Posts by Mark Johnston

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Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man , or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci...
I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed...
Too often the idea of ‘good works’ has been the Cinderella of Reformed discussion. Wanting (quite rightly) to distance ourselves from any kind of meritorious implications attached to them (which lies at the heart of the Roman Catholic view) we have perhaps over-corrected our stance to our own loss...
There seems to be a never-ending market in Christian circles for books on guidance. The reason for this, of course, is that we as Christians (like all other human beings) want to make right decisions and choices in life. We want to avoid mistakes – especially when they often run the risk of major...
In our last three articles that dealt with the sin-related petitions in the Lord’s Prayer we noted in passing how striking it is that such a large proportion of this prayer is focused on our fallenness and failure. This surely says a great deal about why, in light of Calvin’s famous dictum about...
The triplet of sin-related requests embedded in the Lord’s Prayer ends with the shortest, but in many ways the most potent of them all: ‘Deliver us from evil’. As many commentators point out, there is a measure of ambiguity over whether it should be rendered ‘…from evil’ or ‘…from the evil one’...
It is all too easy to be so focused on the individual components of the Lord’s Prayer – the ‘petitions’ of which it is comprised – that we lose sight of its overall topography, or landscape. Even though the details bound up with each request are vitally important, we only appreciate their full...
The Lord’s Prayer is, without question, the best-known prayer of all time. Embedded at the very heart of the prayer life of God’s family, but also shared and treasured by those nations and empires through the ages that have espoused the Christian faith as their official faith – albeit nominally...
The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries; but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for...
Like nearly all the Christian Festivals (however many or few our particular churches may celebrate) the events marked by Easter can easily loom large on our horizons momentarily, only to be forgotten until the following year. If we allow ourselves to lapse into this pattern we can easily lose sight...
As we further explore what it means to ‘preach Christ from all the Scriptures’, another key strand is to remind ourselves of the first of his threefold offices. He is not only our Priest and King; but he is primarily God’s great Prophet. It is his business to make God known.
In the two preceding articles on what it means to ‘preach Christ’ we have already noted the connection between God’s promise of salvation and the covenant he made with Abraham in relation to his seed. However, the question arises as to with whom exactly was this covenant made and by whom it is...
It can be easy to become atomistic in the way we handle the Bible. By this I mean that we can unwittingly break its message down into its component parts in a way that fails to appreciate its organic unity. Even though, as the Westminster Confession of Faith indicates, it does indeed have many ‘...
Every preacher knows – at least in some sense – that we are called to ‘preach Christ’ as we expound the Scriptures. We heard it in our homiletics classes in Seminary and we’ve been challenged about it in the numerous seminars, conferences and workshops on preaching we attend in the course of our...
There once was a time – within living memory for many of us – when you could go to a place of worship and have a reasonable sense of what to expect during a service and not be taken aback by something that seemed out of place. Those days are rapidly disappearing and it is increasingly the norm that...
For those of us who are pastors, one of our regular responsibilities is to use scripture to minister to the specific needs of our people. This should never merely be spiritual equivalent of offering placebos to those who are struggling – a kind of psycho-spiritual pick-me-up to make them feel...
It is mildly amusing that a phrase so innocuous as ‘the wall’ should literally reverberate around the world, provoking reaction from every quarter. But don’t panic, it is not my intention to pass comment on the particular structure in the news at this time! What struck me in following this saga has...
The closing chapters of the Old Testament are set against the looming ‘Dark Ages’ of Ancient Israel. God had spoken through his prophets and his people had persistently ignored his word and strayed from his ways – even after the exile. The final words of Malachi could not be more ominous. The Old...
The very first Nancy Guthrie book my wife and I were given was Holding on to Hope. Before we had even turned a page, the title grabbed us because it resonated deeply with the needs we had been living with, at that stage of our life, for almost 16 years. Our daughter was born with severe disability...
Although the Lord’s Prayer is without question the best-known prayer the world has ever known, because it is the Lord’s Prayer we shouldn’t be surprised that it will continue to fill us with surprises until we see him face to face.
The ‘wars’ that have raged around ‘worship’ are anything but new. Even though they may only been expressed explicitly in these terms in the recent history of the church, they are as old as the church. Indeed they are as old as our race itself. The very moment the serpent questioned the principle...
The Ten Commandments, given by God at Sinai, have played a vital role in both the Jewish and Christian faiths ever since. Indeed, given that they reflect God’s character and enshrine is perfect will for the ordering of the human race in its entirety, these ten ‘words’ have impacted the nations...
For more Christians (and Christian ministers) than we might imagine, one the biggest struggles in their life of faith is that of prayer. Every Christian knows that prayer matters, but many of us know how hard it can be for multiple reasons.
The language of ‘covenant’ has a much wider history in the church than merely those churches and congregations that self-identify as ‘covenantal’. Some include it merely as a reflection of the contractual dimension they see in how Christians relate to God in his church. It is more than a casual...
Ours is an age of rapidly rising social disintegration. Loneliness and isolation are major issues – not just for the elderly, but for every other age group as well. It would be naïve not to see some connection between these issues and the steady erosion of the classic concept ‘family’ in Western...
Christians have a remarkable ability to skew what the Bible’s teaches about the church. As with so many things in life, we tend to perceive and define it with ourselves as the key reference point. But when this happens it distorts both our understanding and our enjoyment of whatever is in view.
Preaching is often described (and derided) as ‘monological discourse’. At one level this is true; but scratch beneath the surface and we quickly realise that nothing could be less true. There is something about Christian preaching that is altogether unique.
Just recently I had the opportunity to worship in the church in which I grew up. It is Episcopalian and for the first time in a very long time I found myself following the order of the Book of Common Prayer. It was one of the more recent editions of the Prayer Book; but, nevertheless, the shape and...
It is fascinating to see how St Paul looks back over his Christian life in face of his fast approaching departure from this world. Writing to Timothy, he describes it as a race to be run, a faith to be kept and also as a fight to be fought (2 Ti 4.7). Each metaphor sheds its own light on how we...
It was John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, who added discipline to the word and sacraments as the third mark of a faithful church. Perhaps it was because the Celts are an unruly lot by nature and he felt the latter two needed the firmer hand of the former to bring the Scottish churches into line!...
How much is prayer a priority in the life of those who are called to the ministry? It is a probing question, because it relates largely to the hidden life of ministers. In that sense, if we who are ministers are honest, it is also an embarrassing question; because the answer may well be that it...
It is a very human trait, one from which even theologians are not immune: the tendency to make ourselves the default reference point for everything. We do it without realising it, because it is built into our subconscious. But it happens nonetheless.
Jesus is simultaneously the master theologian and the perfect pastor. He sets the deepest of truths before his people, but in a way that pastorally meets their deepest needs. This should give pause for thought for thought on different fronts.
The very first John Piper book I read was Future Grace. Its title is taken from Peter’s exhortation, ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1Pe 1.13). It provides the important reminder that no matter how great our experience of grace may be in this...
It is one of those ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks’ type statements that crops up in the Bible from time to time. ‘Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (He 12.2). It is, of course, speaking of Christ and his sufferings...
The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said, ‘Joy is not the absence of pain’. Others have made the same observation repeatedly, either quoting de Chardin, or else expressing the same thought from their own perspective. It is a vital aspect of the joy we discover...
The theme of joy in Scripture finds its focus in the joy of knowing God as our God and Saviour. As we seek his glory (as opposed to our own) we experience a joy that is utterly different from all the joys of earth combined. Nevertheless, amazingly, this joy can be found and experienced on earth.
In the American Declaration of Independence, ‘the pursuit of happiness’ was listed along with ‘Life’ and ‘Liberty’ as one of three ‘inalienable rights’ common to all people. It is a striking and curious inclusion. But, whatever lay behind its place in this history-making document, it recognises...
God’s Providence is a wonderful thing. The Westminster divines spoke of it in these terms: ‘God's works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions’ (WSC 11). The Heidelberg Catechism captures in warmer tones like this: ‘God'...
Although for many churches, the celebration of Christ’s Nativity is over for another year, for many others it is yet to come. They will celebrate the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th and on into the Sunday that follows. In part it will mark the visit of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus; but...
Christmas is fast approaching and images of Mary are everywhere – from cards to Nativity scenes – but she is strangely absent from many, if not most Protestant pulpits. Yes, she may be accorded a passing reference in the Christmas narrative, but she can come across very much as a bit-part, or an ‘...
Employment in the secular sphere is usually evaluated in terms of job satisfaction and job prospects. But what are their equivalents for those who work in the church – notably as Christian ministers?
The precise wording of the Great Commission is significant. Even though, at least for those who only read it in English translation, it would be tempting to think the ‘command’ component of what Jesus says is to ‘Go!’, the imperative in this clause is actually to ‘make disciples’. The ‘going’ is...
The season of the Reformation ‘Solas’ has just ended and we have been reminded of the ‘aloneness’ of Scripture, grace, faith, Christ and the glory of God. But, hopefully, we will have also been reminded too that none of these are ‘alone’ in an absolute sense.
Last words are important and often intriguing and none more so than the last words of Jesus. They are best remembered as expressed by Matthew at the end of his Gospel where Jesus tells the Eleven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all...
Out of all the names given to the Holy Spirit as he is revealed in Holy Scripture, few are more profound or precious than the ‘Paraclete’ (Jn 14.16). This designation has at one and the same time intrigued, but also excited Christians everywhere as they try to peer into the depths not only of what...
For those familiar with Thomas Chalmers, his name immediately conjures up a plethora of thoughts regarding his stature as a Christian leader and also his gifts and achievements in the work of the church. He was a man of exceptional ability, but he was also profoundly concerned for the needs of...
It should go without saying that preaching, praying and the progress of God’s kingdom through the gospel are inseparably bound up with each other. Jesus taught his people to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’ and made it clear that all believers are all involved in the answer to this...
In the Western world at least, the glory of the church seems to be fading fast. Far from those days when her influence was far-reaching and wide-ranging, her values and opinions respected and her numbers strong; she has become the object of public ridicule and, too often, seen as the great...
In this quincentennial year, marking Martin Luther’s memorable act of defiance in Wittenberg, much has been said regarding his famous dictum about ‘the Word doing its work’. Far from attributing the impact and success of the Reformation on his own natural abilities or dogged persistence, he humbly...