Archives for August 2007

on the power of the mind – what are you thinking about?

I have been thinking about this article for the last couple of days:

Cyber Sexuality – Newsletter – ChristianityTodayLibrary.com: “According to Dr. Mark Laaser, director of the Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery, ‘Historically we would have said women are addicted to romance novels or women are addicted to chat rooms,’ but that’s changing. The number of women hooked on pornography and other ‘more behavioral ways of acting out’ are dramatically rising. Our culture and what we spend our time thinking about are literally changing the way our brains are wired. As a result ‘women are getting rewired to be more visual and aggressive’ and they’re ‘acting out in direct ways.’

This rewiring—which happens in men as well—is changing us neurochemically and neuroanatomically, says Dr. Laaser. And it’s not only through repeated exposure to sexual imagery on TV, in advertising, or online. The primary agent of this mental transformation is due to how we use our minds: what we spend our time thinking about, fantasizing about, and meditating on. Our brains and thoughts are molded by what we surf for, how we chat, and what we write. This negative transformation is the diametric opposite (and dramatic fulfillment) of the principles found in Romans 12:1-2.”

The thing you meditate on tends to dominate your value system and way of life. This article is a negative example of how crucial it is to spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about God’s Word.

The last two years our church spent a good deal of time reading the Bible through. All our sermons were geared to preaching the Bible through. The whole experience lifted the spiritual lives of those committed to the project. (Not all were!)

I was talking about this article and this concept with a visiting pastor friend this week. It occurred to me as we talked how difficult it is to by faith make the focus of your mind the Word of God. God’s Word, while interesting enough to me as a Christian, doesn’t have the sizzle that the world offers to my flesh. The CT article referenced here focuses on illicit and explicit sexuality – an area of huge attraction to the flesh. But there are many other ‘sizzling’ attractions to the flesh in the world besides this particular topic. Consider the sporting world, the fashion world, the music world, and so on. Consider even dry topics like history or genealogical studies — I have a distant cousin who is obsessed with our family tree. Through her efforts I know my family history back to 1550. But this woman cannot hear the gospel because she is obsessed with “Johnson”.

The Word of God, on the other hand, can seem dryer than dry. It can seem that nothing is happening as I read it faithfully day by day. Some days I can’t bring myself to it. That is when faith must act. I look at the Word by faith and I put my time into reading, thinking, absorbing, meditating – and a transformation takes place. This is faith, not sight. And that faith can’t be mere words, it must be faithful action or a spiritual vacuum takes place. And where there is a vacuum, other things rush in to take God’s rightful place in our lives.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on one more cool thing before the day is out

This must be my day for commenting on cool stories on the internet… just one more…

Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament – Telegraph: “‘This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find,’ Dr Finkel said yesterday. ‘If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.'”

Read the whole article to get the details, but the gist is this: in searching through financial records from the Babylonian empire, a researcher discovered a clay tablet containing the name of Nebuzaradan, a man whose name appears in 12 verses in Jeremiah. The man is a relatively minor player in the destruction of Jerusalem, a man into whose custody Jeremiah was committed by Nebuchadnezzar.

The tablet discovered in the British Museum is a receipt given to Nebuzaradan from a pagan temple in Babylon. The name is the same, though spelled differently in Cuneiform than Hebrew, and the tablet identifies the man as the ‘chief eunuch’, a man in the service of the emperor. It is undoubtedly the same man as named in Jeremiah.

In this minor detail, Jeremiah is seen to be accurate. This speaks volumes for the accuracy of Jeremiah, and by extension, the whole Bible.

Of course, believers have no need of archeology to confirm faith, but it is satisfying to have examples like this to point out to unbelievers. The credibility of the Bible in an unbelieving world takes on additional power when finds such as this are made.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on is that cool or what?

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Diamond star thrills astronomers: “Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered. The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 4,000 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus. It’s the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk. Astronomers have decided to call the star ‘Lucy’ after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

What a mighty God we serve!

Job 22:12 Is not God in the height of heaven? and behold the height of the stars, how high they are! 13 And thou sayest, How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud?

Psalm 8:1 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: 7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; 8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on not knowing whether to laugh or cry

These comments on Canada’s alleged public education system:

No student left behind: “‘What it really is, is about passing the buck,’ said Anton Allahar, a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. ‘In a system where one is not accountable you pass them on to the next level, from Grade 3 to Grade 4 or from first year, to second year, to third year, so that somebody else later on down the line someone else inherits the problem.’

In their recent book Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis, Prof. Allahar and his colleague James Cote lay significant blame for the current state of affairs at the feet of a public education system they say is breeding ’empowered idiots.’

‘This idea of boosting self-esteem of students, especially those who don’t do well, has led to problems at primary, secondary and university educational levels where you have people who don’t aspire to do well, but still expect the star,’ said Prof. Allahar in an interview.

‘They still expect the reward and they still expect mommy and daddy and teacher to say, ‘Way to go! You gave it your best!’ But they are not giving it at their best. So what people like Jim Cote and I have inherited at the university level is a lot of people with very high self-esteem who are idiots.'”

Sigh…

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on the cult of personality

One of the glaring weaknesses of large church ministries is the personal popularity of the pastor. The man may have a dynamic personality, attract personal followers, and appear to be building a successful outpost for the kingdom. When the man dies, retires, or resigns, the church may suffer a fairly immediate loss of members and donors, significantly impacting the infrastructure of the church.

This is one reason banks in our area are loathe to accept mortgages higher than 50% of the appraised value of the property. Of course, the limited market for church buildings is another factor. Some banks require personal covenants by the pastor to remain in that particular pulpit for a period of time (say, 5 years) as a means of securing the loan.

An illustration of the difficulties of personality led ministries is the New Life Church in Denver, CO. This is the church pastored by the disgraced Ted Haggard who resigned amid a terrible scandal involving a homosexual prostitute and allegations of drug use. An article on the Religion News Blog today says that church attendance has dropped from 14,000 to 10,000 in the interim, a loss of close to 33%. Offerings have dropped only 10%, suggesting that the loss in attendance reflects the loss of mostly ‘hangers on’, those most likely to be attracted by the ‘cult of personality’ a dynamic pastor might offer.

Fundamentalists may look at this situation with a bit of smugness, thinking that such ‘couldn’t happen here’. I would hope and pray that the specific sins of this pastor wouldn’t happen in a fundamentalist pulpit, but human nature is so corrupt that I am afraid of assuming that we are ‘above’ that. But a more real danger in fundamentalist churches are the dangers lurking in churches that are built on personality. There are folks in churches, large and small, who attend because of the personality and personal dynamics of their relationship with the pastor. When the pastor resigns or retires, the church in transition faces several dangers, especially if it is carrying a heavy load of debt. [I am not against debt in principle, but debt must be managed carefully when it is used at all.]

If a pastor is an especially dynamic person, some may simply fall away because they were followers of that man, instead of Christ. Their commitment to the church is very shallow. To some extent, this is unavoidable. I don’t suggest pastors of that sort should change their personalities! May the Lord use them! But I do suggest that they use wisdom in preparing their churches for their own demise. That will include wisdom in debt commitments.

[As an aside, I don’t think anyone will accuse me of having a dynamic personality, although I suppose that it is possible for a certain sort of individual to be an inordinant follower of me. I don’t expect this is a wide segment of the population, however.]

For some people, any new pastor can never measure up to the former pastor. Whatever strengths the old pastor had, be it personality, be it exceptional preaching ability, be it counseling and compassion, or whatever it might be, the new pastor will bring a different sort of strengths to the pulpit. Those who are committed to the Lord and to the work of Christ in that locale will recognize there will be differences and maintain their commitment. Those committed to the pastor for his strengths may easily become disgruntled at the lack of those same strengths in the new man.

All that to say this, in the pastoral ministry, one must always keep his eye on the future. One must be preparing his people for pastoral departure. I don’t expect to depart my pulpit for at least another ten or fifteen years, but I am not in charge of the future. My people need to be disciples of Christ, not of me. My church program (such as it is) must be prudently managed so that the body is not in immediate danger if the Lord suddenly removes me. My spiritual life must be personally completely committed to the Lord and by discipleship and personal involvement faithfully transferred in the lives of the people.

May God give us all wisdom and commitment to His service in the days ahead.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

P.S. Additional stories concerning Ted Haggard are appearing at various sites on the internet. They tragically seem to be pointing to a man who still doesn’t get it. Repentance would be good, but it seems not to be ensuing…

on the perfect model of separation from the world

That would be our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I preached an additional message in our Law, Legalism, and Life series as suggested last week by my sister.

The Spiritual Life of Jesus Christ: an exhortation to put on Jesus Christ with Rm 13.14 as its text was our message. I began the message by noting that our ultimate standard for Christian living is our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

When we think of Jesus as our standard, what aspect of his nature comes to mind? Usually I think of Jesus as God – it is a little jarring to think of him in terms of who he is, the God-MAN. Current heresies tend to deny his deity, so we tend to think of him that way in a reactionary defensive kind of mode. In the early centuries of the church, the heretics tended to deny his humanity in some way, in keeping with the Greek/Gnostic notion of the material world being evil.

But when we are urged to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, what are we being asked to do? Are we being asked to imitate Christ as God? How can we do that? No, we are being asked to emulate and imitate his perfect humanity.

Proposition: To fully live up to Biblical Christian standards, the eyes of your spirit must be focused on following the pattern of the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ.

What kind of spiritual life did Jesus exhibit?

In the life of Christ we see that Jesus practiced what he preached – true spirituality. The one who exhorted us to love our enemies healed Malchus’ ear. The one who told us to turn the other cheek answered not again when falsely accused before Pilate. The Lord Jesus could have called 10,000 angels but denied himself, submitted to the will of the Father, endured the abuse of men, ‘as a sheep before her shearers is dumb’. Jesus is the perfect example of spiritual humanity. How was that spirituality developed? Simply by the self-consciously divine nature of God in Christ? Or simply by that nature alone?

We find him persistently praying. His prayers were such that they moved the disciples (men who had heard prayers and been offering prayers all their lives) to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. We find Jesus habitually and persistently in the synagogues. Luke says it was his custom. It is mentioned so much in the Gospels that I think not a sabbath went by that the Lord was not in a synagogue somewhere. Do you realize that synagogue worship is not required by the OT Law? It isn’t even on the radar screen in the OT. Jesus was in the synagogue because he loved God.

How did Jesus come to this kind of spirituality?

It is undeniable that Jesus grew physically – he was a babe, a child, a boy, and then a man. It is undeniable that he grew mentally (and that to some extent he limited his omniscience as the Son of man as a part of the mystery of the incarnation). We see him seated at the feet of the doctors of the law in the temple, a 12 year old boy, ‘listening and asking questions’ – he is growing mentally.

An often overlooked facet of Jesus life is that he grew spiritually. As a babe, he was cared for and led by devout human parents who consistently kept the Law. On the eighth day he was circumcised, in accordance with the law. On the 40th day he was redeemed as a firstborn, in accordance with the law. On the same day his mother was purified by offering two turtledoves, in accordance with the law. His parents both persistently attended the Passover every year (though it was only required of men). When discovered by his parents in the temple, he returned home with them and ‘was subject’ unto them. Jesus was the perfect model of humanity, growing spiritually each step of the way in his life. The Bible tells us that the child grew in wisdom and grace (Lk 2.40, 52). What is that but spiritual growth?

Jesus is of course on a higher spiritual plane than his parents. John the Baptist considered himself to be unworthy to stoop and loose Jesus shoes, the Lord’s parents were certainly not higher than the Baptist. Yet Jesus submitted himself to their authority, obeyed their leadership, observed their rules and the rules of his religion (Judaism) and beyond.

Are you a Christian? Do you want to be like Christ?

Then you need to emulate his spiritual life. That’s how you are going to put on Christ.

• Prayers
• Bible reading, memorizing, study
• Faithfulness to the assembly — really, you should be in every service
• Commitment to membership [accountability and service]

Proposition: To fully live up to Biblical Christian standards, the eyes of your spirit must be focused on following the pattern of the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ.

~~~

In our afternoon service we began a new series on the nature of the Church. The message was It’s Not Your Church

Our text was Mt 16.18. We looked at the foundation of the church: Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. We looked at the formation of the church: Jesus Christ, the builder. We looked at the future of the church: victorious over the gates of hell [from the cross onwards to the coming of the King, the grave is no victory over the saints, the Lord is the victory].

If It’s Not Your Church, then whose is it? It’s His church. The church belongs to the One who builds it. He may use men and the gifts he gives them to build the church, but ultimately, he is the one at work, he is the one who builds.

Our attitude towards His church should be one of submission. Submission for accountability and discipleship. Submission for opportunities to serve.

~~~

We had a number of visitors today, mostly from out of town. We also had a couple of absences today, so we were about average in attendance after all.

I did experience a ‘first’ for me in preaching the first message. I got about three quarters through and discovered a page of my notes was missing. I had to have some of my people look up a verse for me with their concordances while I was preaching. I managed to remember most of the notes on the page and with the help of our people, carried on. I have forgotten my whole set of notes a couple of times before, but that one was a first!

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on a disappointing distortion

I have a clip from a message preached in 1991 called “Gray-Area Decisions Made Easy”. The bulk of the message contains reasonable decision making questions Christians should ask about whether they should do or not do something. The subject matter is what the preacher calls ‘non-moral’ things, but things about which Christians have had questions throughout the history of the church.

I don’t agree with some of the interpretations offered in the message. The preacher misses some key passages quite badly. However, as a whole the thrust of the message is reasonably biblical.

Much more than these errors of interpretation, the thing that bothers me most about the message is a statement made in the introduction. I don’t know if this will work, but I am including a link to a

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from that introduction. Below is my transcript of the clip. I think it is accurate:

“I went away to college at a very narrow kind of circumscribed legalistic school and everything was reduced to rules. We had rules for everything. In fact we used to say the school song was ‘I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.’ That sort of summed up the whole approach to spiritual life. Everything was reduced to some kind of list of things that were forbidden.”

I, too, went away to that same college. I, too, had to sign the same rule book. But I find it extremely disingenuous for the speaker to suggest that the leadership at that college thought then (or even still think today) that spirituality equalled keeping the man-made rule book of the college. What a foolish and uncharitable misrepresentation! When I was a student there, no one assumed that the student who didn’t break the rules was spiritual. Keeping the rules was one thing, spirituality something else again.

Even more disturbing to me is this question: What does such a distortion say about the credibility of the one speaking?

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

P.S. Yes, I know the clip is from 1991. Would anyone care to confirm a change of attitude in the intervening years?

on the Quebec Mennonite oppression case

From Today’s Family News:

“We hoped to grow old here,” Mennonite resident Ron Goosen told CBC News. “We have our burial plots and we hoped to be buried here, but it doesn’t look that way.”

As a follow-up to the story I linked to earlier, it seems that the provincial authorities are digging in their heels while the ‘little people’ are voting with their feet.

The Quebec government is particularly secular. It may also be the most oppressive regime in Canada. The history of Catholic dominance always meant many difficult hurdles for any kind of protestant/evangelical/Bible-believing group within Quebec. The secular mood of the last 40 years or so changed none of the oppressiveness, only adding increasingly unbelieving authorities in charge.

The rest of the country is not quite as oppressive, but the general mood of politicians, especially on the left, is antagonistic to freedom. Conformity to the norm is the goal of the state, as it has ever been in history, and as it always will be. The only way that real freedom of religion can be maintained is if Bible believers maintain status as a significant minority in the population and tend to vote in a unified pattern. When that happens, the pols pay attention.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on ‘what’s that musty smell’

This morning, early, my wife took our daughter and son off to Sea-Tac for their return to BJU. A few tears were shed, I can assure you. I want them both to launch out on their lives of service for the Lord, but in my heart, I’d kind of like to keep them as kids forever.

After they left, I got one of my deacons and we proceeded to demolish the main bathroom of our house. We have had a long standing problem with leaks in the shower. It is time to fix it, and with the shower population cut in half, now was the opportune time.

Man… what a mess. I discovered that my leak (yes, it was my fault!!) had soaked into the particle board on the floor (the particle board was someone else’s fault) and the musty smell was emanating from there. Tonight, as we head for bed, the floor is ripped up, the drywall around the tub is ripped out [and partly replaced] and the place is drying out. Tomorrow we should get the drywall in, a ceiling fan installed and the subfloor replaced. We also hope to have the tub surround in place. The painting and linoleum will have to wait a day or two, but at least the bathroom will be functional again.

NAU Genesis 3:17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on Jesus, Inc.

Sales of Christian products increased to $4.6 billion last year, according to reports by the major trade association for Christian retailing.”

The numbers reported here are kind of staggering. Ties in with a post Chris Anderson made today, linking to an article on the philosophy of cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

Luke 18:8 … However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3