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Posts by Brad Johnston

The Trellis And The Vine

While at my parents home this summer I snapped this picture on a whim, then stuffed it in “digital memory” … meaning I forgot it. Today I found it, and meditate upon the trellis and vine.

First, the vine. When our Savior instructs us about union and communion with himself, he instructs us in this way: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5a). Unfortunately, this verse and its context suffers the death of the  Christian cliche’. Because many have no actual experiences with vineyards, grapes, or even farming in general, the rich understanding of this Biblical passage and its overarching analogy can be lost on our minds. We’ve never fretted as our vine mysteriously wilted, threatening our economic livelihood. We have never groaned when the weight of the vine upon itself caused the vine to snap in half, causing all the fruit higher up to literally “wither on the vine.”

No, this world of vineyards is distant to us, and we would do well to enter the world of grape growers. The Scriptures are packed with spiritual fruit-growing messages for those able to decode the analogies. Read more

Cleaning The Crib

August is a very important month in my pastoral ministry. The way our family works, summer is the time to travel, stay up late, and do things out of the ordinary. It is the time to swim, to visit family, and to conference with the visible church.

But the majority of life cannot be like that. If the fall will be a productive period of discipline and engagement, then August simply must be a time of reengagement, of clearing the decks, of putting the tools back in order. Read more

Persecution Is Real … And In Real Time

The Persecuted Church for which I pray became real for me today.

From my basement computer I had precious fellowship with a brother in Christ via Skype. Riaz (not his real name) is hiding in his home in the restricted nation of Pakistan for many days to avoid the anger of the local population. I heard the fear in his voice. His grown brother called to insure the safety of Riaz and his wife and children. Riaz may need to flee Pakistan for a time. Read more

What Is “Need Love,” And Do I Have It?

Click on the picture to access CCEF Now in PDF format.

Came across this interesting snippet today in CCEF’s first online magazine.

[CCEF Now, pg. 3]

In a recent video series, Dr. David Powlison shared four resources [The Book of Common PrayerLuther’s 95 Theses #1 , Lewis On “Need Love”Luther’s Prayers] he has found helpful for counseling ministry. In the following excerpt from the [third] video, David discusses a quote from The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.

We have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. Christians who lived in generations before ours dealt with the same kinds of issues that we do. They too processed and personalized the Bible’s revelation, and some put those reflections into their own words in hymns and books.

That is similar to what we do in counseling because most of counseling is in our own words. Biblical counseling is not simply a litany of Bible citation. There may be instances when we open to one particular passage and spend time there, but most of what is said is in your words and in the words of the person you are counseling.

One living and rich paraphrase of the truths of the Bible is a quote from C. S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves [read it here]. The quote gives a marvelous depiction of the fundamental nature of our relationship with God.

“Man’s love for God must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious where we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations.

“But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing – for it ought to be growing – awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.”

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“Mother Margie” — A Tribute

Roy and Margie Blackwood at my high school graduation in 1996. Click on the picture for funeral arrangements and obituary information.

On November 16, 2011 at about 5:30 p.m. a dear saint of the Lord stepped into the Lord’s presence.

Margie Blackwood (June 30, 1925 – November 16, 2011) was known and loved by countless members of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church and others. Though I had not visited “Mrs. Blackwood” in several years, I wanted to bear witness to the important role she played in my growth and formation as a boy and as a Christian man.

Margie Blackwood was the quiet one of the Blackwood family:) Her husband Roy Blackwood fulfills a strategic and far-ranging ministry in the kingdom of God. He was able to do so precisely because the Lord in his grace had blessed him with a “helper that was meet” for him (Gen 2:18,20). My earliest memories of Mrs. Blackwood were seeing her joyfully settled week by week in the “old sanctuary” of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church.

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Origins

Earth as viewed by Apollo 8 astronauts from Lunar orbit on Dec. 24, 1968. Taken by astronaut William Anders, this picture chronicles the first time humans ever witnessed an "Earthrise." Click on the image.

(taken from The Book of Origins: Genesis Simply Explained by Philip Eveson, p. 21-23)

On Christmas Eve 1968 the crew of the spaceship Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit the moon. In their Christmas greetings to earth, the astronauts quoted these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This opening sentence, so simple yet so profound, sets the tone for the whole prologue. It makes us sit up and prepare for what follows. Appropriately, the subject of the first sentence of the Bible and of Genesis is God. He is the subject of nearly every sentence in this first section: ‘God said…’, ‘God saw…’, ‘God divided…’, God called…’, ‘God made…’, ‘God created…’, God set…’, ‘God blessed…’

The Bible is first and foremost revelation concerning God. From the very first verse God discloses truth about himself. The term used for ‘God’ is Elohim, the most common word in the Old Testament when referring to the deity. Like our English word ‘God’, it can be used of pagan gods, but here it is used of the one true and living God, the God who communicates and does things.

The Bible does not set out to prove God. God is bigger than any mathematical calculation or philosophical argument. The very fact of the universe bears testimony to the reality of God: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork’ (Psalm 19:1). When Paul took the gospel to the pagan cities of the Roman empire he taught the people to turn from their worthless idols to serve the living God who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them (cf. Acts 14:15; 17:24-31; 1 Thess. 1:8-9).

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Reasons For Faith

Dr. Stephen Meyer sat down with R. C. Sproul last year for a wide ranging discussion about the integration of faith and science.

The Intelligent Design movement is gaining steam in the academic world, and this year the 2012 Ligonier Conference will feature Dr. Meyer speaking on the topic of Intelligent Design.

It is so encouraging to see a generation apprehending a clear-headed worlview and vocabulary adequate to take on the deeply-ingrained lie of Satan that a finite, information-laden body can have “the illusion” of design while actually being the result of random variation and natural selection, a.k.a. Darwinism.

The heavens do declare the glory of God, and the skies do display his handiwork.

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Five Things Every Christian Needs To Grow

There are some resources those committed to Biblical evangelism and discipleship simply have to have. A few copies of Five Things Every Christian Needs To Grow ought to be knocking around your office (if it’s messy like mine) or filed neatly on your “Reformed Bookshelf” if you are organized and tidy like my mother.

This little book by Dr. R. C. Sproul has proven a useful Christ-centered, Scripture-saturated tool in my humble efforts to pass along the truth of God to others. Time after time as I’ve given this small book to a friend (or simply read it aloud with them over lunch),  the Lord has used his Word to pierce hearts with the Biblical truth of God’s love and shepherdly guidance.

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A Blessing Over Them

Jesus had fully identified with his Twelve. He had sent these disciples out on a mission. And now he was trying to draw away for focused time with his men. Perhaps these tired men were looking forward to the rest and clarity of Jesus’ classroom.

But we see in Luke 9:10-17 that the crowds had followed him to that distant place. A place far away from the infrastructure and markets needed to support the needs of such a crowd. Nevertheless, Jesus — a model of hospitality (see 1 Tim. 3:2) — “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11).

What a gracious man the Christ must have been! His life was structured and disciplined from one vantage point, but from another it was chaotic and fluid, always responding to the needs of those around him. He was never hurried, but he was proactive in ministering to the individual needs of people. He was warm. He loved these people whom He created and had come to redeem. He prayed for their souls and multiplied five loaves and two fish to meet their physical needs. Read more

A Band Of Brothers

[Warning: Some links depict war violence]

It must have been a rather sad day for Mary.

She had set out early with James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon and trekked across the Galilean foothills.

Finally she arrived exhausted at her destination and pushed her way as far into  the crowd as she could. There she whispered loudly into the ear of a taller, stronger man: “Tell the Master his mother and brothers are standing outside, very much wanting to see him.”  The man shoved his way inside and suddenly the intoning lecture of her son — the Rabbi — stopped mid-sentence. A dramatic pause, then came the words that stung Mary’s heart: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

It was not a rejection of biological family (see John 19:26-27). We don’t know if Jesus met privately with his kin following this incident or not.

But we do know that on this day Jesus embraced his disciples (Mt. 12:49) as brothers (and probably the visible church community as mother, see Gal. 4:26). It was on this day that he wrapped himself in the bonds of affection of those who served in the kingdom of God alongside him, thus leaving to the church a holy example of addressing one another as brothers. Their identity was not to be fueled by nostalgic looks backwards into childhood. They were now men, joined with their Savior and pressing into the future on a mission to bring the Gospel to the world (Acts 17:6). Read more

God Knows What He’s About

When God wants to drill a man

And thrill a man

And skill a man,

When God wants to mold a man

To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart

To create so great and bold a man

That all the world shall be amazed,

Watch His methods, watch His ways! Read more

Publishing Peace?

Christians  in this 21st century ought to be aware we are living through a media transformation on par with the invention of the printing press in 1440. The explosion of cell phones and social media sites like Facebook mean the communication possibilities on a given day are virtually limitless. In this new media environment “citizen journalists” are able to wield tremendous influence as they report on things happening in their sphere of influence.

But the Internet also creates another class of users. They fall into the same trap Paul warns about for young widows: “they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house [or chat to chat], and not only idlers but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (I Timothy 5:13). Such people consume drivel and produce nothing.

So my question to you is: are you a consumer or producer? Is the Internet facilitating your mission as a Christian, or fueling your lusts and pathologies? Are you leading others, or being led astray as slaves to various passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3)? In a word, are you a follower of others or a leader toward Grace in cyberspace?

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Inerrancy

I remember the day in the 1990s I jumped online to browse seminary websites. It was a research project with profound consequence!

I was a teenager part way through Bible College. I was poor and desperately wanting to be married – so I was thinking hard about my professional future. I had some level of interest in pastoral ministry but also some big questions. That day I browsed the mission statements of Princeton and Yale  and others seminaries  looking for a clear statement of their institutional stance on the Bible. I was sorely disappointed. Lots of requests for money (no tuitions rates) but nothing (that I found) clearly presented what these institutions believed about the Book of books!

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A Worship Revolution

Old Light On New Worship by John Price

A book on a cappella singing by John Price. For sale at Crown and Covenant for one penny more than Amazon.com!

The worship of the Triune God is not like hair. Or ice cream.

That’s why my brain circuitry fries (and sometimes my eyes roll) when worship discussions devolve into arguments about ‘preferred style’ or ‘taste.’ The first two Commandments flit through my head as I hear fiery rhetoric pitting ‘contemporary’ worship against the ‘more traditional’ kind. And my stomach knots because – once again – we’re arguing from tradition (what fulfills us) rather than mission (our calling to glorify God in all we do) by embracing what God commands. We were taught to ask the wrong questions about God’s worship.

But I think a worship revolution is underway.

There’s a young, restless, and Reformed generation embracing “Sola Scriptura” – God’s Law and Gospel writ large. This generation of ‘New Calvinists’ is embracing the Biblical wisdom of the Puritans, the Reformers, and the Church Fathers. And some of them are listening as these Biblical expositors of old make the case that love for God translates into loyalty to him – and his specific commands about worship. A remarkable number – compelled by the Text – are wholeheartedly embracing the conviction that Biblical worship is instituted by God himself and therefore limited by His own revealed will, a conviction commonly known as the ‘regulative principle.’ Others aren’t convinced, but listening. Instead of asking questions rooted in personal preference or tradition, we are recovering the white-hot question that caused the Reformation to glow with spiritual power – what worship would glorify our God? In other words, we’re adopting the radical notion that Scripture is sufficient to direct the Bride of Christ in honoring her King as he has prescribed.

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Built On The Rock

TFY 2011 Team

The 2011 TFY Team.

The heart cannot exalt in what the mind rejects. And where the foundations are destroyed, the righteous are helpless.

It is grievous how a diet of drivel will destroy a soul. Then covenant children fall easy prey to the carnal deceptions of Satan. But long and deep drinks from the wells of salvation nourish the soul, stir the affections, and steel the will in confidence around newfound conviction. This appears to be what happened in many young people on the Theological Foundations For Youth (TFY) 2011 Team (pictured).

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