today. The alcohol content was generally lower and it was always drunk diluted. Those who try to make arguments for the use of alcohol based on the references in the Bible simply are not using good hermeneutics.


I had planned a more controversial article for today, but I let my notes at church. Maybe tomorrow. I know all five of my readers will be waiting with bated breath!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Preaching through the New Testament in 7 months

A few years ago, I ran across this article on the Logos website. It is a testimonial from a pastor in Texas who described an intense project of preaching through the Bible in one year. I started talking about it with my wife and the more we discussed it the more interested I became.

Our church people have varied educational backgrounds. A couple have college and university degrees, but most have just finished high school (and a few haven’t). All but one have never had a Bible college education. Their overall understanding of the Scriptures is rudimentary at best.

The project intrigued me, so I downloaded the materials and began planning for adapting it for our own use.

Last fall and winter, we preached through the entire Old Testament, organized chronologically. I called it “9 Months of Wondering Through the Old Testament”. Every service was devoted to this project. Three on Sundays and every Wednesday night. We covered every book. Our messages were mostly “birds-eye” views, detail-oriented sermons simply couldn’t be done in order to keep up with the schedule. Using pastor Bolender’s study guide, we produced our own (some minor doctrinal differences, plus a different schedule).

This summer, I preached through Malachi (still not as detailed as I would like!)and also taught some lessons in our Adult Bible Study hour on the Intertestamental Period.

Today we start our next project, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, a seven month series through the New Testament. The series involves preaching Matthew/Mark/Luke using a Harmony of the Gospels, then Acts interspersed with James, Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans in harmony with their time of writing, followed by Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 1 Timothy (Paul writing from prison). Next is Titus, 1 & 2 Peter, 2 Timothy, Hebrews, and Jude as the activities of the apostles and the church become constrained under the Neronian persecution. Finally we conclude with John, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Revelation, providing the capstone of God’s revelation to men, a reflective look back on the first century of Christianity by the last apostle, and a magnificent look forward to the final revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of the age.

We will again be devoting four sermons a week to this project, we will be covering approximately eight chapters every week. Our first study guide includes some extra introductory material but is 26 pages long! Hopefully the next one will be a little shorter.

Our Old Testament study will shortly be available by CD-ROM with an HTML index. I hope to provide the same for the New Testament when we are finished. We are also thinking about putting all the messages

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on a DVD with the written material. This will provide a resource for our people in the future. We aren’t going to go back and do this project again!

It has been a great blessing to our church to see the Old Testament unfold before our eyes, and I am sure the New Testament study will do the same, with greater understanding now that we have worked through the Old Testament.

Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/24/2006 | Gay rights vs. religious beliefs

Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/24/2006 | Gay rights vs. religious beliefs

I’ve got to get to the office, but this article caught my attention on the way out the door. It points out where the homosexual agenda is headed, and I think we are on a collision course in Canada. The gay marriage thing will likely be an issue used to attack the Christian church if it is allowed to stand. A few excerpts from the article:

Live and let live. A simple concept, to be sure, but can we apply it to the growing conflict between gay rights and religious beliefs? The answer increasingly seems to be no.

And note this:

If the gay-rights movement is willing to trample on the moral beliefs of the Boy Scouts for the sake of “tolerance,” will religious institutions that also provide social services and oppose gay rights on religious grounds fare any better?

Not likely! And then notice this:

In the 1982 case of Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court found that when a charitable organization’s policies become “at odds with the common community conscience,” its state and federal tax exemptions may be revoked, even if the policies are religiously motivated. This decision allowed governments at all levels to revoke the income or property-tax exemptions of religious institutions that “discriminate” against same-sex couples. All it takes is a court, legislature, or tax bureaucrat to find that the “community conscience” demands it.

While many decried BJU’s old policy, including me, I realized that the court battle had far reaching implications when it was fought and lost.

We certainly need to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves’ in these troubling days.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

More on the ego

I was talking to my wife about my theory of ego and the call to preach. I blogged on this earlier, but I want to expand it a bit more.

In the earlier post, I said this:

At the heart of a good deal of it, there must be ego. Are you conscious of ego in yourself? Do you realize how much it drives what you say and do? On a parallel track, how much of the ‘call to preach’ is simply ego? A good deal of it, in my opinion. Leadership involves ego. Very few leaders are in their positions because they are the humblest and godliest of men.

It is possible to be godly while driven by ego, but the challenge of any spiritual leadership is to find the right balance, subordinate and subdue the self, and harness the ego for godly pursuits.

In our conversation last night we were commenting on what drives people in the ministry. I mentioned my theory that much of the call to preach is ego based. The term ego usually has negative connotations, but it can be used at least neutrally to describe something about the inner man. This aspect of our inner being motivates our behaviour and, if it is subordinated to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it can be used to accomplish God’s will and not our own.

Of course, there is a fine line between ego-submission and ego-driven. The flesh can be indulged very easily as we derive pleasure from the position of leadership. But the person who is ego-driven in the ministry, the one who is seeking ever bigger crowds, ever larger and more ‘successful’ ministry, ever widening reputation and recognition… well, that person is on a journey to a destination that will never be reached. It is like a drug. Nothing will ever satisfy. No amount of success, no size of crowd, no position of influence will ever really be enough. Ego can and will consume the soul just as much as drugs do.

I recall reading a quote attributed to J. Paul Getty, at one time one of the richest men in the world. He was asked how much money it takes to satisfy. His reply? “Just a little bit more.” So it is with an ego driven ministry. The ego will never be satisfied if you are in the ministry solely or primarily for ego.

The vast majority of ministry opportunities in the Christian church are small, unknown, insignificant (worldly speaking), frustrating, ego shattering, and necessary. If we choose to enter the ministry for some reason of satisfying ourselves, we are on a fools errand. The work of the ministry is a necessary function in God’s kingdom. It has many blessed rewards and not a few disappointments. But our satisfaction must be derived from knowing and doing the will of God or we will be overwhelmed by the disappointments. If God chooses to expand our ministry to wider proportions, so be it! But let us not be seeking the wider proportions, let us seek to do the work of the ministry.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

My upbringing was in the holiness movement. The church I attended (no one was a member) was the Church of God in Drayton Valley. They are a part of what is called “the Church of God Reformation Movement.” They claim not to be a denomination and have a unique polity in a sense. They are today thoroughly evangelical and in many ways (in my view) somewhat indistinguishable from the broader evangelical movement as a whole.

Last February a group including representatives from the CoG and nine other holiness groups published a document called The Holiness Manifesto. Christianity Today reprinted it in March along with an interview of one of the spokesmen under the title “Holiness Without the Legalism“.

You can read all this for yourself if you like. It all sounds like bafflegab to me, i.e., a whole lot of verbiage sounding substantive but saying practically nothing.

The reason I comment on this subject is that the ‘anti-legalism’ rhetoric is very familiar to those of us who are independent Baptists. Evangelicals have been regularly taking shots at Fundamentalists in general with the charge of ‘legalism’. Today, the faux-fundies (aka, Young Fundamentalists, New Fundamentalists, Historic Fundamentalists) raise the same charge against the Fundamentalist Movement.

The title of the article, “Holiness Without the Legalism” is what caught my eye this morning. (I admit I am way behind the times in keeping up with CT! That could be a good thing.) When an evangelical or a faux-fundie uses the term “legalism”, they usually mean pastoral imposition of moral standards of some kind. We should admit that real spiritual life and holiness from the heart are impossible to achieve merely by imposing external standards. No one became holy because their dress was acceptable to the fundamentalist community. No one became holy by having the proper haircut. Etc.

But the fear of legalism mutes all hints at helping people get any kind of handle on how to live. What does a holy heart look like in today’s world? If you read the Holiness Manifesto, you come away with this: be nice. The closest they come to specifics is this:

live lives that are devout, pure, and reconciled

and this

care for the earth

What is the believer to do? What exactly is the Holiness Manifesto calling people to? (And what would the founders of the Holiness movement say? I think of Daniel S. Warner, the founder of the Church of God. He was a forthright advocate of holy living and separation from the world. Alas, we live in a different world today.)

A cursory study of the words used in the New Testament regarding holiness leads one to these conclusions: Holiness means devotion to God and living lives of moral purity. In a practical sense it means that you should be involved in the regular faithful committed worship of God. You should be involved in everything a Bible preaching church does to worship God. And you should turn away from every expression of evil we find in the world today. Everything connected with sexual immorality should be eschewed: that would include suggestive television, movies, music and the like. By music, we mean the sound, not just the words. Everything connected with violence, might makes right, power and exploitation of others should be eschewed: that would include much popular entertainment, including those already mentioned, many video games, gambling, drinking (as an exploitation of the weakness of many), and so on. Everything connected with addiction should be eschewed (all things are lawful but I will not be brought under the power of any).

And all this eschewing should come from the heart, because I want to please God, not my preacher or anyone else.

If that’s legalism, then I’m all for Holines By Legalism.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

… and now, back to work

In the crush of activities for this weekend, including getting the kids off on their journey, see below, I have been neglecting my reading. Last week I started the last chapter of Pickering’s book, The Tragedy of Compromise. The chapter is entitled “Gray Hairs Are Here and There”. In some ways, this seems to be the best chapter of the whole book. Dr. Pickering outlines the appeal of the new evangelicalism to the fundamentalist and then lists little compromises that add up to the slide of fundamentalist institutions and churches into an evangelical mindset.

Quite frankly, I think this is the problem in the many debates at sites like Sharper Iron and others. Most of the participants are not fundamentalists, though they claim to be.

Pickering quotes Dr. David Beale, one of my professors at Bob Jones University, as saying of faux-Fundamentalists:

“Unlike present-day Fundamentalists, they refuse to regard the militant defense of the faith and the full doctrine and practice of holiness as intrinsically fundamental.” [from In Pursuit of Purity, p. 261ff., quoted in Pickering, p. 159.]

One cry of faux-fundies is that there is no adequate definition of what a fundamentalist is. Dr. Beale’s statement here should be sufficient. There are two distinguishing marks:

  • Militant defense of the faith
  • Full doctrine and practice of holiness

When it comes down to it, is there anything else that would distinguish a true fundamentalist position from that of an evangelical? If one could take a snapshot of churches in the 50s, as the seismic shift in the fundie/evangelical world was happening, what would mark the difference between the two philosophies? The difference would not have been doctrinal. Both groups held to the same doctrines. The difference was philosophical: will I wage war for the gospel, or not? Will I wage war for holiness, or not?

Today, the churches are confronted with different issues, but essentially the battle is the same. The faux-fundies want to tone down the militancy and want us to learn to play nice with our conservative evangelical friends. They want to tone down the battle for holiness to the extent that there is little left to fight for. The only thing militant about the faux-fundies is that they will fight you if you disagree with their religious pacifism.

I intend to write more on this in the future. My goal is not to “save fundamentalism”, but to define and perpetrate in my life the biblical philosophy of earnestly contending for the faith. May God help us to be in dead earnest about the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

a milestone that could wait forty years but must not

This morning my wife took two of our kids to the ferry for stage one of their week long trek to BJU. This is God’s will. It is not my will. I could keep them with me for another forty years or so.

Here is a picture of the four who were with us this summer. The picture is set in the park across the street from the house in which I grew up in Alberta. The street is the street I drove away on in 1980. My dad told me later that he knew then that I was never coming back home again. I’m not quite there yet with any of ours, but that day is coming as well.

The two we sent off today are the two uppermost on the teeter totter. This playground implement was one of the goalposts when we played football in the park. It was also second base. We had to keep the two seats on the left down when we played, none of us relished running full tilt into the raised teeter totter.

My daughter will be a junior this year. She is growing into a fine Christian lady. The picture to the left is taken on the way home from family camp this year, waiting in line at the ferry. My son took this in the mirror of my truck, with my daughter holding her favorite ‘man’, Bob the dog.

My son will be a freshman. He will be a ‘preacher boy’, having his heart stirred for the ministry for some time now. He has been preaching little messages in our services after he gives the announcements for the last two years. They will join my oldest who is already down in Greenville, preparing to start an MA in Bible. The youngest two will stay with us here at home, for a while.

The gift of fatherhood is a precious thing, granted us by the Father of all. We gratefully received, and we are willing to give back, especially in giving back to the service of the King of kings.

I suppose I’ll not get much work done today.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3