Author: Mark Johnson

Wisdom and the Road to Character Seminar

In just over a month, this congregation is hosting the “Wisdom and Character Formation” Seminar with Dr. Dave Bland who is a professor at the Harding School of Theology (HST) in Memphis, TN. Dave was born and raised west of Fort Collins and is excited to have the opportunity to present this material in Colorado!

You will be wise to make sure that you participate in as much of this seminar as possible.

Applying the wisdom literature to life has captivated Dr. Bland for several decades. He teaches a course on “Wisdom and Character Formation” at HST and has written three books dealing with this material: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (College Press NIV Commentary), College Press, 2002; Proverbs and the Formation of Character, Cascade Books, 2015; and Creation, Character, and Wisdom: Rethinking the Roots of Environmental Ethics, Wipf & Stock, 2016.

Make sure your schedule includes this Seminar on January 19 and 20, 2019, you will be blessed.

The material below is from David Fleer & Dave Bland, Preaching Character: Reclaiming Wisdom’s Paradigmatic Imagination for Transformation (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2010).

Life is an exciting journey, an adventure with unknown challenges stretching before us.  But life often throws unexpected twists and turns along the way. While it presents wonderful opportunities and joys, hidden perils abound. It’s an exciting adventure that involves perilous risks and difficult decisions. In different ways both the novice and the experienced must remain constantly vigilant. Our world does not well prepare individuals for this journey, regardless of the level of experience.

It is at this point that wisdom speaks a profound word into our experience. Wisdom capably negotiates the complexities of life. The wise person is one who develops expertise in living responsibly. Wisdom seeks to discover God’s order in life and then proceeds to successfully fit into that order, always acknowledging human limitations. Divine order demands moral behavior and wisdom’s ultimate goal is the formation of moral character. This quality of character is the thicker, richer meaning of wisdom.

Our culture and churches desperately need wisdom. It is not a spur of the moment decision to try to be a wise person. It is a process of training.

Centering Our Lives

The worship scenes in Revelation (especially chapters 4 and 5) offer an alternative center for our lives than what culture provides us. The vision of all creation centered in worship and obedient waiting upon God and the Lamb invites the reader to reorient his or her life around the throne of God as the pivotal center of our lives.

“John calls us to center ourselves and to remain centered, here. This centering for John does not belong to the fleeting moments of structured times of worship, however. It is the business of God’s creatures “day and night without rest” (4:8), which for human beings must mean bringing every facet of life into orbit around the enthroned God, centered on God, on God’s prompting, on God’s service” (deSilva, Unholy Allegiances).

“The alternative to worship focused on the true center, the true authority for life (symbolized here in the throne), is worship focused on false centers: idols. Babylon is the place of anti-worship” (Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly, 103).

“John challenges us to examine whether we stand appropriately focused on God on Sunday mornings but spend most of our time (and, truth be told, some of Sunday morning as well) turning away to move into orbit around other more local centers—our national centers, our commercial centers, the centers of our own selves—serving agendas other than God’s” (deSilva, Unholy Allegiances).

In John’s vision of the cosmos, there is no room for gathering around God’s throne at one time as one’s cosmic center and at another time in the fellowship of idols and their worshipers. “God the creator reigns and is worthy of our complete devotion, and Jesus the faithful, slaughtered Lamb of God reigns with God, equally worthy of our complete devotion” (Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly, 103).

John’s vision of a God-centered cosmos “raises disturbing questions about whether or not we are guilty of treating God as if he orbited around us, expecting God to show up to do our bidding, warming our hearts here, healing us there, taking care of this concern or problem over here. John would have disciples in every age understand—and live like they understand—that they exist to do God’s bidding, because God created all things for the doing of God’s will and pleasure (4:11)” (deSilva, Unholy Allegiances).

“The worship of God is the heartbeat of the cosmos, even when we humans on earth do not see it, participate in it, or value it. Only God is worthy to receive what others, especially powerful political figures, may want or demand: our total devotion, our praise, our crowns” (Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly, 107).

Is The Church A Restaurant?

There are numerous biblical images for the church: the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the elect, the family of God, God’s temple, the flock of God, to name a few. An ancient, post-first century symbol that was used for the church was a boat (rooted in Mark 4:35-41; 1 Peter 3:20-21), and there are many others.

As a young Christian, I heard the image of “cafeteria” used numerous times to describe the way some people approach Christianity. The idea was, “I will take a little of this (grace, etc.) and some of that (love, etc.), but I do not want any of the other (obedience, etc.).” The lesson being that we can not pick and choose what Scriptures we decide to obey.

I recently read an article by Trevin Wax entitled, “The Church Is Not A Restaurant.” It is a well written and thought stimulating image. Wax deals with what is happening when a congregation does not stand out in a consumer-oriented society (people will naturally gravitate toward a view of the church that is influenced by a consumerist imagination). The article is about why one might attend a variety of churches without ever committing to any of them, and the reason is “when you see the church as a restaurant.” The following is from Wax’s article (with editing and addition material from MRJ).

What happens is that church members migrate from one congregation to another, enjoying for a season the preaching and music here, sometimes coming back to their go-to congregation when they’re in the mood for something more familiar, or heading over to a third church for a mission trip. The result is sporadic attendance at any particular congregation.

When leaders notice that their church members have been absent for a while and they check up on them, they’re puzzled to discover that there isn’t a particular reason why these members have been more absent than present. The attenders are not mad, and they’ve not had a bad experience; they just see church attendance much like someone might think of the choice between Texas Roadhouse or Red Lobster for lunch. It’s whatever they’re in the mood for that Sunday, or during that season of life.

The problem with viewing the church as a restaurant is that it amplifies the consumer mentality in that the service is all directed one-way. There’s not enough commitment for people to attend week after week; which makes it extremely difficult for the consumerist mindset to be challenged, discipled, or ministering to for the upbuilding of the church.

The church is not a restaurant; please do not treat it like one.

Negative Advertising

I am past ready for the elections to be over. This is not because I am eager to have a candidate win (I am much more concerned about the initiatives then I am the candidates). I am eager for the elections to be finished so that all the election advertising will discontinue.

When we lived in Olympia, we were not bombarded with all the advertising that we are here. It is incredible how many pieces of campaign literature we get in our mailbox every day.

Most of the election advertising is negative (which could be too mild a word). Most of the campaign rhetoric is designed to make people dislike someone or something, instead of being sold on someone or something.

Negative advertising only goes so far, and it gets very wearisome. The reason the political campaigns use this method is that it is more effective than other methods.

There was a time when the Lord’s church seemed to be known for what it was against (faith only salvation, sinner’s prayer, sprinkling for baptism, instrumental music with spiritual songs, etc.). Many in the church concluded that “negative advertising” was not the best thing for the church to be known by.

The past couple of decades have been a time when a large segment of the Lord’s church has attempted to be known for what we are for (loving God, loving neighbor, grace, etc.).

I am for the being known for the “positives.” Mainly being known for what you are against is not the best way to be known. However, this move away from “negative advertising” seems to have resulted in the church blending into the larger religious/spiritual surroundings.

Let us be the people of God who are known for the right (positive) things. Let us also be recognized for opposing the things that are out of line with the right (positive) things. If there one thing to learn from all of the negative political advertising, it is that people are not currently swayed by only a “positive” message.

Wisdom and the Road to Character Seminar

Please join us for this Free event on January 19-20, 2019

Wisdom is essential to capably negotiate the complexities of life. The wise person is one who develops expertise in living responsibly. Our culture and churches desperately need wisdom because we live in technologically advanced but character challenged times. A person is not born with wisdom; it is a learned quality. Wisdom’s ultimate goal is the formation of moral character. Please join us at the Columbine church of Christ for this study in Wisdom and the Road to Character with Dr. Dave Bland.

Saturday, January 19th

Wisdom and the Shaping of Character @ 9:30 AM

Characteristics of the Wise @ 10:30 AM

Lunch (on your own)

Beginning the Road to Character Formation (Proverbs 1–9) @ 1:00 PM

Continuing the Hard Road to Character Formation (Proverbs 10–27) @ 2:00 PM

 Sunday, January 20th

Character in Maturity (Proverbs 31) @ 9:00 AM

Crooked Timber (Psalm 51) @ 10:00 AM

The Proverb as a Tool for Character Formation (Prov. 11:1; 13:24; 22:6; 29:18) @ 1:00 PM

Dave Bland is professor of homiletics and serves as co-director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He also serves as one of the section editors for the journal Homiletic. Dr. Bland specializes in Homiletics and the Wisdom Literature of the Bible and is the author of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs (a commentary); Proverbs and the Formation of Character; and Creation, Character, and Wisdom. Dave grew up in Colorado and enjoys running and enjoys hunting, backpacking, and doing other outdoor activities with his family.

THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN IT SEEMS LIKE SATAN IS WINNING

Sometimes it just feels like Satan’s winning the game. No matter how hard we want to believe otherwise, our heart and our mind struggle because of our circumstances. Yet, as the people of God, we need to remember:

  1. Satan’s not winning – he’s been cast down. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night (Rev. 12:9-10)
  2. He’s not winning – he knows God has placed hedges where He wants them. Satan wanted to destroy Job, but he also knew that God had placed a protective hedge about that upright man (Job 1:10).
  3. He’s not winning – Jesus demonstrated His victory during the wilderness temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). Jesus had no intention of bowing down to the enemy. He had come to defeat him.
  4. He’s not winning – Jesus disarmed the powers through His cross (Col. 2:15). He has triumphed over them.
  5. He’s not winning – he is headed for eternal judgment. John gives us that word in Revelation 20:10 – “The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

It might seem today like Satan’s winning in your life, the church, or the world, but he is a “loser.” Do not be deceived. Persevere in the faith!

Adapted by Mark Johnson

Whose Mark Do You Wear?

We live in an increasing image-based culture. Icons are everywhere. It is vital for businesses to establish their “brand” and cultivate an “image.”

Revelation constructs a world full of “signs” and “images.” One of the themes found in Revelation is that of being “marked” or “sealed.”

One item contemporary readers of Revelation get sidetracked on is the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18). There is a fantastic array of suggestions concerning the meaning of “666,” many of which relate to the contemporary situation (at the time they were suggested) and have absolutely no meaning to the original readers of Revelation. Some of the popular targets have been “Caesar Nero,” “Ronald Wilson Reagan,” “Mikhail Gorbachev,” and various popes in Roman Catholic history. The hot name when I taught Revelation at Amarillo College was “Prince Charles.” The lengths some will go to to get a person’s name to add up to 666 are incredible.

Everyone receives a “mark” or “seal.” This mark figurative (symbolic) and not literal. There are two contrasting “marks” in the book of Revelation. God “marks” His people and “the earth beast” also “marks” those who follow him. The “mark” that one wears signifies the spiritual reality to which one belongs. Both stamps of ownership are placed on the hand, and/or forehead, symbolizing commitment and allegiance demonstrated through thinking and actions. Both marks portray a person’s loyalties reflected in their ethical choices and objects of worship.

Having God’s seal and bearing God’s name is the same thing in Revelation. Both the seal and the name of Christ and God are placed on the person’s forehead (Rev. 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4) and signifies that one is owned by (belongs) to God.

THE CALL TO CONQUER

Fundamental to the structure and theme of Revelation is the call to “conquer” or “overcome” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21(twice); 5:5; 6:2 (twice); 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7). The need to “conquer” is present due to the spiritual war between good and evil. “This military metaphor assumes that the faithful in each congregation are engaged in a struggle to remain faithful” (Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 57). Those who faithfully persevere may enter the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:7).

As Richard Bauckham points out, “The visions that intervene between the seven messages to the churches and the final vision of the New Jerusalem are to enable the readers to move from one to the other, to understand what conquering involves” (Theology of Revelation, 88). The saints win the victory by faithful endurance in following the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4). But what does “faithful endurance” look like? What is involved in persevering in faithfulness to God?

Searching the messages to the seven churches for what is involved in conquering, one finds: deeds (works, toil), endurance, intolerance of false teaching and evil (Rev. 2:2-3); suffering, being slandering on account of Christ, faithfulness until death (Rev. 2:9, 10); holding fast Christ’s name, not denying the faith; being faithful witnesses, and repentance (Rev. 2:13, 16); deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, and not holding to Satanic teaching (Rev. 2:19, 24-25); purity (Rev. 3:4); deeds, obedience, not denying Christ’s name, and perseverance (Rev. 3:8, 10, 11). The most prominent threat to faithful endurance in Revelation is an accommodation to culture.

The “conquer” terminology in Revelation is not just used for those on God’s side. The beast is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them (Rev. 11:7; 13:7). It is important to note that this does not mean that “you win some and you lose some.” The “conquering” of God’s people “is described both as the beast’s victory over them and as their victory over the beast. In this way, John poses the question: who are the real victors?” (Bauckham, Theology, 90).

If one is viewing life from an earthly perspective, it looks like the beast wins. However, this same event (the martyrdom of God’s people) is considered to be “victory” from the heavenly perspective. Only by means of a vision from heaven (Rev. 7:9-14; 15:2-3) or a voice from heaven (11:12; 14:2) can those who die because of their faith in Christ be recognized as “conquerors.”

Christians triumph over evil by faithful witness to the truth of God. Maintaining this witness and resisting evil, even to death, allows one to participate in the power of the victory Christ (Rev. 12:11).