Category: Mark’s Blog

Dead Center

People often get used to variation and expect to fall short of perfection. I am sure that most of us were content with an “A” on our schoolwork (sometimes we were just thankful for a “B” or a “C”). However, that “A” did not typically represent 100%, but as long as it was an “A,” we were happy. I have yet to see a target that just has the “bulls-eye” (no rings around the bulls-eye). Being comfortable with imperfection pervades the spiritual and ethical thinking and practice of the West today. Claiming that there is only one path that leads to God seems too constricting and suffocating in our current, less than ideal, spiritual environment. Yet, is it beneficial and productive to be content with just being on a path (no matter where the way leads)?

The fourth chapter of Proverbs contains the words of a father urging his sons to embrace the way of wisdom. In this context, the direction of wisdom is what this father had learned from his father (Proverbs 4:3-9). Handing down wisdom to the next generation is what God instructed the people of Israel to do (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 78:5-8). The same attitude toward the value of wisdom surfaces again at Proverbs 23:23, when the author wrote, “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding.” Truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding are supremely valuable and should be the things that we seek to acquire.

Yet, it is not enough to hoard wisdom. Wisdom must be practiced; it must be lived.  Staying on the path of wisdom is what the father urges the sons to do in Proverbs 4:10-19. Living by wisdom is a lifetime commitment and requires reaffirmation and rededication. Staying on the path of wisdom is not an easy task; it means being focused on using wisdom to navigate through life in the right way. “Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.  Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil (Proverbs 4:25-27). To walk wisdom’s path, one must keep one’s eyes fixed ahead and not be distracted. The warning to not veer to the right or the left, but to stay “dead center” is a common idea in the Bible (for example Deuteronomy 5:32-33; 17:11, 18-20; 28:13-14; Joshua 1:7; 23:6; 2 Kings 22:1-2; 2 Chronicles 34:1-2). One must focus all of one’s energies on staying on the path of wisdom, thus avoiding the evil way.

Taking one’s eyes off of the goal will cause one to veer off of the path. To deviate from “dead center” is to start on another track. The only option to the path of wisdom is the path of evil (Proverbs 4:14, 27). The path of wisdom reminds one of the “two-path theology” of the Bible. Jesus taught the “two path theology” when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

We can set the course of our lives.  We can act responsibly. What path are you attempting to walk? How “dead center” are you on that path? Does your life demonstrate an extreme commitment to the right path and radical separation from the wrong way? Or are you content with veering off the road of righteousness and not being “dead center”?

Repent and Live

The call to repent is as old as the fall of humanity. It summarizes the preaching of prophets from Moses to Malachi. Since man has sinned against God and drifted away

from him, man must turn back to God in his spirit. This spiritual turning to God is called repentance. The prophet Ezekiel said, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Repent and live!” (Ezek. 33:11).  John the Baptizer repeated this fundamental call in his preaching when he prepared people for the coming of Jesus by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:1). Jesus preached the rule of God over the lives of men, and the call to repent was the watchword of his preaching as well (Mt. 4:17). Repentance is the acquiescence of the soul to the rule of God.

Repentance is not sorrow. Many are sorrowful about the evil things they have done. They regret using others, hurting others, and shaming themselves. At times, they become despondent over these past wrongs and wallow in self-pity, but never get around to changing their attitudes, their behaviors, and their lives. Sometimes sinners are just sorrowful because they got caught or had to suffer consequences for their sins. This kind of sorrow is worldly sorrow and only produces death. But when people realize that they have sinned against God, that their sins have caused God to sacrifice his Son, and that their sins are spiritually dangerous to themselves and others, they are sometimes sorrowful in a godly way. This kind of sorrow involves conviction and conversion, and the decision to think and act differently. This godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance.

Repentance is a change in one’s mental position or perspective. It happens when one begins to think differently about everything because of the impact God’s word has had in one’s mind. When we begin to have completely different attitudes about other people, about sin, and about the will of God, then we have been “renewed in the spirit of our minds,” as Paul explained to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:23). This complete change in mental perspective is part of repentance.

Repentance is deciding to leave spiritually detrimental things. This includes sinful activities, evil companions, compromising situations, sinful habits, of the story of the prodigal son, which means making a firm commitment to get up and leave the pigpen.

Repentance is deciding to go toward the things of God. The prodigal son decided not just to leave the pigpen, but to go to his father. Repentance involves committing

ourselves to draw near to God, to do the will of God in a positive way, to act purposefully and deliberately in prayer, study, worship, and service. This positive commitment to actively do the will of God is every bit as much a part of repentance as leaving the sinful life behind.

Repentance is not just a step. Repentance is something ongoing in a Christian’s life. Whenever we become lax in doing God’s will, and whenever we fall into sin, repentance turns us back toward the Father. Repentance must begin before one is saved, and it must continue as needed until death. Repent and live!

Dan Owen

Prayer Day

Saturday, February 22, is “prayer day” for the Columbine congregation. Please sign-up for a 30 minute prayer time.

Do you want some ideas on how and what to pray? The sermon (“the dependency of discipleship” from Luke 11:1-4 will provide five major areas (realms, things) to include in our prayers. The rest of this article will give a few ideas concerning what to pray for concerning our community and this congregation.

 

  1. God Seekers. God is in search of people who deeply desire Him (John 4:23-24). For every member of this congregation to be like Hezekiah, “who set his heart to seek God, the LORD” (2 Chron. 30:19; 31:21). Ask God to providentially move in lives so that people who are seeking God will find us or that we will find them. This includes families and singles. This consists of all ages: anyone and everyone in this area who is seeking God.

 

  1. For those who are in “high positions.” There is plenty of chaos and ungodliness (in numerous forms) taking place in this world. Paul instructed us to pray for people in authority so that the people of God “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2).

 

  1. For any person under conviction from God’s Word to act on it. That conviction may have come from personal study or public instruction. Pray that the enemy will not snatch the Word from those hearts (Matthew 13:17).

 

  1. For the restoration of those who have left the faith. The Father is looking for them to come home (Luke 15:20), and we are praying from them to come to their senses (Luke 15:17) and come home (Luke 15:18, 20). “Your restoration is what we pray for” (2 Cor. 13:9).

 

  1. That God will “hedge” people from Satan. The conversation between Satan and the LORD that is recorded in Job 1 indicates that God can put a “hedge” around people (Job 1:9-10). Who do you know that needs a “spiritual hedge” to hinder the attempts of Satan?

 

  1. “Open doors” for the gospel (Col. 4:3). Pick out one person whom you regularly see (this is about anyone whose path you frequently cross) and pray from that person to be responsive to the gospel. Let us pray that “the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 6).

 

I am out of space, and I did not even get to the congregational leaders or people’s health (3 John 2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul).

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A FOLLOWER OF JESUS?

“What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?” We are exploring this question together during the Sunday assemblies here at Columbine. Although the word “disciple” is used about followers of Jesus before the word “Christian” (Acts 11:26), there is much confusion about what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

The word disciple expresses the most fundamental aspect of life with Jesus. Jesus defined discipleship as following Him (Luke 9:23) and becoming like Him (Luke 6:40). Discipleship is an ongoing, transformative growth process that has a goal of being like Jesus. Discipleship is more than a “decision” for Christ. Discipleship is walking along the narrow way of salvation. Following Jesus means a reorientation of life. One follows Jesus and does not adhere to any other master. This goal is achieved by hearing and doing the Lord’s word (Luke 6:46).

I believe that for Luke (and Jesus), the three concepts of following Jesus (Luke 9:23), becoming like Jesus (Luke 6:40), and hearing and doing what Jesus says (Luke 6:46) provide the foundational understanding of what it means to be a Jesus follower. The rest of the discipleship texts in Luke’s writings explain, illustrate, and elaborate on these three concepts.

The theme of “counting the cost” provides a primary color for Luke’s overall portrait of discipleship. Jesus extends the call to “count the cost” to all who desire to come after Him (both individuals and the crowds of people). “Whether disciples want to or not, they have to make a decision; each has to decide alone” (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 92).

One of the unique features of Luke’s Gospel is the long central, travel section of Jesus going to Jerusalem that begins at 9:51 (Luke 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem) and ends in 19:44 when Jesus makes it to Jerusalem (Luke 19:45 And he entered the temple). This section contains numerous references to Jesus and his disciples traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51, 52–56, 57; 10:1, 38; 11:53; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31, 35; 19:1, 11, 28, 37, 41). Most of the material in this section is unique to Luke’s Gospel and deals with following Jesus. Also, Luke often correlates a travel notice with material on discipleship. What is important is that they are “on the road” because instruction leading to the formation of faithful disciples is provided on the journey. In other words, the conditions of discipleship are unfolded “along the way.”

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE USE OF SYNONYMS IN JOHN 21:15-17

I have suggested that while there can be differences between the meaning of agapaō and phileō, those differences are because of the context in which the words are used and are not necessarily inherent in the words themselves. This understanding directly influences the way one understands what is going on between Peter and Jesus in John 21:15-17.

The author of the Fourth Gospel is using agapaō and phileō as synonyms in this interchange between Jesus and Peter, and the point of the narrative is not about the quality of Peter’s love for Jesus, but Jesus restoring Peter. Peter’s threefold affirmation of love for Jesus (Jn. 21:15-17) matches Peter’s triple denial of Jesus (Jn. 18:17, 25, 27). Peter needs to be restored from his denials and return to fishing (Jn. 21:3).

John used four sets of synonyms in relating the restoration scene between Jesus and Peter (as reflected in the above chart). There are synonyms for 1) “love” – agapaō and phileō (by the way, Hebrew and Aramaic do not have different verbs for expressing love, and one of those languages would have been what was spoken); 2) “know” – oida and ginōskō (reference to the same knowledge); 3) “feed” or “care” – boskō and poimainō (reference to the same activity); and 4) “sheep” and “lambs” – arnia and probate (reference to the same group).

Notice also that the text reads that “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Do you love (phileō) me?” (Jn. 21:17). Yet, as the text stands, Jesus did not literally ask Peter about his phileō three times. What Jesus did was ask Peter about his “love” three times, using agapaō and phileō interchangeably in the text to communicate “love.”

 

When We Love The Lord

When we love the Lord we do not sit around and try to figure out which of His commandments we do not have to obey.  The question is not “is this a salvation issue?”  When we love the Lord we are willing and eager to obey because, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

When we love the Lord we do not seek excuses to stay away from assembling together.  Love says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!'” (Psalm 122:1).  “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

When we love the Lord we do not try to find out how little we can do for the Lord, our fellow Christians, and those who are not in Christ.  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10-11).

We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

O how I love Jesus,

O how I love Jesus,

O how I love Jesus,

Because He first loved me.

Love never feels that it has done too much for its benefactor.  “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10).

Along The Way: Discipleship In Luke’s Writings

01-05-20       Along The Way 1: The Description Of Discipleship

01-12-20       Along The Way 2: Defining Discipleship – Luke 6:40

01-19-20       Along The Way 3: The Depiction Of Discipleship

01-26-20       Along The Way 4: The Demonstration Of Discipleship

02-02-20       Along The Way 5: The Decisiveness Of Discipleship – Luke 9:57-62

02-09-20       Along The Way 6: The Dependency Of Discipleship – Luke 11:1-13

02-16-20       Along The Way 7: The Devotion Of Discipleship – Luke 12:1-9

02-23-20       Along The Way 8: The Direction Of Discipleship – Luke 13:1-9

03-01-20       Along The Way 9: The Doorway Of Discipleship – Luke 13:23-30; 20:21

03-08-20       Along The Way 10: The Demands Of Discipleship – Luke 14:15-24

03-15-20       Along The Way 11: The Difficulties Of Discipleship – Luke 14:25-33

03-22-20       Along The Way 12: The Duty Of Discipleship – Luke 22:24-30

03-29-20       Along The Way 13: The Discernment Of Discipleship – Luke 24:13-35

04-05-20       Along The Way 14: The Designation Of Discipleship

04-12-20       Along The Way 15: The Design Of Discipleship – Acts 2:22-42

04-17-20       Along The Way 16: The Discovery Of Discipleship – Acts 8:26-40

04-26-20       Along The Way 17: The Disclosure Of Discipleship – Acts 9; 22; 26

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO DISCIPLESHIP IN ANTIQUITY

There were several terms in antiquity used about followers of a teacher, with “disciple” being one of the most commonly used. Usage of the word “disciple” included the senses of “learner,” “adherent,” and “institutional pupil.” “The world Jesus encountered when he entered human history displayed a variety of religious, philosophical, and political leaders. Each of these leaders had followers who were committed to their cause, teaching, and beliefs” (Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, 57).

“Disciple (mathētēs) was used in many of the Greek philosophical schools of the classical and koine periods for one who learned from and became a follower of a particular teacher” (Longenecker, “Introduction” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, 2–3). The master determined the type of adherence. “The relationship assumed the development of a sustained commitment of the disciple to the master and to the master’s particular teaching or mission, and the relationship extended to imitation of the conduct of the master as it impacted the personal life of the disciple” (Wilkins, “Disciples and Discipleship” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd, 203).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the equivalent Hebrew term for “disciple” (talmid, “pupil”/ “learner”) occurs only once (1 Chron. 25:8 about a student among the temple musicians). The related participle “one who is taught” (limmud) occurs in Isaiah 8:16 about disciples of Isaiah.

Although the word “disciple” is infrequent in the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept is not. The existence of master-disciple relationships within Israel frequently surfaces in the biblical text. Joshua seems to take the role a disciple of Moses (Exod. 24:13; 33:11; Num. 11:28; Josh. 1:1). Elisha follows after Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:19-21) in the sense of being his disciple. The prophets associated with Samuel (1 Sam. 19:20–24) and the sons of the prophets connected to Elisha (2 Kgs. 4:1, 38; 9:1). The master-disciple relationship may have been the relationship between Jeremiah and Baruch (Jer. 36:32), Ezra and the scribal tradition (Ezra 7:6, 11), and in the wisdom tradition (Prov 22:17; 25:1).

The New Testament indicates several groups had disciples. John the Immerser and the Pharisees both had disciples (Mark 2:18). Some of the Pharisees claimed that they were “disciples of Moses” (John 9:28). The Mishnah (a compilation of Jewish rabbinic teachings) records, “They said three things: Be prudent in judgment. Raise up many disciples. Make a fence for the Torah.” (m.abot 1.1).

The type of “disciple” and the corresponding life of “discipleship” was determined by the kind of master. Central to the concept of being a disciple was allegiance to the master. According to Wilkins, “Jesus took a commonly occurring phenomenon—a master with disciples—and used it as an expression of the kind of relationship that he would develop with his followers” (Wilkins, DJG, 203). Disciples of Jesus pledge their allegiance to Him and are not followers of any other master.

GOOD REASONS TO ASSEMBLE WEEKLY AS THE CHURCH

I think I’ve heard most of the excuses. “You don’t need to attend church to be a good Christian.” “We give our family priority when we miss church to do sports on Sunday.” “My church really doesn’t meet my needs.” “I’m not getting fed at my church.” “Sunday is really the only day we have off.” “My church has a bunch of hypocrites.”

Why is it important for us to attend church services regularly?

  1. The local church is God’s plan in the New Testament. From the founding of the first local church in Jerusalem to the growth of new congregations throughout the Roman Empire, the New Testament is clear. God wants His people gathering regularly and faithfully. And lest we forget, all of these congregations had problems. All of these churches had problem people, but it was not a valid excuse to give up the local church.
  2. The Bible clearly indicates the priority of local congregations. If you read the New Testament from Acts to Revelation, you will see that a gathered people was not just one important factor for the Christian, it was one of the highest priorities. After the ascension of Jesus, the local church is truly “the body of Christ.”
  3. We are commanded and designed to enjoy worshipping the one true God as a gathered community. What if church members really did one thing in worship services? What if they asked God to let them see Him and know Him fully as the church is assembled? What if that was the priority over evaluating the quality of the singing? What if that was more important than the preacher preaching five minutes more than you deemed appropriate?
  4. A unified church can stand strong in a culture turning away from God. We can’t be a unified church with sporadic attendance. We can’t stand together if we aren’t persistently gathered together. Do you remember how the early church in Jerusalem reached a culture opposed to God? The outside world saw the unity and joy of the church and wanted to know more about this Jesus they worshipped. Remember, they were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those were being saved” (Acts 2:47). A faithfully attended church is a unified church.
  5. The world looks at our priorities and evaluates what we deem as important. We can’t expect the community we serve to get excited about our church if the members of the community see it to be a low priority among the members. The twice-a-month attendees make the church an afterthought. The once-a-month attendee seems to hardly think about the church at all.
  6. Families that attend church faithfully and regularly are happier and healthier families. The research from the secular world is overwhelming. Study after study shows that families who are in assemble with the church almost every week are among those with the best-adjusted children. Marriages are healthier. Small children grow to become mature and joyous adults. Though these studies are affirming, we can see throughout the New Testament how God has a clear and compelling plan for His children and their families to gather together regularly and faithfully.

We are neither obedient nor are we able to experience the full joy of our church if we attend once or twice a month or even less. Faithful weekly church attendance is important. It brings us joy. It helps us to grow spiritually. It is one of the primary characteristics of a healthy family. Above all, it is an act of obedience to God. And that’s what really matters.

Thom Rainer (adapted by Mark Johnson)

Hanukkah: Jewish Feast of Dedication or Lights

Hanukkah: Jewish Feast of Dedication or Lights

This calendar year, the Jewish “feast of dedication” or Hanukkah (as it is popularly known) begins on December 22. The institution of the Jewish feast known as Hanukkah occurred during the time between the close of the Hebrew Scriptures and the beginning of the New Testament period.

The apocryphal books of Maccabees provide background information concerning Hanukkah.  The feast was instituted as a commemoration of the victory of the Jews over the Syrians in 165 B.C. and the cleansing of the temple during the Maccabean Revolt (1 Macc. 4:36–61; 2 Macc. 1:18; 2:16–19; 10:1–8). The word “Hanukkah” means “consecration” or “dedication.” The festival is mentioned once in the New Testament (John 10:22-23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon).

Hanukkah is also known as the Feast of Lights and is associated with the ceremonial lighting of eight lamps during the festival (one more is lit on each day of the feast). This practice derives from the legend that only one cruse of oil was found when the Jews reoccupied the temple, but it (“miraculously”) lasted for seven days, so the lamp in the temple continued to burn until a new supply of oil could be consecrated (b. Shabbat 21b). The candle lighting is accompanied by the singing of the Hallel (Psalms 113–118) and the waving of branches.

Hanukkah seems to be modeled on the ceremonies that Solomon observed to dedicate the Jerusalem temple and/or the temple purification by Hezekiah (both having some connection with the Feast of Succoth – 2 Chron. 7; 29; 2 Macc. 1:9, 18; 2:1; 10:6–8).

Despite the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70, Hanukkah continues to be celebrated as a significant Jewish festival and is observed by the lighting of lamps in private homes.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival and not a Christian festival.