Monthly Archives: August 2011

1 John 2:15-17 – Distractions; August 24, 2011

1 John 2:15-17 – Distractions

In this short passage in chapter 2, the Apostle John begins to really unpack for us what it looks like to truly follow Christ. He has given us several analogies and told us what we ought to do in loving one another and walking in the light, but now he gets down to the nitty-gritty. John gives a list of things that are in the world that have no place in the life of a follower of Christ: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions. For the trained church mind, there are most likely several cardinal sins that we could assign to each given category in John’s list. For example: lust and gluttony can fit quite well under desires of the flesh. Greed and envy can fit under desires of the eyes. And idolatry and arrogance can fit under pride in possessions. All behaviors that a lot of churchgoers have already modified in their lives.

But what if this list was not just limited to what we would categorize as morally wrong (after all most of the non-Christian world would call these wrong as well)? What if this warned us against good things becoming a distraction in our pursuit of Christ? What if desires of the flesh really spoke to our desperate need to be comfortable? What if desires of the eyes really spoke to our inability to see past the exterior of a person? What if pride in possessions was meant to redefine our understanding of what it really means to be blessed by God in this life?

Scripture is constantly going to draw our attention to not only the big, gaping sin in our lives, but also the subtle, unnoticed sin that we pass over because it might be attached to a good thing. We will overlook hours and hours spent on Facebook because the Bible never says “Thou shalt not spend hours and hours on Facebook.” Husbands and fathers will justify working long hours at work because they have to keep up with the Joneses despite their Biblical call to lead their family. Women will justify controlling their husbands or boyfriends because they believe themselves to be better suited for leading in the relationship despite their Biblical call to submit. We will pursue bigger houses, nicer cars, fancier vacations, better gadgets, and more TV channels simply because the Bible never mentions these things specifically. John is warning us here not only to look out for the things in the world that everyone knows to be sin, but to look out for the “good” things that distract us from being sensitive to the Spirit in our lives.

Ask anyone who has walked with the Lord for years and years and who has allowed the Lord to examine every aspect of their lives and they will tell you that the closer you get to the Lord the more He demands from you. He’s not satisfied with us just not killing anyone and going to church on Sundays. He wants our all. He wants us to submit every aspect of our lives to Him. Christ was not about His comfort or career in His life on earth. He was not concerned with savings, stock portfolios, investments, or appearances. He even went so far as to say that even the animals care more about that than the Son of Man (Matthew 8:20).

I want to close with a bit of clarification. I am not at all trying to say that there is anything wrong with buying a house, getting a new car, or having a job that allows you to support your family even above and beyond what you might need. Nor am I trying to say that the blessings of the Lord are never physical in nature. What I am trying to say is that we too often pursue the stuff of this world under the guise of pursuing Christ. We pursue the things of this world in the name of Christ. John is warning us that the two don’t mix. We can’t pursue both the things of the world and the Creator of it. One will always fall by the wayside. One will always distract us from the other. Which one are you pursuing? What areas in your life are distracting you from pursuing Him? As always, if you have questions about what it really means to pursue Christ and Christ alone, please feel free to ask. I am not perfect but I want my life to be one of complete devotion to Him. I’ve grown tired of being distracted. Let’s seek Him together. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,

JOT

Advertisements

1 John 2:12-14 – Maturity; August 17, 2011

1 John 12-14 – Maturity

 

Maturity is something that everybody wishes they had.  No one likes being known as the immature one.  We all want to believe that we have arrived at the euphoric state of maturity and can no longer be looked down upon by others.  Sometimes we believe we’ve reached this point when we get a certain age.  Some when we get our first car. And still others when they reach a certain tax bracket or socio-economic status.  Maturity for the Christian is not defined by terrestrial standards but rather spiritual ones.  And in these verses, John gives us three levels of maturity based not on years or even experience but on God’s revelation.

 

Little Children

 

All of us were children at some point in our lives.  Some of us have grown past the brand given by our society because we have lived a given number of years and therefore are no longer considered a child.  Some of us look back on our lives and make the sweeping statement that we “Grew up too soon” because of some given circumstance that forced us to take on responsibilities that did not match our years.  Most of us tried to grow up to quickly.  We never felt comfortable being a called a child.  We’d be looked down upon, ridiculed, bossed around, or discarded simply due to our age.  Some of us still feel that sting.  So how is it that we are to embrace being called “children” regardless of our age or accomplishments?

I fear that in our current American church culture, the idea of being a child as John defines it is a scary one.  It means we are dependent.  It means we are still in need of guidance and direction.  It means we still can’t always tell what is good for us and what is not.  Add to that our very human ideas and prejudice against being called a child and you have a very resistant thread within the church who will never grow or see true spiritual maturity in their lives because they will never understand what initial faith is all about: dependence.

“You [little children] know the Father” speaks more to the condition of where we begin our walk with the Lord than it does to our accomplishment of being introduced to Him.  So many of us believe that we have succeeded in finding our faith.  We have weighed the different belief systems and tried our own way and found them lacking, so we finally come to a point of “accepting” God.  The believers who can see themselves in the Light of who God is understand that we have accomplished nothing. We have nothing to bring to the table on the day of our salvation.  All we can do in that moment is surrender.  We become like babes, totally dependent on our Heavenly Father to provide our every need.  We know nothing, we have no strength, we can’t even maintain ourselves properly without His divine intervention.  This is the beginning of our spiritual development.  Nothing having to do with our spiritual development from here on out can be attributed to us, it is all “for His name’s sake.”

 

Fathers

 

This is where all of us wish we could be.  This is where we not only know “Him who is from the beginning” but are known by Him.  Fathers have walked closely with the Heavenly Father.  They have taken part in the work of making disciples, but refuse to hold on to their crowns.  They have tasted and seen the goodness of God through difficulty.  They have weathered the storms and their house has stood upon the rock.  They have fought in more battles than they can remember and have not looked to their own strength or wisdom to see them through.

They have not only lived their lives for the Kingdom, but have taken part in training the children and young men in how to know the Father.  They are ever active in pointing the next generations to Christ.  They are not idle or retired.  They are still communing with Him in order that their living sacrifice may be pleasing to the Lord.  May we all strive to live such lives as to be able to say we have known Him who is from the beginning.

 

Young Men

 

Here is where most of us would like to say we are.  We are the fit ones.  The ones charged with duties, given responsibilities, called to be a part of the greater plan and will of God on this earth.  Sadly, we are unaware or unwilling to take the steps necessary to reach this level of maturity.  We don’t want to go through the “child” stage.  We want to jump into the fray, wielding our sword that we’ve just now learned how to carry.  Picture if you will young David taking Saul’s armor and trying to attack Goliath as any other warrior would.  That’s how most people wish to approach spiritual warfare.  They take the armor that they haven’t grown into yet, the sword that they haven’t trained with yet, and face an enemy who up until moments before running into battle had been their closest ally.  All because it’s not cool to be a child.

John gives us insight into what it takes to grow from a child into a young man, ready for war.  First, there is an understanding of dependence gathered from the previous level of maturity.  We learn to walk because our Father taught us.  We move from milk to solid food because our Father determines we are fit for it.  We learn to run because our Father was there to clean us up when we fell.  We learn to wield our sword because our Father has trained us in how to use it so we do not injure ourselves of those around us.  Young men are no more dependent on the Father as the children, but they have been taught and have learned how to walk in the Light and are ready for more responsibility.

This training has been accomplished by the Word of the Father taking residence (abiding) in the heart of the child.  That is why it is so vitally important that we who claim Christ as Lord be diligent to be in His Word and allow it to guide our lives.  The Word is our training ground (1Timothy 4:8).  The Word is our sword (Ephesians 6:17).  The Word is the light for our path (Psalm 119:105).  The Word cleanses us and keeps us pure (Ephesians 5:26).  It is from the Word that we had faith to become children (Romans 10:17).

Lastly, this training that has taken place leading to the maturity into young men leads to victory over sin in the life of the believer. The young man does not live life with his hands closed tightly around certain aspects of his life.  He gives freely of his time, money, resources and wisdom in order to be a light that shines into dark places.  One who has not learned how to overcome will hold tightly to pleasures that may or may not be outright sins.  One who has overcome has enough when he has his daily bread and needs nothing else to satisfy him because he is satisfied in Christ alone.

In all of this discussion, it is my hope that we will allow the Spirit to search us.  We will allow the mirror of God’s Word to show us who we really are.  Are we still children trying to run off into battle before we have learned to wield our swords?  Have we even taken the first steps of faith toward the Father or are we living in an allusion? May we search the Scriptures and search for Him in prayer that He might reveal Himself to us and that we might see ourselves in the Light of His perfection.  We do not measure our maturity based on the lives of other people around us.  We base our maturity on our personal, intimate relationship with Him.  John has merely given us a glimpse of the levels of Christian maturity, it is up to us to seek out the Father to see if we are in line with them.  It is for the Spirit to open our eyes to see.  May we plead for His mercy and when He reveals Himself may we be willing to surrender.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 2:7-11 – Love; August 10, 2011

1 John 2:7-11 – Love

Throughout the Bible, God constantly returns to the Law as a reference for how one should live.  I’ve heard dozens of sermons, including one recently, that seem to have an emphasis on defacing legalism or, as some would call it religion.  Not that I’m a fan of legalism, in fact legalism is condemned across the board in Scripture.  Legalism or religion being defined as doing certain things and therefore being accepted by God (depending on the religion) in accordance to the ability to modify behavior.  John would definitely agree with this sentiment.

I have also noticed another troubling trend in some of these sermons against legalism, and even in conversations I’ve had on the subject.  Most speakers or preachers never feel comfortable addressing the fact that we are commanded to do certain things.  Like what we’ve already addressed in the previous blog, we are to be obedient to God in all things meaning we are to follow how He has designed things to be.  We don’t get to define how our lives should be lived in our own understanding.  We don’t get to decide which rules we are to follow and which ones we are don’t feel led to follow.  That’s not the way faith in Christ works.

In this portion of John’s letter he is going to address an aspect of human nature that generally determines whether or not someone is in Christ or simply giving Him lip service.  That measuring stick is love for one another.  To be honest, I’ve often wondered why more of the New Testament writers don’t always couple the two greatest commandments as Jesus did in Matthew 22:37-40.  We see in specific times that the NT writers only focus on the loving of our neighbor and not specifically the love of God (Romans 13, Galatians 5, James 2, 1 John 2).  I think one of the main reasons for this is that there is very little empirical evidence for loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  I really don’t believe that anyone, unless, led by the Spirit of God could ever look at another person’s life and say beyond doubt that their heart had no love for God.  That is something that is deeply personal.  It’s something that relationally is kept private, hidden deep within the confines of the heart.  Even someone who follows the letter of the Law cannot be counted immediately as loving God with their all (ie. Pharisees).

So this command to love our neighbor as ourselves is one that is extremely complex.  There are many in the Christian community and outside of it that want to take this command and begin to make their checklists.  They begin to examine themselves and their progress in loving others.  Almost like a dog that has learned a new trick and will do it over and over again to get a treat from its master.  Human beings can fall into that mindset of I’m going to perform for God and therefore He will accept me.  John is not pointing us to legalism or religion, he is pointing us to love for God that overflows into how we live our lives.  Where love for others may or may not translate into love for God, hate for others (or rather the inability to extend love) definitely translates into no real love for God.  I want to reiterate again what John voices in 2:1 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” So John is not advocating perfection in the life of the believer, but he is pointing out things that need to be working themselves out of our lives.

Too many people these days who call themselves Christians refuse to look at their lives in light of Scripture and truly see how distant they are from Biblical Christianity.  They want to claim some form of spiritual enlightenment that clears them of guilt and need to follow what God has commanded in regards to discipline in their lives.  They claim they no longer need the Bible because God speaks to them directly.  They claim that they have no need for true, accountable, Biblical community because God directs them and has given them peace and freedom to live outside of Biblical community.  From those whom I have known who wander along this path (including my own battle with things just like this), the majority have anger or pride issues that keep them from being able to walk along side their brothers in harmony.  They become outcasts, separating themselves from the body so that their hearts do not have to be revealed in the Light.  My prayer is that we may all put our pride aside long enough to step into the Light and allow God to purify the places we have withheld from Him.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

1 John 2:1-6 – Obedience; August 3, 2011

1 John 2:1-6 – Obedience

 

We live in a culture of justifications, wherein we will justify certain types of behavior based on how we feel at the time or how another party has treated us.  I live in a part of the country where blood is thicker than water.  Where you don’t see faults in immediate family and often even extending that kind of blindness to extended family or friends.  There is a very purposeful ignorance that occurs where a certain group of people can do not wrong in our eyes while the rest of the world, especially those who would disagree with our point of view, can rarely do right.  The rest of our country may not hold such high regard for family; their acceptance generally has no preset conditions, just as long as they agree with whatever ideals are foremost in your affections.  This form of favoritism pervades every aspect of society and will determine much of what shapes an individual.  Just look at the various cults, especially violent ones, that pass on their hatred and prejudice from generation to generation.  Allegiance is paid closer to kin and kindred than any other order that may seek to transcend both.

Our lives will tell us where our allegiances lie.  How we treat the ones outside of our circle of trust will show how deeply the Spirit has penetrated our hearts.  I’ve heard stories of churches splitting over the silliest things.  From carpet color to interracial marriages, preset prejudices reign in the American church and people will trump the Bible with their own set of moralistic ideals all in the name of “Christ.”  How foolish we have become when we place our own personal or societal ideals in front of the Word of God.  We have become so twisted as to believe that we are actually doing the will of God while we are actively acting against what He has commanded us to do.  I am not describing a new concept.  Peter even struggled with this same thing and had to be rebuked by Paul for returning to old traditions that did not line up with the life Christ lived (Galatians 2:11-14).  We are supposed to be followers of Christ.  The term “Christian” means little Christ.  Do we follow the example of Christ or are we still stuck in the darkness of our own culture’s twisted view on relationships and ideals?

Our culture practices exclusion of groups or individuals based on political lines, religious lines, racial lines, and philosophical lines while Christ practiced decimating lines.  He went to the individuals and groups that society had outcast.  He took time to fellowship with the sick, diseased, poor, and helpless.  He spoke to women, embraced children, dined with tax collectors and prostitutes.  He made Himself available to the uneducated, the unloved, and even those who had been possessed by demons and chained in tombs.  He even held dialogue, civil dialogue mind you, and ate with those who opposed Him and whom He knew would eventually kill Him.  Christ is able to transcend the cultural and societal boundaries because He belonged to another culture or Kingdom if you will.  His obedience extended beyond the rulings of a Caesar or king.  His obedience was to the King of Glory.  The Creator of Heaven and earth.  The King of kings and Lord of lords.  That is how our obedience will prove whether we are of the Light or still wandering in darkness.  Our lives will scream our abiding in Him or our rejection of Him.

I’ve often had conversations with people who refuse the work of the Spirit in their lives and then wonder why they don’t feel saved.  The Apostle John in this passage takes us beyond just a feeling of being saved, and gives us practical proof of salvation.  That proof is obedience.  Do our lives line up with how God has commanded us to live? Or do we fall into the comfortable routine of returning to societal or even familial tendencies and prejudices?  Do we let the Word of God dictate our response to every given situation or do we rely on our upbringing or cultural bent?  The answer to these questions may help us grasp whether or not we are in Christ or apart from Him.  And for those of you struggling with whether or not you are saved, these answers are your plumb line.  They extend far beyond your feelings and will speak truth beyond what your mouth may be telling you or others.  It is the fervent desire of a Christian to live a life like Christ’s.  That is why being in the Word and allowing it to change you is of utmost importance.  We will never be able to say our lives line up with Christ’s if we never actively and personally pursue knowing what His life was about.  May we all learn to walk in the way that Jesus walked, even when it goes against what culture or even our families might tell us.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 1:5-10 – Truth; July 27, 2011

1 John 1:5-10 – Truth

 

I’ve often wondered how the church in America had gotten so far off of what Biblical followers of Christ were supposed to be.  I’d get lost in an onslaught of moral, doctrinal or philosophical differences across the landscape of American Christianity that only ever seemed to dance around the heart of the issue like fauns around a fire in a Grecian wood.  What no self-respecting, self-exalting Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Charismatic, Pentecostal, or Non-Denominational could explain was that the biggest problem with the American church is the people in it.  Naturally, when one comes to that realization it causes a whole lot of other problems, but perhaps those are best suited for another day.

The reason why the people within the church are the problem has little to do with the type of people, “for all have sinned…”, and more to do with the truth found within those people.  I’ve been around a lot of churches.  My father is a pastor, I attended and ministered to hundreds of churches in my college years as a worship team member, and the most common perception of truth was rarely seemed to extend beyond the end of anyone’s nose.  In essence, American people want to define their own truth.  They want to be able to say this is right for me and this is wrong and there is nothing that anyone else can say to sway them.  Now within the church this will rarely lend itself to unlawful practices like murder or theft, but as we can all attest it does not rule those things out entirely.  But on the whole people in church are good, both by their own definitions and the definitions of society at large.  In fact, the majority of people in church believe themselves to be so good at controlling their own moral actions that they believe it their duty to then extend that morality to the people around them.  Anyone found not up to standards for their particular set of rules is ostracized and branded a “sinner.”  People use church to show that the work of God aligns you with a certain set of rules.  These rules extended to every aspect of life: marriage, business, worship, family, attire, and social behavior even a list of words that you can and cannot say.  And from this hierarchy of morality we got denominations.  No one could agree on one set of rules, and with the freedoms afforded us in America, everybody could go their own way with no one to step in and say you are outside of Biblical Christianity, for that would be unconstitutional.

Of course this is not simply a religious issue, but a human one.  Take for instance Prohibition in the 1920’s.  The governments responds to sin in the lives of it’s citizens and prohibits the distribution of alcohol due to the fact it was being abused.  People who did not abuse the substance are now branded outlaws and criminals simply because a ruling party has decided what is good and what is sin.  The truth of the matter was that alcohol was not the problem.  The people sinful hearts within the abusers were.  So we are left with the question, how does one go about addressing the hearts of humanity?

The Apostle John addresses this topic with unwavering sincerity and fervency.  John is going to tell us that it is not about us all walking under the same rules or morality, but that we all walk in Christ or as John names Him, “the Light.”  The issue no longer becomes an issue of external morality or self-righteous separation from those who are different.  It is a uniting of souls not to a morality or set of beliefs but to a Person, to a King.  In our uniting with Him we have “fellowship with one another (v. 7)” that transcends moral boundaries.  So I can have fellowship with someone who enjoys an occasional drink within the bounds of Biblical responsibility even though I am of the conviction that I should not drink alcohol.  And I must admit that I have not always had such strong convictions about drinking and in the past have enjoyed a drink with a friend, always within the boundaries given in Scripture.

Now I want to be very clear here, I am not at all saying that Scripture is not abundantly clear on how we should live and move and have our being.  God, in His infinite wisdom and understanding, has said in His word to do and not to do certain things.  In addressing the drinking of alcohol, there is nowhere in Scripture that it says you should never drink it.  It does, however, speak adamantly against drunkenness and its dangers (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:21; Isaiah 5:11, 28:8; Hosea 4:11; to name only a few).  If anyone would like to discuss at this point the passage about eating food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8), I would be more than happy to do so, but for the sake of time I am going to move on with only a mention of the depth of that text needing to be uncovered on a personal level and should not be used as an excuse to either indulge the flesh or puff up ones ego.

The Truth that seems to be lacking, especially within the church, is one being able to remember what we’ve just looked at in the mirror (James 1:22-25).  Being able to see yourself for who you are and not who you’ve convinced yourself you are.  The self-righteous moralist who parks themselves on their pews every Sunday, Wednesday, or prayer meeting has lied to themselves about the true state of their own hearts.  They forget or refuse to acknowledge the logs in their own eyes for the sake of being able to point out the splinters in those they have deemed “sinners.”  They are the ones who John would say “lie and do not practice the truth.”  We are all sinners.  And if we lie to ourselves and refuse to continually be corrected by the Spirit of God we set ourselves up in opposition to Him in our hearts despite the fact we draw the lines of opposition in the middle of our sanctuaries.

I know that I’ve gone after a certain type of church folk in this post.  And I could write one just as long about those outside the church who believe themselves to be enlightened beyond the point of sin.  But if we in the church, who bear the name of Christ, cannot get this, how do we ever expect those outside of our faith to get it?  We have all sinned.  And just because God has called me away from a certain action does not mean He has done the same for the whole world.  May we stop creating lines to further separate ourselves from the people we are supposed to be reaching for the Kingdom that in reality further separate ourselves from Christ.  Stand firm in what Scripture says to stand firm in and what Christ has called you personally to stand firm in.  But to those outside of our faith, to those still trying to find their way in our faith, may we extend His grace, mercy and love just as He has extended them to us.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT