Author: Mark Johnson

THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPOSITIONS

Prepositions, by definition, are small words that create relationships between other words within a sentence.

Prepositions are often tiny words – like in, of, by, for, into, with, through, or to. But a preposition can be the most important word for understanding some sentences. There are not many of them, and they are powerful words.

The apostle Paul wrote, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). This phrase contains the tiny word “in” (ἐν). “Circumstances” is in italics because it is not in the Greek text but is supplied by the translators to make sense. The Greek text is ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε (“in all give our thanks”).

Paul could have written, “give thanks for all circumstances.” Paul did not use the preposition γάρ (“for”) but the preposition ἐν (“in”). Sometimes we can even give thanks “for” our circumstances, but other times all that we can do is be thankful “in” them.

In our joy and pain, we should be thankful people. I God’s mercy and grace, we should be grateful people. Even in the year 2020, we should be thankful people!

Prepositions are crucial in what the New Testament (especially the apostle Paul) tell Jesus’ followers about our relationship to Jesus. This is because prepositions indicate position and express relationships.

The entire relationship between God and His people is very well expressed with prepositions. “Union with Christ” is often used to describe Paul’s theology of being joined to Christ. Union refers to a profound spiritual connection to Christ through mutual indwelling by the Spirit. It is reflected in the phrases “in Christ,” “into Christ,” “with Christ,” “through Christ,” and so forth. It is also seen through various metaphors such as the body of Christ, clothing, the temple, and the church as the bride of Christ.

Participation refers to sharing in Christ’s key narrative events, such as His suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and glorification. Identification refers to shifting our allegiance the realm of sin and death to Christ and His realm of righteousness and peace. Incorporation refers to being members together in a corporate entity shaped by Christ.

All of God’s blessings are bestowed to believers through our union with Christ (Eph. 1:3).

Choose

Americans went to the polls on Tuesday and made choices concerning political candidates and various initiatives. As I write this article on a Wednesday afternoon, the results of some (many) of the election races are known. However, the POTUS (President of the United States) race is still not determined.

As significant as some of those election choices seem to be, they are not the most crucial choice.

Shortly before his death, Moses urged Israel to make a choice. The choice was between “life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15). It was a call for Israel to obey God.

Deuteronomy 30:8-14 And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Joshua gathered the tribes of Israel together at Shechem and called for them to make a choice.

Joshua 24:14-15 Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

In the most famous sermon of Jesus that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls on people to make a choice concerning which path, way, or road in life they will travel.

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Whoever ends up being chosen as POTUS is not the most important decision people will make.

The way one chooses to go through life, the “road” that one takes is the most crucial choice. Will you choose to follow God or not. The choice between “life and good, death and evil” is the essential choice.

Return Of The Sermon Discussion Session

Beginning Sunday, November 1, 2020, we are going to restart the sermon discussion session. The discussion session will be like what we were doing on Sunday afternoons before COVID. One significant difference is that I will not finish the sermon during the first part of the session; it will be devoted entirely to discussing material relevant to the sermon’s application.

This session will begin approximately ten to fifteen minutes following the dismissal of the morning worship assembly. For example, if the morning assembly ends at 10:15 AM, we will start the discussion session at 10:30 AM. If the morning assembly ends at 10:30 AM, then the discussion session will begin at 10:45 AM.

We are envisioning a time frame of thirty to forty-five minutes. The amount of discussion will determine the length of the session. Participants can plan on being finished by 11:30 AM, if not earlier. This session will be “in-person” only (it will not be available on Zoom or Facebook).

I envision an atmosphere where we are interacting with each other. My role will be that of “facilitator” or “moderator.”

I wonder if we can find a space for those of us who chose to participate in sitting in a physically distanced circle. It might even be chairs in the auditorium. The circle arrangement is more conducive to group discussion than the “person at the front arrangement.”

Discussion questions are provided for each lesson. One purpose of the questions is to help make relevant applications of the sermon. In this regard, you may want to plan on participating in this discussion with your other questions and observations than those provided. Some of the provided questions may go beyond the material included in the sermon.

I hope you will choose to participate in this spiritual opportunity. The discussion on Sunday will concern why we believe the Bible is God’s Word!

When Changes Come

Change is one of the constants of life. Life is swift and filled with changes.

Life is filled with unexpected changes. I prefer routine and predictability. I’m not a “thrill a minute” type of guy. So, I prefer stability to change. However, you may readily embrace change because you may be someone who likes “living on the edge.”

One of the hot words that have cropped during COVID is “pivot.” We told that we must become good at pivoting (changing as one goes).

What do we do when changes come, changes over which we have no control?

First, be thankful that God is constant, and Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Second, sometimes change stirs and moves us. Change can be uncomfortable and lead to unfamiliar territory. Being uncomfortable can be useful for us and help go about doing the things we need to do.

Third, sometimes changes teach us to trust God again. It is easy to misplace our trust (government, health, military might, bank accounts and investments, yourself, etc.).

When Moses and the Israelites were thrown into the desert, there was no one to trust except God. Because they trusted God, they were forced to do many new things that God told them to do (obtaining food in entirely new ways, new battle plans, and living, marching, and constructing things according to God’s design).

Like them, perhaps some of the changes that come to us help us to put our trust in God, where it truly belongs.

Fourth, sometimes changes force us to build again. After being displaced to Babylon, the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to the Promised Land. When they returned to Jerusalem, they found a burned-out city of rubble. God called them to rebuild the temple and to worship Him according to His revealed directives. Sometimes changes show us ways to start building the kingdom of God again in this place.

What shall we do today amid the changes all around us? Let us trust our God and set about obeying God in every way possible.

Mark Johnson

Unseen Threats

Many of us are getting weary of taking precautions against a virus. A virus that has not done much “damage” to people we know personally or to many of us. A virus about which there are conflicting reports does not seem important enough to make much a “to do” about for some (many) of us.

I wonder if our thoughts would change if the virus were more obvious, more visible? The fact that it is “unseen” (with normal vision, I am aware that it can be seen with medical equipment) contributes to how people regard it.

If only we could “see” it. If we could “see” it then we might realize that it is a wimp and there is has been much ado about nothing. If we could “see” it then we might realize that it is a monster and we need to treat it accordingly. If only we could “see” it.

I am not attempting to make any statement about the virus except for a correlation between our perception of it and its being “unseen.”

The real “unseen threat” that I am concerned about is the powers of darkness.

The Bible highlights the theme of conflict with the powers of evil. It is integral to the biblical worldview. Those of us who understand the Bible to be our authoritative and reliable guide to faith and practice need to seriously take this aspect of the biblical message. The biblical worldview, however, collides head-on with the modern worldview and its naturalistic assumptions.

John reveals in his first epistle that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Jesus spoke of Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). There was, then, some substance to Satan’s claim of dominion when he offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8–9; Luke 4:6).

The opponents Paul emphasizes in his writings are demonic forces (see 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10; 2:15). The classic text in Paul concerning dealing with “unseen threats” is, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

If only we could “see” the “unseen threat” (the evil spiritual powers in the heavenly places), we would realize that we need help. We need the power of God.

Thankfully, God empowers His people for the unseen struggle. Paul urges the saints to recognize: 1) that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3); 2) identify the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and seated above all forces in the heavenly places is available to us (Eph. 1:18-21); 3) that God raised us and seated with Christ in the heavenly places at conversion (Eph. 2:4-6); 4)      that we can be strengthened with power in our inner being (Eph. 3:16); 5) that God can do much more than we can ever conceive (Eph. 3:20-21), and 6) that we can be strong in the power of the Lord (Eph. 6:20).

The saints need to take a position of advancement and a position of resistance to be victorious against the “unseen threats.” Progress takes place as the church makes known God’s manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10). Resistance is accomplished through “standing” (holding our ground) clothed in God’s armor (Eph. 6:10-20).

“Unseen threats” are present can be defeated! We must stay diligent and not grow weary.

Reaching Out

Before the whole COVID 19 shutdown, we were positioning ourselves to launch Friend Speak. The COVID 19 situation disrupted our plans but did not cancel them. We are now moving forward with offering FriendSpeak to the community.

You may be asking what is FriendSpeak? It is reaching out to our neighbors and people we encounter who need help improving their English-speaking ability. We offer help with conversational English (this is not an English grammar course), friendship, and the Word of God. FriendSpeak gives people something they want but have difficulty finding – a friend who will help them practice and improve their conversational English. The material in the guidebooks we use to help people learn English comes directly from the Bible.

LUKE is the first conversation workbook in the FriendSpeak Series. Passages from the Gospel of Luke introduce the life and teachings of Jesus and generate meaningful conversations relevant to everyone – even people with little or no faith background. LUKE contains 31 sessions from the Easy-to-Read translation for international readers and a glossary.

Six of us have gone through FriendSpeak training and are ready to help teach people conversational English and the Bible. We have cards and flyers prepared to hand-out or post. This information is also posted on the church website and Facebook page.

There are two ways that every member can be involved in this outreach program.

The first way is to take some of the FriendSpeak cards and flyers and distribute them. There are people you know and places that you go to that no one else in this congregation has contact with. You are the key to reaching them.

Anywhere you go that has people who are not proficient in English is an excellent place to leave FriendSpeak information. You will want to emphasize that this is a free program and that we plan on using social media for the sessions.

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Our context is different (the people from Samaria are moving toward Jesus and the apostles), but the principle is the same.

“So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). The original context deals with the factions around personalities in the Corinthian congregation. The truth remains that God gives the growth or increase and we are workers in God’s vineyard.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

The second way is prayer. Please pray for the effectiveness of this effort. Pray for a harvest of souls. Pray that the people you give information to be open to God’s powerful word.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison” (Colossians 4:2-3).

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Draw Near

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The inspired author of Hebrews indicates that Jesus makes it possible for listeners to “approach the throne of grace.” This is a metaphor. A metaphor speaks of one thing in terms of another, which creates incongruity at one level, while disclosing new meaning on another level. It is incongruous to think that readers could physically enter the heavenly throne room (Heb. 8:1; 12:2). The metaphor invites the readers to encounter God through worship in a manner as genuine as that of a priest entering a sanctuary. This “entering” or “drawing near” is done consciously and spiritually (“in the spirit”).

Drawing near to God involves physical actions (things like prayer and praise) but is more than physical actions. Drawing near to God takes place in the unseen realities through faith (Heb. 11:1, 6). Drawing near to God means going to the “throne of grace,” which is not a physical or geographical location. The “throne of God” is “in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). The “throne of grace” is where the people of God “go” by faith as we confidently “draw near” to God (Heb. 4:16).

Under God’s covenant with Israel, worshipers could approach the outer limits of the sanctuary (Lev. 9:5) and ordinary priests could approach the altar (Lev. 9:7–8; 21:17, 21; Num 4:19), but only the high priest could approach the mercy seat (Exod. 30:10; Lev. 16:34). Those who enter into a new covenant relationship with God are enabled by the blood of Christ to enter spiritually and directly into the presence of God (Heb. 4:16; 7:19; 10:19-22).

In contrast to literal Mt. Sinai, the new covenant people of God draw near to God at “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24). We go to God’s throne in the heavenly Jerusalem with angels and the spirits of the righteous when we worship.

This sounds like what John wrote in Revelation 7:9-12 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”