Archives for December 2006

on the state of religion in Canada

One of our national newspapers in Canada did an interesting series of articles about religion in the True North over the Christmas week. Our American friends might find them interesting to get a sense of what religion is all about here. Contrary to some expectations, there really is a vaste difference between the mostly secular attitudes we have in Canada and the general condition in the USA, although I recognize that the Church in the US is under pressure from secularism and other forces as well.

Anyway, here are the articles:

Empowered by prayer

With interest in spirituality on the rise and church attendance in a freefall, the National Post concludes…

Savvy marketers target ‘Faith and Family’
Way of the Cross video
Zealotry of South shaping the world
‘Renovated’ Catholicism attracts few tenants
Saving souls in Quebec
Canada’s devotion gap
Fulford: Atheism’s army of the smug
Forum: Future of Christianity in Canada
Channel’s growth verges on biblical
Church of tough love

A couple of comments… If you scan through these articles, you will find virtually no mention of Fundamentalist influence. That would be because our efforts are so small. I suppose we need to think about how we are trying to get our message out and make some changes.

In the articles you will find a column by Robert Fulford, a very interesting columnist in the National Post. I think he teaches at the University of Toronto or some such post. He is fairly open about his agnostic views, but is a fair and balanced observer of religion and culture (at least as far as I can see). He has written some articles that make me think of ‘Almost Persuaded’.

In the “Forum” comments article you will find the typical bluster of unbelievers who really don’t have much of a clue regarding what Christianity is all about as well as a few believers who don’t know a lot but are trying to articulate their faith. Take it for what it’s worth.

As 2007 approaches, I think we who are in the ministry in Canada ought to look at this series of articles and find in them reason to renew our resolve and increase our dependence on the Holy Spirit for success. The task before us is daunting, but the Lord is still the Lord of All. May God prosper our efforts and bring new souls into his kingdom this year in Canada.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on new books for Christmas

So many books, so little time…

I must say that I am pleased with some recent additions to my library. One is the new book by Thurman Wisdom, A Royal Destiny. Dr. Wisdom was the dean of BJU’s School of Relgion during most of my years as a student there. He is writing about the theme of the Kingdom through the Scriptures. The subject is interesting enough in itself, but Dr. Wisdom’s style adds a little spice to the topic. Here is a little gem from the introduction, concerning the number one law of language, Context.

The magistrate who keeps order in the world of language is Context. No word can live – really live – without Context, and those that try have to spend their lives incarcerated in dictionaries. [p. xiv]

The note is witty, but the point is profound, no?

I also picked up Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. I should say his “massive” commentary, it runs 840 pages. [And it has footnotes!! Have I ever mentioned how much I hate endnotes?] Fee has some serious issues, however. He is a feminist, so he gets 1 Cor 11 wrong. I read somewhere that he is Assemblies of God, so I am sure he gets 1 Cor 12-14 wrong as well.

Mainly, I bought the book because Fee proposes a unique interpretation of 1 Cor 8-10 that Tom Constable largely follows in his Expository Notes. Since Constable got it from Fee, I wanted to read Fee. Fee goes on for 134 pages on these three chapters! Although I am wary of those with unique interpretations, I am quite interested in Fee’s view of meat offered to idols. I think his argument makes a lot of sense and I plan to blog on it some in the future.

My friend Chris Anderson blogged about Dever’s book, The Deliberate Church, a while back. I decided to buy it as well. I am still trying to figure out why some are so enamoured with Dever. Some of his other work has been somewhat underwhelming to me. So far, however, although there are things that I criticize in this book, there are some solid practical ideas for biblical pastoral leadership and ministry. I am looking forward to reading more in the next few weeks.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on Christmas eve preaching (Sermon Summaries 12.24.06)

Our messages this Sunday were intended to be a trio of my two boys and myself, however Number One Son and his fiancee and their ride to the airport in Greenville all managed to oversleep and miss their plane Saturday AM. So they flew standby, and I rode the ferry across the pond in hopes to catch them late Saturday evening and then make it home in time for our services. Alas, it was not to be! They were stuck in Dallas Fort Worth overnight and I had to cobble together sermon #3 when I got back.

Nevertheless, we had a great day in the service of the Lord.

My 18 year old Rory preached the morning message on the Christmas Story, Luke 2.1-20. He is a gifted speaker and one semester of BJU freshman speech has served to polish his abilities even more. We were very grateful for his efforts. The title of his message was “Let Us Now Go and See” with this proposition: “Our pastor was saying last week, that the only two responses to the work of God are doubt or faith. I hope you can see from this passage that true faith is the only right response to the extraordinary work of God.” Rory focused on the responses to the Christmas story. The crowd ‘wondered’, which he called ‘Curious Unbelief’. He compared that to the response of the world today. If they pay any attention to the Christmas story, it is with a sentimental interest in the ‘wrapping’, but no real interest in the contents. It is put away each year for next year, to be put on display again. Mary ‘pondered’, that is, she had ‘Meditative Faith’. She weighed out what she saw and experienced and let its truth and its implications fill her heart and soul over the years she followed her Messiah-Son. The shepherds ‘glorified’, that is, they had ‘Expressive Faith’, a response to the message of Christmas that displayed the work of God to all who would listen. Both the meditation of Mary and the glorification of the shepherds are the appropriate faith responses that men need to have towards the great gift of God’s son.

In the second service, I preached on Lk 2.21-24, ‘According to the Law‘. In this message I connected the Messiah with the OT Law. In this connection, Proposition: The Lord provided for the infant Christ’s perfect compliance with the Law in order that He could perfectly keep the Law for you and me. First, we discussed the purpose of the Law. There are many of these, but the points I wanted to emphasize were these: the law reveals the holiness of God, exposes the sinfulness of man, establishes the rigorous standard required for fellowship with God, and supervises spiritual development of Israel to prepare the Israelite to receive Christ [the schoolmaster purpose]. From this we considered the law-keeping parents of Christ who kept the law of circumision, cleansing of the mother after childbirth, and presentation of the firstborn. These laws connect the participant with the Abrahamic covenant, the uncleanness of the human condition, and the demand of God for the life of the firstborn (seen in Isaac, the tenth plague, the tribe of Levi, and now the Son of God). The keeping of these laws were vital for Christ’s place as a Jewish man, under the Law of God, free from sin and free from any accusation of the Law. In order to accomplish this, two pigeons were sacrificed, one as a burnt offering, the other as a sin offering. The law demands death, and Christ the infant fully identifies with the Law’s demands, though he is sinless.

My point in rehearsing this detail is that the Lord submitted himself to the Law from the beginning (as my commentaries say). How did he do that? By choosing this devout couple to be the home of the developing Son of God. As a baby, he was subject to the whims and direction of human parents – others may have been less observant, but this couple fulfilled every requirement of the Law, as God intended. Jesus was the sinless and blameless Son of God from the beginning by God’s sovereign choice of this couple whom God knew would keep the Law perfectly. God provided for the sinlessness of the infant in the faithfulness of the parents. God did that for you and me, so that we could have a righteous sacrifice, without blemish or spot, to exchange his righteousness for our sinfulness in the cross of Calvary.

The last message this Sunday was “Waiting for the consolation of Israel“, where I discussed the testimony of the old prophet Simeon and the perhaps even older prophetess Anna. These two represent devout people who are only satisfied with the light that lightens the Gentiles. I found this comment in Norval Geldenhuys’ commentary on Luke concerning Simeon’s Psalm of praise: “Simeon’s brief hymn of praise, owing to its restrained ecstasy and intense clarity, is as beautiful as any of the psalms of praise in the Old Testament. The thought underlying its wording is of a slave who is instructed by his master to keep watch through the long, dark night on a high place to wait for the rising of a special star and then to announce it.” [p.119.] Anna, likewise, is a devoted slave of the Lord. Both are stirred to praise and worship of this Messiah that the Lord allowed them to witness before their passing. These two devoted people connect the Messiah with the people of the OT. Their lives go back to the Maccabean/Hasmonean heyday, before the coming of the Romans and later of Herod. They were from the families of the faithful remanant that returned from Babylon, and had seen the last period of independence for the nation Israel. But they look for something better than political deliverance. They look for the Light of the Gentiles, and having seen it, are spiritually satisfied. Our own devotion should follow their model, we are but slaves of the Sun of Righteousness (Mic 4.2).

Following this message, I made a beeline for the ferry, hustled over to Vancouver International Airport where my wandering waifs made it by bus from Seattle just minutes after my arrival, and we beat it back in time for the 6pm ferry home where we joined [finally!] the rest of the family. We’re buying them alarm clocks for Christmas!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on an unfortunate circumstance

In the Washington Post last week, there was a rather shocking article concerning children conceived by anonymous sperm donation. The writer was a young woman who is the now 18 year old product of such a transaction. This young lady set out to find out who her father was, finding success in her search in just one month.

As she describes her heartaches, I shake my head at the unthinking self-centredness that produces such pathos. Consider the closing sentence of the article:

Now that he knows I exist, I’m okay if he doesn’t care for me in the same way. But I hope he at least thinks of me sometimes.

Unintended consequences… men justify themselves, thinking in their sophistry that all is well, not thinking at all about the hurting, broken people who will be left in their wake.

Individually, we need to develop great spiritual discernment to avoid unintended consequences ourselves [though one would hope that Christians wouldn’t be trapped in this specific circumstance]. We also need to develop great spiritual discerment to be a help to others who so thoughtlessly plunge themselves and their families into disastrous circumstances. We need to become adept at spiritual influence.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on catching up…

I am a little behind on sermon summaries. The exercise is a satisfying one for me as I think through the messages one more time. I occasionally think that I should write the summaries first, then maybe I would preach the messages better.

Last Wednesday, Dec 13, I preached our last message before Christmas from our NT series. I had intended to preach this message on Dec 3, but we had this snow problem. (Did I mention we don’t do snow?) We were looking at 1 Cor 11, a passage that has some controversy. I preached five messages on the first 16 verses when I was preaching through 1 Corinthians in order to give the issue of headcoverings a thorough treatment.

Our message this time was entitled ‘Two Difficulties in Worship‘. The first difficulty is the issue of headcoverings, the second difficulty is the issue of the manner in which at least some of the Corinthians were taking communion. My proposition: ‘God is as concerned with our manner in worship as he is with our willingness to participate in worship.’ First, on the headcoverings issue, the problem was that some of the Corinthian women were removing the headcoverings they normally wore when they were in church. They were doing this out of a misunderstanding of the consequences of the gospel and a lack of appreciation for the reasons for gender-specific cultural distinctions. They thought the gospel made men and women equal in Christ, which it does, and thus thought that in church, at least, they could dispense with headcoverings. Paul points out that gender distinction is God’s idea, it has a theological basis (the voluntary subordination of Christ in the Trinity) and that it reflects creation order. Those who practice headcoverings today are not wrong, but headcoverings are not the third sacrament either.

The more serious worship disorder in Corinth was the manner of taking the Lord’s supper. The Corinthians apparently were combining the observance with a pot-luck supper of sorts, but those who had little or none to bring were finding that it was a ‘no-luck’ supper for them. This is the unworthy manner Paul rebukes and says that some were sick or even dead as a result. So the passage calls for good order in worship, a consideration of one another and a submission to God in all.


On to Sunday…

On Sunday, we continued our Thru the Christmas Passages series. This has been most enlightening for me. Our first message, ‘The Babe Leaped‘ came from Lk 1.39-45, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The proposition was: “The work of God is confirmed by Spirit filled witnesses.” I keyed in on the response of the infant in utero and Elizabeth’s spirit filling. Mary travelled to see Elizabeth over a distance of 50-70 miles. I suggested that she could not have travelled this distance alone in that day and age, she must have had guardians or family with her. They would be important witnesses for her chastity. We looked at what Spirit filling meant in OT times, noted that Zacharias and John are also said to be filled with the Spirit in the chapter, John ‘from his mother’s womb’, which I take to be a life-long filling, unusual for an OT saint.

As Mary greets Elizabeth, the Spirit moves – Elizabeth learned of Mary’s news directly from God, there is no indication that she had any prior knowledge from Mary. She blesses Mary, blesses the Lord, remarks on her own blessedness in receiving the visit, and again blesses Mary, saying that the things the Lord promised SHALL [note future tense] take place. This indicates that the overshadowing had not yet occurred. Elizabeth’s prophecy is important as confirmation of the certainty of the things we believe (Lk 1.4). God moved and worked among different people to establish certainty. Mary came to stay in a small home in Judea at the time that she became pregnant. She had people around her all the time, including a Spirit filled prophet and prophetess who could vouch authoritatively for her chastity. The point is this: Do you have any trouble believing the doctrine of the virgin birth? God provided Spirit filled witnesses to confirm the work of God.

The second message, ‘What then shall this child be?‘, Lk 1.57-66, 80, concerned the birth of John. Our proposition: ‘No one can understand the work of God without someone coming along side to teach them.’ In this message we stood on the outside of the scene as observers at the naming celebration. We were friends and relations of the happy (and aged) couple. As Israelite observers, the pregnancy was a great wonder to us, accompanied by signs like Zacharias’ dumbness (and deafness). There is no way we could understand what it all meant, but we would know our Jewish history. We would know about Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, and Hannah. We would realize God was doing something with this pregnancy, but what? (We wouldn’t have the privilege of having Dr. Luke explain it to us… Luke won’t write for another 60 years or so.)

As we stood observing the celebrations, we would have gathered early in the morning for the circumcision ceremony and naming. All would be going according to plan, although someone else would have to utter the prayer in Zacharias’ stead, since he could not speak. We would be shocked as Elizabeth interupted the prayer, which named the baby Zacharias, with the words, “No, his name is Jochanan (John).” We would turn to Zacharias and try to communicate, but again be shocked as Zacharias writes emphatically: “His name is John”. What could be the meaning of this name? The life this lad will live as he reaches manhood would be inexplicable to those who observe as well. He would become a strange man. What is the meaning of this?

As Zacharias emphatically named him, we would finally be mystified and shocked by the loosing of Zacharias’ tongue. What is God doing? What does it mean?

For those of us who live in the post-apostolic age, the explanation is recorded for us by Luke. But even that explanation will be missed by those who do not know the Lord unless someone tells them. The Lord employs other men to teach his Word to men. Our duty, as observers of the Word, is not merely amazed observance, but rather to proclaim what we have seen to other men.

Our third message of the day was perhaps the strongest. ‘Joseph, a just man‘, from Mt 1.18-25. The proposition: “Following God’s will means hearing God’s word, laying aside self-will, and obeying God.” Mary’s visit to Elizabeth appeared to end before the baby was born. Why? Wouldn’t family members have wanted to stay and observe the celebrations? Did Mary and her guardians come to help Elizabeth with the baby? Why did they leave before he was born? Was it because Mary’s pregnancy was discovered? I think it is quite likely that this was the reason. On arrival in Nazareth, Joseph would have to be informed. Joseph is a just (righteous) man, described in exactly the same terms as Zacharias and Elizabeth. Joseph is informed of Mary’s condition. A righteous man, and a man who loves Mary, he cannot bring himself to take her into court and accuse her as the Pharisees did to the woman caught in adultery. Instead, he makes sad, depressed plans to quietly divorce Mary and get on with his life. I imagine he is reeling emotionally, seated alone in the home he has been preparing for his bride, worried, down, depressed. In this state the Lord sends him a vision, instructs him not to fear, that the testimony of Mary is true, the child is of the Holy Ghost. Roused from the vision, Joseph immediately follows the Lord’s instructions. I imagine that he rushes to the home of his ‘friend of the bridegroom’ and calls him to attend. Tonight is the night. The little group of men gather their torches and in the evening march their wedding march to the home of Mary. They knock at the door and a worried father opens, Joseph declares, “I have come for my wife.” Instantly the hearts of the depressed are lifted, the bride hurriedly dressed, the procession taken to the home of the groom where the marriage is celebrated by friend and family. Joseph obeyed God without hesitation — he was a just man. Stewart Custer points out something about this family:

“Although he was a humble carpenter, Joseph would have the privilege of being the adoptive father of the Lord of heaven. He would see to it that his home was saturated with Scripture. The Lord Jesus had a profound knowledge of Scripture at a tender age (Lk 2.46-47); His younger brother, James, quotes more Scriptures in five chapters than any other NT writer. But then, Mary’s prayer was filled with Scripture as well.” [Custer, The Gospel of the King, p. 10]

God put the Son of God into a home where the Word of God would be the center of life. The will of God would be instantly and implicitly obeyed. “Following God’s will means hearing God’s word, laying aside self-will, and obeying God.” The Son of God, humanly speaking, learned obedience at the feet of a just man. May we learn obedience at the feet of the Son.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on collective sorrow for a well known unknown

This week marked tragedy for the family of Bob Gainey, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Gainey’s daughter Laura was swept to see on board a sailing vessel off Cape Cod in the Atlantic. Despite massive search efforts, her body has not been found.

The simple tragedy of such a death touches everyone. For Canadians, there is something more. The tragedy speaks to the failure of our collective religion, hockey. Hockey is a religion in Canada, there is no doubt about it. Our people worship at her shrine, hold up its players as icons, live and die with their teams, and are rewarded by rushes of emotion both high and low.

Bob Gainey is an emblem of the hopes and dreams of ordinary Canadians. A hard working, rugged player, he starred for the Canadiens in his playing days. He was a lesser star on a team filled with a galaxy of stars, dominating the hockey world for some time.

Gainey’s daughter was an ‘experienced amateur sailor’ according to news reports. She was swept to sea in a storm that saw waves of 30′ or more. The family is understandably devastated and is mourning in private. Our sympathies go with them.

Last night at a hockey game in Montreal, between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, a moment of silence was observed before the game. Surely it was the right thing to do, as those who support the game express their sympathy to a man who has lost his daughter – a man who just happens to be a prominent name in the hockey universe. In an article found here, journalist Jack Todd said this:

There is no doubt the loss of this energetic young woman has touched us all. Somehow, the capricious wave that swept her away has, because of her father’s fame and the fact that hockey is our secular religion, come in its way to stand for all the things we dread: Fate and dark night, death by drowning, the inscrutable future, the death of those we love most.

It is that comment, ‘secular religion’, that caught my attention. That is why the story of this unknown woman has captured so much attention in Canada. One of our gods has experienced tragedy, we vicariously suffer with him.

The hollowness of sport as religion comes in this comment about the game that was played last night:

For the record, once the puck was dropped, the Canadiens defeated the Bruins 4-3 with Sergei Samsonov scoring twice against his former team in a game that should not have been that close, and that seemed, when it was over, about as important as the game of shinny played by two groups of cute kids after the first period.

Hockey can only give so much. People give their lives to it, body and soul. They spend their treasure on it. They follow it avidly, let it dominate their free thoughts, every waking moment, especially during the playoffs, and even more especially if MY team is in the final. But in the end, all that hockey gives is a hollow artificial experience that cannot give an answer to the issues of life.

Canadians, for the most part, are affected by this. I am affected by this. I grew up playing the game [some would of course allege that what I did was NOT playing the game…] Hockey is part of our national psyche, even for those who never played the game. We are all caught up in it.

Christians must at least hold this ‘secular religion’ in balance, if not in check. Perhaps we should eschew it altogether.

on one of my missionary friends

I would like to draw your attention to the mission blog of one of my friends. Scott Dean serves with our board in Mongolia in a truly pioneering work. He and his wife are on their second term in Mongolia. In their first term, they learned the language and have one couple to show for their evangelistic efforts, truly a trophy of grace. They have been back on the field for about 6 months now and are gathering a group of believers together. Scott usually blogs about twice a week. It is a real blessing to me to hear reports about his work there.

We met Scott before he headed out on his first term when he arrived on Vancouver Island to take a course on medical care that was a little more advanced than first aid since medical care in Mongolia is somewhat chancy. He spent two weeks on the course and two weekends in our church, ready to serve in any way we asked. On that trip, he was traveling light, so we had him do an ‘audio slide presentation’. This past summer, he and his wife and two of their children were able to be with us and we saw the whole show. We were very encouraged by his ministry.

Anyway, I thought I would give you a link to his blog so that you might keep up with him if you are interested. Slowly but surely souls are being won to Jesus Christ in the Dean’s ministry.

Scott Dean blog – Ministering in Mongolia

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on its beginning to look a lot like Christmas (sermon summaries 12.10.06)

Traditionally I try to preach a Christmas theme for the whole month of December and sometimes try to sneak in a few Sunday’s in November as well. I am pretty much a bah humbug kind of guy when it comes to the decorations, the trees, the commercialism, etc, but when it comes to the incarnation, well, that is a great delight. I never get tired of that story.

Today was the first day of our special Christmas preaching series this year. Since we are going chronologically through the NT this year, I decided to go back to the Matthew and Luke passages and go chronologically through the Christmas story. That means we will dedicate 12 services to working our way through the passages. My sons will be home from BJU to help with two messages each which will make Christmas just great for dear old dad.

Before I get into today’s messages, I would also like to report two visiting families today who seemed quite interesting. One is a lady who moved here from Nova Scotia a year ago who has been looking for a church all this time. She seemed quite interested and brought along a young adoptive son who is challenged with FAS, but seems like a nice boy in spite of his handicaps. The other family are friends of a family who attend our church. The attending family are immigrants from Russia with a tremendous salvation testimony. The visiting family are from the Ukraine, originally, I think, but moved here last week from Ontario. They are a young couple with a one year old son. Obviously, having had no children’s ministry for a while, we dearly covet (in a godly sort of way) new families like this.

Our first message today was from the genealogy in Matthew, entitled ‘Genealogy of the King‘. Genealogies seem dry and dull to our western minds, but they were full of significance to the Jews. The more I study them in Scripture, the richer they become. The genealogy in Matthew proves the rights of the Messiah to the throne of David, but it teaches much more than that. My proposition for this message was: ‘The plan of God is unfolding as God intended in spite of the many failings of mankind and in spite of the many failings of you.’ First we covered the Promise that is highlighted in the genealogy, first the promise to David, but also the promise to Abraham. The promise belonged to the whole nation is underscored by the prominence of David in the genealogy, and is concluded in the person of the Messiah himself. Then we considered some of the problems in the genealogy – the problems of exclusion (prominently three kings between Joram and Uzziah), but others as well. And then there are the problems of inclusion – the most wicked king of Judah, Manasseh is included. And then the four mothers of Israel with the sordid pasts (or a connection to a sordid past in the case of Ruth the Moabitess). Why all these inclusions and exclusions? The answer is in the plan of God, to display the Messiah’s title in a symmetrical list of fourteens (the numerical value of David’s name) and to display Messiah’s identification with sinners by connecting him with these who had so much wickedness, and to display Messiah’s grace, especially in the case of these women who could easily have been left out. Dr. Custer said this about Bathsheba: “Bathsheba was the woman who flaunted her beauty at King David and got invited into the palace (2 Sam 11.2-5; 12.24). The record is stained by sin, which the coming king will atone for by His death. Contrary to customary usage, all these sinful people are mentioned with a definite purpose. God’s people are not saved because they are so good; they are saved by the grace of God because He is so good and merciful. Every saint in Heaven is a sinner saved by grace.” [Stewart Custer, The Gospel of the King, p. 4.]

The next message was ‘Fear not, Zacharias‘, from the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. The theme I concentrated on was God’s requirement of a faithful man to take one more step of faith. Zacharias and Elisabeth lived in a time of great turmoil, under the reign of Herod the Great (among others). Now in their old age, still childless, suddenly the announcement comes from God that their prayer is heard, they will have a son. God is giving him a great privilege, and calling him to greater faith. Every step of faithfulness requires the next step of faithfulness. And at this step, Zacharias falters. “I am old, my wife is old…” The angel says to him, “You will also be silent for at least nine months.” [Imagine having to let your wife do all the talking through the period of expectation of your first child!] As Zacharias emerged from the Holy place and made signs to the people since he couldn’t speak, I am sure that Zacharias doubted no longer. After his service in the temple, he went home, and God’s word came true – the next step of faithfulness was taken, and Elisabeth conceived a son in her old age. For us, too, every step of faithfulness requires the next step of faithfulness.

The last message today was in some ways my favorite. It covered the announcement of Gabriel to Mary. I called it, ‘Hail, favored one‘. Rather than do a verse by verse exposition of such a familiar passage, I covered five vital theological themes found in the announcment to Mary. One of my commentators said: “Luke now weaves deep theological meaning into his simple and delicate narrative. This section is perhaps the highest of several summits of revelation in chapters 1 and 2. The account of Jesus’ nativity, beautiful and essential as it is, rests theologically on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. Luke presents the theology of the Incarnation in a way so holy and congruent with OT sacred history that any comparisons with pagan mythology seem utterly incongruous. Instead of the carnal union of a pagan god with a woman, producing some kind of semidivine offspring, Luke speaks of a spiritual overshadowing by God himself that will produce the ‘holy one’ within Mary.” [Walter L Liefield, “Luke” Expositors, vol. 8, p. 829.]

Taking this cue, we covered first of all the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. We went through a few passages speaking of the nature of the Son of God, highlighted by Heb 1.2-8. [I hope to preach through Hebrews when I am old enough.] What a passage! It is full of power! Then we went to the trial in Mk 14.61-62 where Caiaphas asks if Jesus is the Son of the Highest and Jesus says simply, ‘I am’. The second doctrine we covered was the messianic role and reign over the kingdom, launched from the angel’s announcement that the baby would reign for ever. I read through OT passages speaking of the Davidic covenant and its certain promise from 2 Sam, Ps, Isa, Jer, Ezek and Amos. Then closing this theme out with Mt 28.18. All authority is given unto me… The next theme was that of the Most High God. It is the great God, highest of all (a theme first mentioned by Melchisedec in Gen 14.19), who accomplishes this work in Mary and for our salvation. Then it was on to the theme of the power of the Holy Spirit, overshadowing Mary and causing that cell in her body to come to life, dividing, replicating, becoming the man Jesus Christ. The final them was the grace of God, given to Mary (not given by Mary), a grace she accepts: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord.’ We all stand in the same position, in much need of the work of the Most High, in much need of the grace of God, in much need of the Holy Spirit, in much need of David’s Son, in much need of the Son of God, and we must all receive by faith the grace proffered to us.

Praise the Lord for a great day of feasting on God’s Word.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on attendance at the idol’s temple (sermon summary 12.6.06)

In light of recent articles and comments at SI [and see here], Wednesday’s message seemed singularly appropriate. That is not to say that our church folks spend any time at SI, I doubt they are even aware of it. But many of you who read my comments online are aware, so it is interesting that we should approach this topic at this time.

Our passages for this message were 1 Corinthians 8-10. I entitled the message, “When Can I go to the Idol’s Temple?” My proposition: The principles taught in 1 Corinthians mean that Chrisitans should almost never enter idol’s temples (or their modern equivalents).

The first point of the sermon dealt with defining the subject of the argument. The Corinthians had written Paul a letter that contained assertions and questions. Some of them were apparently in response to a previous letter (now lost) that Paul had written them. One of the subjects of the Corinthians letter was ‘meat offered to idols’. There are three specific ways in which this meat was consumed: at feasts in the idol temple, at home by ‘idol-meat’ bought in the marketplace, or at a friends home with similar meat. Tom Constable in his Expository Notes on the Bible argues that the issue in 1 Cor 8-10 is primarily eating the meat in the idol temple. He cites Fee in support of his argument, although I don’t have Fee to check. The issue of marketplace meat is relegated to the end of 1 Cor 10, after Paul has concluded his argument on what to do about eating meat offered to idols. These two possibilities are dealt with as ancillary issues, issues that need to be considered as objections to the main thesis. In 1 Cor 8.10, Paul specifically mentions sitting at meat in an idol’s temple. This seems to be the point that Paul is dealing with throughout 1 Cor 8-10.

The second point of the sermon had to do with the arguments against eating meat offered to idols, i.e., in the idol temples (virtually the restaurants of Paul’s day). Chapter 8 brings up the argument of love [for the brother] or the consideration of the weakness of the brother. Chapter 9 brings up the argument of priority as Paul speaks about his willingness to give up his rights and indifferent things that don’t matter for the sake of the gospel, i.e., the consideration of the worth of the gospel. Chapter 10 brings up the argument of reality, as Paul illustrates the danger of idol meat with the example of what befell Israel. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Paul finishes by pointing out that while an idol is just a rock, behind the idol is a demon, and real spiritual transactions occur in idol sacrifices. So Paul teaches: don’t do it, you don’t know the danger you are in, I would not have you connected to the Lord and to demons. This consideration is on the basis of the wickedness of the heart.

I touched briefly on the ancillary issues: what about idol meat bought in the marketplace? Paul says no problem, it’s just meat. Eat it and don’t ask questions. What about idol meat at a friends house? No problem eating it, as long as no one calls attention to the fact that it is idol meat. If they do, they have a conscience that it is different from ordinary meat and you must abstain for the sake of their conscience.

In the conclusion, Paul says that whether you choose to eat or not to eat, whatever your choice is, do that to the glory of God. I wrote on that extensively earlier, so you can check my post on 1 Cor 10.31 if you want to read a much more full discussion of this point.

In closing the message, I made several modern day applications. I am going to just paste that portion of my notes here. These are not exact parallels, but I think there is sufficient parallel that we ought to seriously consider drawing some lines in our lives:

· Can a Christian in good conscience go eat at the restaurant of a casino?
· Can a Christian in good conscience go to a pub?
· Can a Christian in good conscience attend a movie theatre?
Are there issues that a Christian might have with eating in a Chinese restaurant for example?
· Especially when a Buddha sits out front with offerings of food in front of it? [Now a restaurant is NOT an idol temple, but still… we must think this through.]
· If you are at a Chinese restaurant and someone mentions to you that the fortune cookies are part of demonic trust in luck and signs, what should you do? DON’T EAT THE COOKIE

We must in the things we do, consider:

1. The argument of love (or, ‘the weakness of the brother’)
2. The argument of priorities (or, ‘the worth of the gospel’)
3. he argument of reality (or, ‘the wickedness of the heart’)

If we keep these arguments in mind, and die to self, we will do well.

These issues are difficult issues in our day. A great deal of pressure is exerted by modern day Corinthians on those who want to preach the Bible as the absolute authority for life. It is a great shame that so many rebels are present in the graduates of Christian universities and colleges that have a reputation for standing for orthodoxy.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on a twisted church (sermon summaries 12.3.06)

The snow stopped, the parking lot is plowed, and we are back to our regular schedule, Praise the Lord! Did I mention we don’t do snow?

This week we began 1 Corinthians with the message previously scheduled for last Sunday afternoon. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, in the midst of very successful ministry in the Roman province of Asia (see Ac 19). While there, news came to him of difficulties in the Corinthian church. These were addressed in a letter which is now lost. But the difficulties continued so Paul wrote a second letter which is preserved for us as 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with various difficulties, discovered either by way of bad reports that came to him, or by way of questions asked by the Corinthians.

The first issue Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians is the issue of the party spirit that was dividing the church. Our message was entitled, “Great Opposition in Corinth“. Our proposition: “Conflict and division in a church are evidence of a failure to fully accept the implications of the gospel.” Paul begins by stating the problem – the division is around well known Christian leaders, Paul, Apollos, Peter, even Christ are set up as heads of ‘factions’ in Corinth. In arguing against this kind of spirit, Paul points out that the preaching of the cross is the power of God, therefore let us glory in the cross, not men. He also points out that the wisdom of God, manifested in the cross, is incomprehensible to the world. The world is ‘natural’, we are ‘spiritual’ [or we should be], but the Corinthian problem is that they are ‘carnal’, and act like men who don’t understand the wisdom of God, though they should. Since we are spiritual, we should have the mind of Christ, and if we did divisions would disappear. We would not unduly exalt men, and men would not unduly exalt themselves, pastoral (and even apostolic) leadership would be viewed as household slaves who serve the living word to God’s people. The only solution to this problem is humility of mind and submission of spirit. Paul closes the section by warning them that they can have him come with a rod or with gentleness, the difference in approach depends entirely on whether they will adopt humility of mind and submission of spirit now … or later.

Our second message was from 1 Cor 5-6, “Struggling with Immorality“. Three issues are dealt with in these two chapters: the man who had his father’s wife, lawsuits among believers, and the problem of harlotry. In some ways all these problems may have been interrelated. Our proposition: “Spiritual immaturity can produce grievous spiritual blindness that allows astonishing levels of wickedness.” The first evidence of spiritual blindness was the toleration of the man who was at least living with or perhaps even married to his step-mother. The church was puffed up, tolerating this man’s sin, and thinking of itself as doing the right thing, hence the idea of blindness. Paul said, “don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” [The first of 7 ‘don’t you knows’ in the two chapters.] Paul’s judgement is that they ought to know better, you can’t tolerate that kind of sin in the midst without it having a corrupting influence. The second issue, the lawsuits, involves ignorance of the relative status of believers and unbelievers in the universe and the damage done to the gospel witness as a result of the lawsuits – don’t you know, Paul asks, that saints will judge the world and angels? Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? You are qualified to make judgements between yourselves, unbelievers are not qualified to judge you. You were such, but now you are something different. The last issue is the issue of actual immorality of some with harlots – they appear to have been under the impression that since the body will be destroyed anyway, and the body has physical desires, there was nothing wrong with indulging those desires in any way convenient. Paul says they are blind, they aren’t realizing that physical union also involves spiritual union and they are joining Christ and the temple of the Spirit with harlotry, a grave matter of spiritual confusion and spiritual blindness. The question in all of this is if the blindness is merely ignorance or if it is wilful self-deception. I tend to suspect the latter. The way Paul asks the “don’t you know” questions implies that they surely ought to have known, by the indwelling conviction of the Holy Spirit or even by natural human conscience. In any case, the cure for this kind of blindness is to open your eyes and see the truth.

The last message dealt with 1 Cor 7, the great marriage question chapter. The title was, “Answering Questions Concerning Marriage“. The questions apparently came from the Corinthians themselves and perhaps involved some of their Greek background and philosophy that considered the physical body and its drives to be evil. In any case, Paul deals with the marriage question in a number of ways. First, at a basic level, one reason for getting married is simply ‘on account of immoralities’. In other words, one function of marriage is to protect from the temptations to immorality, so married couples should make certain to give themselves physically to one another on a regular faithful basis, in order to minimize physical temptations. Paul turns from the basic question to deal with questions that apply to a whole host of categories: should I get married, should I stay married, if my marriage ends, what then? In general, Paul urges contentment with one’s state, including for the single the possibility that they remain single in the ‘present distress’ to devote themselves to Chirstian service with less entanglements. But Paul recognizes that not all are given such a gift by God (i.e., to endure long singleness without experiencing great temptation) so many (perhaps most) should marry. For those in marriages, the prime directive is to stay married, even those married to unbelievers, unless the unbeliever wants to depart. In such cases, the believer is no longer bound by the marriage and should not fight the breakup if the unbeliever departs. The final admonition about marriage is given to the widow – if she remarries, she must only remarry ‘in the Lord’, i.e., to a believer. This admonition is legitimately applied to all, but here is applied to the widow. All in all, Paul’s teaching is to encourage the fullness of marriage and the fulfillment of the marriage vows, both physically and temporally. Be thoroughly committed to your marriage through thick and thin, never yielding to the blandishments of the world around you.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3