Category: Mark’s Blog

Give Me The Bible

The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. If the number of copies of a book sold were the criteria for being the most influential book, the Bible would have to be counted as the most influential book in the world. But to note that the Bible is a best seller is not to say that it is being read, meditated on, studied, and applied. People buy Bibles for several different reasons: decorative item in homes, good luck charm, part of a collection of great books, a treasure from the past, and to read. Please note that God did not give us His word (the Bible) for most of the reasons just enumerated. God gave us His word to communicate His man (John 20:30-31), His plan (Ephesians 3:3-5), and how His people are supposed to conduct themselves (1 Timothy 3:14-15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Surveys (Gallup, Barna, or any other) continue to show that Biblical ignorance is at an all-time high in this country and continues to grow. This problem does not seem to be limited to the secular American culture alone, but the Lord’s church as well. We used to be known as people who knew the Bible. Jerry Rushford (church historian at Pepperdine) tells of a time in Tennessee when the court could not find a Bible for witnesses to put their hands on and take the “truth oath.” Members of the church of Christ were present, and they called one of the men up and had the witnesses put their hands on his head because it was just like having a Bible. That cannot be said of many members of the Lord’s church today (to our shame).

At a time when many have elevated their feelings to the position of primary authority, please remember that since the time of Moses, God has spoken to His people concretely in written revelation. Having given us His sacred word, He expects us to follow it thoroughly. To fully follow it, we must know it. We are people who possess a handbook for living. It is to guide our thoughts, our perceptions of the world, our beliefs, our plans, and our actions. Its authority is God’s authority over our lives. Our feelings and emotions are not the ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

If we do not know the Bible, our minds cannot be transformed into the mind of Christ, and the world will conform us to its image (Romans 12:2). In the twenty-five years that I have been a follower of Jesus, I have seen the respect for God’s word deteriorate. We are not as concerned with what the Bible says. When the Bible makes statements we do like, we brush it aside with worldly comments like, “that is just your interpretation” and “we cannot all understand the Bible alike.” We have stopped talking about things being sinful and re-imaged the conversation into “that’s not a salvation issue.” We do not know how to make a defense of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15). Instead, we lightly tell people, “I know it is in the Bible somewhere.”

Brethren, we must be people of the book. The Bible is God’s revealed will (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is alive and relevant (Hebrews 4:12-13). The Bible applies to our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). God has entrusted His precious word to us; what are we doing with it? Do we hunger for God’s word? Are we convinced that it is still light for our path? Jesus is Lord, we need to “listen to him.” Give me the Bible!

Thinking About Salvation

THINKING ABOUT SALVATION

 

How do you define salvation? Which set of terms best characterizes your understanding: “temporal, bodily, and communal” or “spatial, spiritual, and individual”?

My hunch is that you begin with the spatial, spiritual, and individual and “salvation” is a word that primarily refers to your status as an individual.

Is the primary determinate of how we experience reality (time or space)? Both are factors, but one or the other tends to take the lead in how we understand being.

From Plato and Aristotle up to our time, the people in the West typically think with spatial imagination. But, the Jewish thought world, which includes Jesus and Paul, is “temporal, historical, and communal.”

When salvation thought of as the direct encounter between God and the individual sinner, one of the results tends to be the thought that the church is a support group for saved people. Some people think of belonging to a congregation like belonging to a gym. You were more likely to be in shape if you belonged to a gym, but you could be in shape on your own, just like faith. If you belong to a church, you’re more likely to be close to God, but it is not necessary. The church exists to serve the “saved individual.”

Paul sees things like gospel and salvation through a particular understanding of how God is related to history. Paul describes salvation in several ways, including Christians as those upon whom the end of the ages has arrived or reached (1 Cor. 10:11); people are being saved from this present age (Gal. 1:4); and salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11). Turning the gospel into an individualistic, interior encounter between “God and me” is for Paul a different gospel altogether.

When history, not the individual, is the horizon of interpretation, the fundamental question changes from the salvation of the individual to what God is up to in history (including the present). Paul views the death and resurrection of Jesus as the inauguration of the coming Day of the Lord and the sign of the general resurrection of the dead that will come at the end of the age. The future state of things has broken into the present. The question is now about how we live if we believe that the coming salvation of God is both real and present?

The question for the church is not whether or not I like the sermon or the music style, but whether the church’s life is a sign of the age to come (“how are we in this particular time and place a sign of the coming glory of God?”).

Mark Johnson

(hat tip to Mark Love blog posts from several years ago)

FriendSpeak

FriendSpeak trains churches to reach out to our international neighbors with English, friendship, and the Word of God. As families from every corner of the globe arrive in our neighborhoods, Christians have an opportunity like never before to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus. FriendSpeak is the domestic side of Let’s Start Talking Ministry. The same method and materials are used – the only difference is that FriendSpeak program volunteers live in the same area with their “Readers.”

FriendSpeak is useful because we offer people something they want but have difficulty finding – a friend who will help them practice and improve their conversational English. Unlike traditional English as Second Language classes, language missions, or literacy programs, FriendSpeak is conducted in a one-to-one setting with an emphasis on relationships and meaningful conversations based on Biblical texts.  The result is a series of heartfelt discussions about faith, love, and the source of abundant life!

FriendSpeak prepares God’s people to conduct well-planned, one-on-one, English conversation classes (entirely in English) while teaching them to share their faith in a very natural and comfortable way. Our training focuses on three core principles that empower Christians to act with confidence: 1) The Word is the teacher and we are the illustration, 2) A friendly relationship is more productive than Teacher vs. Student, and 3) Scripture is the basis for conversation.

FriendSpeak is best suited to foreign learners who can already read and speak some English. The workbooks used feature text from the Easy-to-Read version of the Bible (translated at about a 4th-grade reading level). In this sense, it is not an actual ESL program for beginners or for teaching reading/writing/vocabulary.

Each FriendSpeak conversation session is typically 45-50 minutes long, allowing time for oral reading of the text and discussion between the FriendSpeak Worker and English Learner (we call them ‘Readers’) Typical Readers have ranged in age from 13 to 83.

Both the FriendSpeak Volunteer worker and the Reader use the same version of our workbook – FriendSpeak training session handouts function as a “training manual” to provide the volunteer with the Seed Thoughts for each lesson and methods for creating discussion questions. FriendSpeak is designed to be non-confrontational.

If using this method of evangelism interests you, please contact Mark Johnson (soon).

THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION

The story of Jesus’ resurrection has always been central to the preaching of the Gospel. The apostolic teaching that is recorded in Acts centers invariably in on the

death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:22-24; 3:14-15; 10:39-40; 13:29-30; 26:23). The resurrection of Jesus is the actual, historical event that sets Christianity

apart from every other religion. The resurrection is the one event in the history of man that validates the claims and teachings of Jesus.

 

As powerful and meaningful as the cross of Christ is, it would have no power or meaning had Jesus remained in the tomb. There would be no “goods news” without

the resurrection. Christianity is not just a code for living or a philosophy of religion. It is rooted in real historical events. This is scandalous to some people because it means

that the truth of Christianity is inexplicably bound up with the reality of certain historical facts and if those facts should be disproved, Christianity would be false. But again this

is what makes Christianity unique because modem man has a means of actually verifying Christianity’s truth by historical evidence. The reality of the resurrection plays

a critical role in validating the authenticity of Jesus. Notice how crucial Jesus’ resurrection is in Paul’s inspired statement in 1 Corinthians 15:13-15:

 

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been

raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your

faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of

God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He

did not raise, if the dead are not raised.

 

John’s Gospel gives us the most explicit “empty tomb” description in the New Testament. Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene comes and finds an empty

tomb (John 20:1-2). The extensive description of the graveclothes (John 20:6-7) proves that the body would not have been stolen. The presence of the wrappings is

proof that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. The scene is not chaotic or confused, but it is a scene where the body is missing, and the burial clothes are undisturbed.

What happened at Jesus’ tomb stems from the power of God (Acts 2:32). The resurrection of Jesus is sure grounds for believing in a God who acts in history.

 

However, the resurrection of Jesus is not merely a historical event. The resurrection is also an essential event for telling us about Jesus and what it means for Christians to

have a transformed relationship with the resurrected Lord. Discipleship is not defined merely by belief, but by a transformed relationship. The resurrection of Jesus is to have

an impact on our day-to-day living (it is not just information to affirm or deny). What effect does the resurrection of Jesus continue to have on your life?

Church Revitalization 4

In almost every congregation, there is some need for revitalization. However, in most congregations, there is an urgent and widespread need for revitalization. Columbine is a congregation that needs revitalization. That is the first step, recognizing and admitting that revitalizing change needs to take place among us. The second step is to pray about this congregation being revitalized. What comes next?

We need to check our commitment and convictions.

When and where I was converted, there was a strong emphasis on commitment and accountability. For disciples on the “minimal commitment” program, a normal week included: Sunday morning class, Sunday morning assembly, Sunday evening “student supper,” Sunday evening assembly, a dorm Bible study, time with a discipler, Wednesday evening Bible class, Friday night devotional, long fellowship time after each of the assemblies and classes, and inviting people to these events and/or personal Bible studies. One was also expected at all special activities that the campus ministry or congregation was doing. For those in the “leadership” track, the above was expected along with several additional meetings and classes.

While this regiment produced results, it also resulted in legalism. No one wants this, but I do think the Lord is pleased where the commitment, accountability, and expectations currently are either.

Fast forward to the present. Church attendance in advanced industrial societies (including the United States) is in gradual general decline with people shifting from weekly to monthly or holiday attendance. According to a Gallup poll, the percent of Americans who regularly attend religious services has fluctuated over time, but presently it is at a low point.

A podcast by Thom Rainer dealt with five significant reasons for the attendance drop: 1)  we are minimizing the importance of the local church, 2) we worship the idols of activities, 3) we take a lot of vacations from church, 4) we do not have high expectations of our members, and 5) we make infrequent attendees leaders in our churches.

A few more observations: 1) it is tough to make disciples of church members if you don’t know where they are, 2) culture is not causing churches to compromise (churches are compromising, and culture is saying it’s okay), and 3) there are a significant number of Christians who don’t see church attendance as necessary.

These things need to be addressed in order to revitalize a congregation.

Questions for the Sermon on Sunday, April 14, 2019 from Revelation 22:6-21

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

 

  1. Compare the Prologue of Revelation (1:1-20) with the Epilogue (22:6-21). What themes and statements occur in both sections?

 

  1. Contrast the Prologue of Revelation (1:1-20) with the Epilogue (22:6-21). What statements or events are similar yet different?

 

  1. What is the significance of the words of Revelation being “trustworthy and true” (Rev. 22:6)?

 

  1. What does “soon” (ταχύς) mean or refer to in reference to Christ’s coming (22:7)? Support your answer.

 

  1. What does the word “prophecy” primarily mean in the Bible? Support your answer.

 

  1. One of the primary messages of Revelation is only to worship God (22:9). What things beckon us to “worship” them?

 

  1. What is the difference between what John is told to do with the scroll (22:10) and Daniel was told to do with his scroll (Dan. 8:26; 12:4)? What is the reason for the different instruction?

 

  1. How do you understand the command to “let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy” (22:11)? Explain your understanding.

 

  1. Besides Rev. 22:13, what other texts in Revelation use the word pairs “the Alpha and the Omega,” “the first and the last,” and “the beginning and the end” (the pairs may occur individually or together)? Who are pairs used in reference” What is the significance of these word pairs?

 

  1. What are the seven blessing statements of Revelation? 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14

 

  1. According to Revelation, how does one “wash his robe” (Rev. 22:13)? How does the fact that “wash” is a present, active, participle influence your answer?

 

  1. Who do you think the “you” (plural – “you all) is in Revelation 22:16? Support your answer.

 

  1. What does the warning to not “add to” “take away from the words of the prophecy of this book” (Rev. 22:18-19) refer to?

 

  1. Do you desire for the Lord to return?

 

15.       How has your understanding of Revelation changed (hopefully been enhanced) because of the time we have spent in Revelation?

Questions For Reflection for Sunday, April 7, 2019

  1. What is the purpose (function) of the vision of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-22:5)?

 

  1. Where else in Scripture is a similar river described to the river described in Rev. 22:1?

 

  1. Should “tree of life” (22:2) be understood as a single tree or as several trees? Support your answer.

 

  1. What is the significance of having access to the tree of life?

 

  1. How does John’s vision of the tree leaves (Rev. 22:2) differ from Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 47:12)?

 

  1. What curse (or curses) are removed in the New Jerusalem (22:3)?

 

  1. Based on Revelation, how do envision the relationship between God (the Father) and the Lamb (the Son)?

 

  1. Why is it important to identify those in the New Jerusalem as “priests”?

 

  1. What is the significance of seeing God’s face?

 

  1. What prevents us from desiring to see God?

 

  1. What does it mean to have “His name on” your “forehead” (22:4)?

 

  1. What do you envision people doing in the New Creation?

 

  1. What else needs to be discussed concerning the new heaven and new earth?

CHURCH REVITALIZATION 3

In almost every congregation, there is some need for revitalization. However, in the majority of congregations, there is an urgent and widespread need for revitalization. Columbine is a congregation that needs revitalization. That is the first step, recognizing and admitting that revitalizing change needs to take place among us.

The second step is to pray about this congregation being revitalized. If the public prayers that are given here were analyzed, what would someone conclude that the greatest need (problem) at Columbine is? If the private prayers of the Columbine members were studied, how much of an emphasis on the spiritual health and vitality of this congregation is included?

My suspicion is that the emphasis in our prayers needs to change.

The apostle Paul is a good model for our prayers. As one reads Paul’s letters to the various congregations, a prayer for that congregation is normally included.

What one finds in Paul’s prayers is an emphasis on the spiritual health of those congregations (for example: 1 Cor. 1:4-8; Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; 3:9-13). His focus is on what they have and what they need to continue to grow in. Both of those things are important.

If the focus is only on what we do not have in the congregation, we will fail to appreciate what we do have. When we focus on members who leave and perceived lack of resources, we will not appreciate what we have. Yet, we do not want to be blind to the areas we need to grow in.

Let’s pray for God to work through Columbine for His glory. Let us pray that God sends families to us. Let us pray that God sends seekers to us. Let us pray that we can ways to effectively reach the community around us.

 

The answer to that prayer may end up looking very different than you and I imagine that it will. But, if we allow God to work through us, that is what is important (even if what I envision is wrong).

CHURCH REVITALIZATION (part 2)

We believe that the Columbine congregation still has a purpose in the Southwest part of the Denver metropolitan area. We are not blind to the difficulties around us, but we remain certain God is still working in this congregation. God has provided everything this congregation needs to move forward.

So, how do we move forward? Let’s begin with prayer. Prayer at home. Prayer in the assemblies. Prayer when we are together.

Pray about the spiritual health and vitality of Columbine more than people’s physical health. Take the church directory and pray for a few families each day. Pray that we have the strength and courage to spiritually “bloom where planted.”

Pray about God sending seekers our way.

Pray about our imaginations being stirred up to find ways to impact our community so that they know we are here.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer

Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray without ceasing

1 Peter 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Mark Johnson

Questions for “LIFE IN THE CITY OF GOD” (Rev. 21:22-27) for Sunday, March 31, 2019

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

 

  1. Track God’s presence living with people throughout the Bible (provide names, places, or events and Biblical text)

 

  1. Track the temple theme throughout Revelation. Note the relationship between God and worshippers, what the worshippers do, and what God does (provide Biblical references).

 

  1. What associations does the idea of “light” and “lamp” have throughout the Bible?

 

  1. What are gates for (what is the function of a gate) and why is it significant that the gates for the New Jerusalem are never closed? Identify other “gates” in the Bible that deal with access to God.

 

  1. What does the absence of evil, uncleanness, etc. in the New Creation mean to you?

 

  1. Who does “the kings” and “the nations” (21:24, 26) refer to?

 

  1. Some people think that Rev. 21:24, 26 indicate “universalism” (everyone is saved). Do you agree, why or why not?

 

  1. What does it mean that nations bring “glory and honor” to God (Rev. 21:24, 26)?

 

 

  1. What biblical texts that God desires all the families of the earth to experience His blessings?

 

  1. What biblical texts indicate hope that people from all ethnic groups will come to learn God’s ways?

 

  1. Look up unreached people groups (you can use a website like joshuaproject.org). Over the next week, commit to praying for a new unreached people group at least once each day. (I know this is not a question!)

 

  1. What does it mean to walk in God’s light (21:24)?

 

  1. Where else in Revelation is the book of life mentioned?