Category Archives: 1 John

1 John 5:13-21 – Life and Death; November 16, 2011

1 John 5:13-21 – Life and Death

 

The essence of John’s message to us as believers is a seemingly simple one.  It’s one that is easy for us to regurgitate.  It’s one that we put in our worship songs, coffee cups, and t-shirts.  It’s a message that we can all get on board with, cling to, and quote with fervor and resolve.  It is not one that we enjoy walking in.

John’s message is that when Jesus becomes our all we have life – when we chase anything else we don’t.  John points out that if Jesus is not real to us we will be more easily distracted by the things of this world.  John tells us that if we never fully realize our adoption as children of God we will never stop trying to find our worth in simply serving Him.  John challenges us to examine our lives to see if the love that Jesus has poured out on us is then being poured out on those around us because if that love is being hoarded, we are not truly living.  No one likes to find out that their not really as alive as they thought they were.

Have you ever tried to tell someone whose heart is beating that they’re dead?  It’s not exactly an easy concept to grasp.  Most people, in fact, refuse to see that their lives are being lived outside of Christ.  They believe as long as things are going relatively well, God must be happy with them.  John tries to give us measuring lines to help us see whether our lives line up with what Christ has commanded us to do, but most people will never use them.  Most people in church today will never see the need for such accountability in their daily lives.  They are simply content to wander in the dark until they stub their tow or fall into a ditch.  It may sound drastic or over-dramatic, but the simple truth is that when we refuse to allow the Spirit to examine us we are choosing to walk in death and not in life.

John warns against the desires of this world.  John tells us that if we believe that we are above the Law we have chosen to walk in what Christ came to destroy.  John tells us that if we continue to walk from day to day as if there is no real sin in our lives we call God a liar and have no part with the truth that we most likely profess.  We get things so mixed up.  We are so ready to say things with our mouths that are not consistent with what is really in our hearts.  I’ve never met the person who says that they never sin, but I’ve met hundreds who refuse to address that sin in their lives because that’s just “the way they are” – they believe they can’t change nor do they really want to change.  So when the Spirit comes and sheds light on the sin in their lives and offers them a New, Everlasting Life, they stare Him straight in the face and say, “You are a liar” and then go right back to church.  John is trying to draw us away from the death that we choose to walk in and into the Life that Jesus died to give us.  But we do not enter into that Life until we first step into the Light and believe what that Light reveals.  We are far more content with playing with our idols in the dark than enjoying Christ in the Light.

It is my prayer that the Spirit would open our eyes to where we are choosing to continue in the dark.  I pray He teaches us to abide.  I pray we would stop choosing the death we prefer over the Life He has given.

As the holidays approach, beware the distractions that accompany celebrations and gifts.  Be watchful for the idols that will be available to you.  Enjoy family and fellowship, enjoy giving and receiving, but do not forget whose you are.  For those mothers and fathers who will read this, give your children Christ this year.  Not by simply taking them to church or reading a story, but living the love of Christ for your children.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 5:6-12; John 1:31-34, 16:7-15, 19:33-37 – Testify; November 2, 2011

1 John 5:6-12; John 1:31-34, 16:7-15, 19:33-37 – Testify; November 2, 2011

 

Through all the arguments I’ve heard about Christianity, there is always one that stands out to me as being counter-intuitive – the idea that Christians believe in things they cannot see.  In essence, out faith is in something that we cannot experience and have no evidence to support.  This is simply not the case.  I believe that I’ve said this over and over again as we’ve discussed John’s letter, but the Bible over and over again will point us to actual, historical accounts verified by a number of named eye-witnesses as to what God did in working salvation or destruction.  Whether it is Moses pressing the people of Israel to tell their children and grandchildren about the miracles God did to free them from the Egyptians or Peter and John telling about how they touched and heard Jesus before and after his death, burial and resurrection – the Bible points us to evidence.

John in this part of his letter is again quoting his evidence for Christ being fully man and fully God, and how this Son of God died a physical, real death and was raised again.  John’s discourse is directed specifically at a group who would teach contrary to this, but his argument speaks volumes even beyond the historical setting in which he was writing.  Lest we forget that John was there for the raising of Lazarus.  John was there when Christ pleaded with God in Gethsemane.  John was watched as Christ breathed His last upon the cross.  John was the first of the disciples to see the empty tomb.  John was in the locked room when Jesus appeared to His disciples.  John ate breakfast with the risen Christ at the Sea of Galilee.  All of these things John testifies to as an eye-witness.  Christ was not a nice children’s story to John, He was a friend, a Teacher, a risen Lord.  And what we believe has been passed down by multiple eye-witnesses and has been confirmed through history.

It is essential that our faith, which is given to us by God, be as the apostles faith was – real and accessible.  There is a reason why the disciples were willing to suffer and die for the sake of Christ.  They had “looked upon” the risen Christ, “touched” Him with their hands.  And for that they were willing to die.  They were not indoctrinated as children to believe in Christ.  They were not promised paradise if they died for His name.  Rather, their hope was that paradise would be extended to those who had not seen and heard.  And as their Savior died that people might be drawn to the Father, so His disciples died that many would be drawn to Him.

This reality must be firmly established in our hearts.  God must become real to us.  Not as we perceive Him, but as He has revealed Himself to us.  We study the Scriptures so that we may know Him more intimately.  As if we were knowing him face to face.  Any other pursuit of the Scriptures is vanity.  It is with humility that we come to Him.  It is in poverty of Spirit and contrition that we come seeking truth, and too often we do not get to those points without first tasting the lies of this world and our own wickedness.  We cannot understand the Truth until we can see ourselves for who we truly are, see Him for who He truly is, and see each other as He has chosen to see us.  Truth is not an act of the will or an accomplishment of the intellect.  It is a gift of the Spirit.  May our hearts be receptive to the Spirit’s work.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 5:1-5 – Faith; October 26, 2011

1 John 5:1-5 – Faith

 

I think sometimes Christians tend to lose sight of the truths we so readily confess.  This week in Sunday School we talked about Psalm 139 which is David’s attempt to express God’s omnipotence (all-powerful nature) and omnipresence (always present nature).  Two unthinkable aspects of God’s nature that we very easily affirm, but very rarely allow to affect our lives.  I just recently watched a documentary about the way fundamentalist Christians address the issue of homosexuality in American culture, and I found the same thing.  People saying they believed in the Bible but refused to surrender to what it taught them.  People holding on to a singular sin as if it were the only one that mattered, while the Bible teaches that any sin separates us from God.  We so often will make claims about what we believe or are taught in church without fully understanding the depth of what those things mean.

As John begins to conclude his letter, he will first unpack for us the doctrine that he has been affirming for the first 4 chapters.  What we find when we unpack the doctrine of love, light, and adoption is that they are all held together by this thing we call faith.  Sadly, even faith needs to be unpacked.  Faith is something that I try and emphasis with our students at Bono.  Faith is something that I think the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians don’t fully understand.  Part of that is bad teaching, part of that is pride, and part of that is the culture in which we live.  Here’s how I would imagine that faith would be defined by the majority of American Christians:

 

Faith – knowing something to be true without empirical evidence

 

Scripture has two very big problems with this definition.  First, faith in the Bible never goes contrary to evidence.  It may contradict human reason, but it does not contradict evidence.  God tells his people over and over again to remember His mighty works and to tell them to their children so that they will put faith in Him and not in their own ability to provide, protect, or prosper.  John at the beginning of his letter tells his readers that he has seen, touched, and heard what he is teaching from Christ Himself and is now translating to them.

The other important disagreement that Scripture would have with this definition is the word “knowing.”  Nowhere in Scripture is there a singular focus on faith being a cognitive understanding of God or His work.  Faith is always coupled with action in Scripture.  There is never one who is commended for their faith solely on the merit that they professed it.  There was always a hard and fast connection with their faith and their deeds.  Abraham is commended over and over again that his faith was counted to him as righteousness because he believed the promise of God to the point of being willing to sacrifice his only son.  Faith is the outward manifestation of the new birth that has occurred in the heart.  So to say that faith is the mere understanding or knowledge of the things of God is misstating what faith really is.

Now, why is this so important to what John is teaching and what we need to glean from John’s teaching? Because another thing that we learn about faith as we study the Bible is that it is not something that we come up with – it is not something that we muster – it is not something that we can accomplish on our own.  It is a gift given to us by God.  Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing , and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is called the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” This truth, that faith is not of our own doing, is essential to understanding the rest of John’s teaching.  This is why John makes it such a point at the beginning of his letter and gospel that what he is teaching is not from him but from Christ.  He is simply testifying to it.

So, if a transforming faith is the foundation of love, walking in light, and adoption as sons and daughters of God, then we are given these things as we seek to abide in Him.  This is what John is trying to get through to us.  This is where we so often miss what the Bible is really saying and simply say things that sound good without really knowing what we’re talking about.  So when John tells us to love like Jesus loved, he’s not expecting us to magically like people more or be nicer to people that we really don’t want to be nice to – he is saying that as we humbly allow faith to do it’s work in our hearts, we will be given a love for people that is a reflection of the love Christ has given to us.  And when John tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light, he’s not just expecting us to find an illuminated road on Google maps and follow that until we can’t walk anymore – he’s saying that as we humbly seek to abide in Him, we will be given light that will allow us to walk in fellowship with God and people.

The bottom line for us is that we must begin to allow what we believe to be brought to life in what we do.  If we say that we have faith in Christ but live in contradiction to all that he stands for, is that faith real?  If we say that God is all-knowing and is always near us, then why do we continue to do those things we do in private or why do we continue to allow those thoughts to be entertained in our minds?  If salvation is a gift, why do we keep trying to earn it by sacrificing things that God never asked us to sacrifice?  May our faith be made real in our lives because it changes us, and may we stop trying to muster it out of our own understanding.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 4:13-21 – Confidence; October 19, 2011

1 John 4:13-21 – Confidence

 

My Dad is a great communicator – as long as you’re not his child.  You see, my Dad, like the Apostle John, will repeat himself over and over again in new ways so that his audience cannot help but get the point.  I’ll never forget the time that my Dad summarized part 1 of his sermon series before moving on to part 2.  He summarized for 32 minutes, and then started his sermon.  To a congregation of seeking brothers and sisters in Christ, this method can be very effective.  To his 16 year old son, not so much.  No 16 year old boy like to hear how wrong he’s been and what he can do to fix it over and over again in different language.  Unfortunately it took me far to long to actually hear what my Dad was really trying to say.  Teachers don’t repeat themselves because the like to hear themselves talk or because they want to torture their listeners – they repeat themselves to make sure we hear what is most important.  And in case we miss the peripheral aspects of their teaching, at least we will hear what is most important.

In reading this passage we see similar statements and elements from the first four chapters, from the previous 12 verses, and even from John’s gospel.  The key focus being love, which we have discussed previously in our discussions.  In this passage, however, John is wanting to point us to another proof of our abiding in God and He in us.  John is wanting us to see, touch and experience the confidence of having the love of God being perfected in us.  If we can remember back to chapter 2, we will find this theme to be redundant as well.  John points out that “we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)  We can have confidence in our salvation when our actions line up with what God has commanded us to do.  In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and to that there was another like it, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that if these could be made manifest in your life you would be fulfilling the requirements of holy living.  Love was the key, and more than that, the outpouring of love to the people around you was the proof of your being a Child of God.

Love is our proof.  Obedience is our proof.  The Spirit is our proof.  And we have confidence as these gifts are manifested in our lives.  Not one comes from our trying harder or our being better than anyone else.  They are all gifts from God to His children.  We do not accomplish them, they are accomplished in us.

I want to remind us to two very important things.  John says over and over that if we do not love our brothers then we are no Children of God.  He also says that we have an advocate in Jesus for the times that we do sin, because we will sin.  So which is it in your life?  Are you outside of the Family of God, living in sin, refusing to love those God has commanded you to love?  Or are you simply struggling with your flesh that has not yet been fully destroyed?  We must allow the Spirit to examine our hearts.  We must be willing to walk in the Light, and allow it to uncover dark and hidden places.  Most likely if you see and understand that there is a “love” issue in your heart, you have the Advocate acting on your behalf.  If you have no such issue and never have, it’s more likely that you’ve never truly walked in the Light.  We are to love like Christ loved, and I have never met a person who can stand and say they have always loved as they ought.  Spirit, open our eyes to see and give us ears to hear.  May we stop wandering in the darkness of our own deceitful hearts.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 4:7-12 – Beloved; October 12, 2011

1 John 4:7-12 – Beloved

I’ve often read this passage on love and wondered how we miss its message so easily.  Unfortunately for the English language we only have one word for an idea that the Greek language takes at least four to express.  The idea of “love” is one that can become muddled very easily when translated into a culture such as ours.  We rarely experience the type of love that John refers to over and over again in his epistle.  Even more rarely do we give this “love” as we ought.  Instead, we tend to mimic what we have learned from others or seen played out in our experience.  Most often the love we have learned or experienced is not an unconditional, sacrificial love.

I grew up in a home where love was not only something you said but something you did.  I was told on numerous occasions that if I love my Mom I would do a certain task that ordinarily I would despise doing.  My Dad lived out that example in our home.  Looking back now, able to see more clearly now that I am a husband and a dad, I know what those words were trying to express.  My Dad was modeling an unconditional love for my Mom.  My adolescent mind didn’t quite get it.  Similar misunderstandings would occur when we were getting ready for church when I was a child.  I have never been a fan of getting dressed up or putting on uncomfortable clothes, so getting dressed for church often turned into a battle of wills between my Mom and me.  I was told that we dressed up because we loved God and wanted to honor Him by looking our best when we went to worship Him.  Or at least that’s the way it was perceived through the eyes of a child.

So love often meant doing things you didn’t really want to do.  It meant making yourself uncomfortable on behalf of the one you loved.  Unfortunately, my love for God in my personal experience never led me to feel the need to dress up.  My love for God never led me to pull weeds in a garden over and over again.  My actions were never founded in my love for Him, they were simply a way for me to act like I loved Him.  It didn’t matter what I felt inside, the action was what mattered, not the heart.

Most of us have experienced this kind of love.  A very “phileo” type of love.  A love where you do something and that love is reciprocated back to you based on your act of love.  A love where you can further your advantage in life by abiding in certain behavior.  As long as you did the right things, the love remained.  Step out of line and the love was lost.  Stay out of line and the love might not come back.  We’ve experienced it in romantic relationships, friendships, family relations and even with our own parents.   Many of us base our love on such hidden principles and often believe those principles to be right and even holy.  John is commanding a different kind of love.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  The love that we are to be giving is one that has no reciprocity to it – it’s a love that is not based on what they will do or have done for you.  Instead, the opposite is true.  Christ’s response to mankind’s blatant and arrogant defiance of Him was to respond in love leading to the Cross.  And not only dying a death He did not deserve, but taking the wrath of a Holy God so that we could receive the full benefits of God’s love (that’s what propitiation means, taking wrath so that favor may be given).  Christ loved those who stood defiantly not loving Him, even to the point of asking the Father to forgive those who stood at the foot of His cross in order to mock him and spit on Him as He died.  We don’t have a frame of reference for this kind of love.

Christ’s love that is to be “perfected” in us is one that we have a hard time truly living out practically.  We don’t want to love like this.  We don’t want to love our coworker who goes out of their way to make us look bad.  We don’t want to love the guy who cheats and steals from us and doesn’t get caught.  We don’t want to love that person who calls us names or despises us.  We don’t want to love the ones who hate us.  We don’t want to love like Christ loves us.  Instead, we would like to continue to receive His love, but only give our love to those who deserve it, have earned it, or that we are by nature required to give it.  No human being can love like that anyway.  And that my friends is “the rub,” if I may borrow from the Bard.

This love that John and Christ command us to have for the people in this world is not from us.  We are not going to feel this love.  We are not going to magically walk around with this ethereal feeling of love for everyone who hates us, mocks us, spits on us or kicks us while we are down.  It is the work of the Spirit within us that produces this kind of love.  It is our abiding in Him, and He in us that allows this love to be manifested in our lives.

In my own life, I had a hard time fully comprehending this command until I realized the true depth of love that Christ has for me.  For so long I tricked myself into believing that I somehow warranted Christ’s love because I did the right things.  I had convinced myself that I was better than most people and therefore deserved the love that Christ gave me.  Most of us, if we could be truly honest with ourselves, live in that lie.  We may not say it with our mouths, but we believe it in our hearts.  We are good enough to be loved by Christ, and salvation is just Him helping us out just a little bit.  Most of us believe that we only missed the mark by a little and the work done on the cross helped us just enough to hit the target.  I mean, it’s the murderers, drug-dealers, homosexuals and politicians who are the really bad ones, not me.  We neglect the truth of God’s Word that tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot do enough “good” things to overcome the fact that we refuse the regenerate work of Christ in our lives because we would rather trust in our own “goodness.”

So here is the full command of loving others as given by Christ and John:

  1. We ALL are broken, rebellious, and hostile in mind toward God
  2. Christ in His perfect, unconditional love comes to earth to take the punishment for our sin so that we may have life with Him
  3. The Spirit shines light into the darkness of our hearts revealing both of these truths and we submit our lives to Him in repentance and obedience
  4. We become reflections of Christ’s love to a dark world, allowing the love that Christ has given us to now be poured out on EVERYONE around us

This is the love that is to be perfected in us.  This is the work of sanctification in our lives.  This is what it means to abide and remain in His love.  It is not a work that we do.  It changes everything.  It changes the way you love your kids.  It changes the way you love your spouse.  It changes the way you love the waiter or waitress at the restaurant where you eat.  It changes the way you relate with people at work.  It is the life of Christ living through you.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

1 John 4:1-6 – Testing; October 5, 2011

1 John 4:1-6 – Testing

The word testing often comes up in the Christian world.  Mostly in the context of a trial or circumstance that “tests” your faith or your ability to overcome an obstacle in a given situation.  Rarely do you here it in the context of testing the things we hear from pulpits, books, external counsel or internal direction.  You might every now and then hear it from someone well-versed in Christianese who might be trying to guide you through a difficult decision without really having to think too deeply about the situation.  Or you might have heard it from someone who truly knows the depths of testing the spirits that John talks about in chapter 4.

John is addressing a method of deciphering what is from God and what is from man.  He is challenging the “little children” to purposefully lay each argument against the Word of God to see if it truly holds up to what is true.  Sadly, it is a discipline that is lost in churches today.

The first reason that I believe that the church today cannot test the spirits is that we prefer to reason things out in our own minds instead of looking to the Word of God as our source of direction.  So when we’re having marital problems it is much easier to justify our behavior by lining up with our feelings or preferences than actually having to live out “Wives submit to your husbands” or “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5).  The spirits tell us that it’s ok for a wife to usurp authority in the relationship because the husband is just not doing it right or for a husband to find other things to love when his wife seems unlovable.  Here’s another popular spirit that ravages our church, children have no need to obey the outdated, often insane orders of their parents because they obviously are not in touch with today’s generation.  That spirit is a lot easier for us to follow than “Children obey your parents in everything” (Colossians 3:20).  Other spirits that tend to dominate our culture have to do with the workplace.  The end of Colossians chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 are going to speak to many of these.  To the one who believes themselves to be stuck in a dead-end job, with a crazy boss and inadequate compensation Scripture says “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  And to the employer who would prefer to domineer over their employees “treat your [workers] justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”  We could go on for pages and pages bringing up spirits of the world that whisper in our ears where we ought to go, and counter each one with the voice of Spirit in God’s Word.

Of course, for every clearly defined spirit that contradicts the Word of God there are countless others that are not so clean-cut.  For instance, do I move from Grand Prairie, TX to Suwon, South Korea?  I have no Scriptural reference that I can point to that says, “Thou shalt move from GP to SK in the second month of the year on the twenty-eighth day of the month.” (2 Opinions 3:16).  That’s why being in the Word and Abiding are so vitally important.  Being able to distinguish the voice of God from the spirits of this world (spirits that often include your own voice and preferences) in the clearly defined areas help us in discerning His voice in the muddy areas.  The Spirit speaks to us beyond His Word, but how can we say we truly know His voice if we have not listened in the areas clearly defined in Scripture?

Let me tell you how this plays out in my own life.  When my wife and I were planning to come back from South Korea to Texas and I was looking for a job, my preference and so many voices in my mind were telling me to stay away from church employment.  I have never wanted to be involved in church.  I don’t like the politics, the hypocrisy, not to mention I have what some may call an “authority issue.”  But the more we prayed and sought the Lord and the more we fed ourselves with the Word the more it was confirmed in our hearts that we needed to apply for a position at a church.  What’s more, after we applied we felt confirmed that I was going to get the job.  There wasn’t a Scripture that said “Thou shalt do youth ministry.”  There was no cloud in the sky in the shape of a lighthouse.  There were no dreams or visions.  There was simply His voice calling us, and we had learned to hear His voice by submitting to His Word.  “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7).  May we be hearers of the Word and in doing it learn to hear the Voice of the Lord in every moment of our lives.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

1 John 3:16-24 – Know; September 29, 2011

1 John 3:16-24 – Know

 

There have been multiple times in my life when I’ve felt absolutely overwhelmed.  My first full-time job out of college working as a school administrator, teacher, and coach and having no real experience in any area other than coaching.  Getting married.  Moving to a foreign country.  The birth of our first child.  My first job in a church.  I can distinctly remember feeling an overbearing weight of inadequacy in each one of those moments.  And the root of that inadequacy was found in my lack of knowledge in that given situation.  There was no real foundation that I could stand on in order to feel secure in any of those experiences.  I had nothing to fall back on, and I learned very quickly that my ability to gather information about a subject was not the same as knowing about it firsthand.  No matter how many classes you take or books you read on teaching, there is nothing that can prepare you for standing in front of a group of students every week and being responsible for their education.  There is no true amount of preparation that can assist you in coping with flying 19 hours on an airplane, landing on foreign soil, arriving at your new apartment, and realizing your not going “home” for a while.  And you can forget about how ready you think you are for marriage or kids until you’re waking up to that person everyday and that little life is now waking you in the middle of the night.  Some things you just don’t know until you’ve actually walked up to them and been introduced – until you’ve stared it in the face and lived it.  That is what John is trying to get across to us in this passage.

John is in no way covering new ground in chapter 3 of his letter.  He is simply trying to get across that we can’t simply have a cognitive knowledge of love, truth, abiding or the Spirit, we must have experienced them and been changed by them.  No one who has had a true encounter with the love of Christ will ever be able to remain in a constant state of anger or prejudice.  No one who has acknowledged the source of all truth will be able to continue believing the lies of his own heart for long.  And no one can deny the need for abiding after they have been filled with the presence of God.  John is inviting us to participate in the beauties of our faith, not just talk about them or discuss them.  He is calling us to engage.

The sad part is that John knows way to many who will refuse the invitation.  They don’t want to go deeper, they don’t want to feel heat of the refiners fire.  They simply want to talk about it, analyze it and speak critically about it.  They want to play spiritual dodgeball – they can’t deny the realities of love, truth, and abiding that infiltrate life, but they don’t want to touch them, handle them, or get smacked in the face by them.  They are content to bob-and-weave through life hoping they don’t “catch” what some of us have.  You find as many of these in church as you do out of it – people who simply want to live their lives unaffected by the Gospel.

“By this we know love,” in that we have been loved by Christ.  But we cannot fully know the love of Christ until we have acknowledged how unworthy we are of such a love.  We prefer to think of the love of Christ as Him seeing our potential and loving us so that we could meet that potential.  That is why so many will miss knowing His love.  The point of the agape love of Christ is that we are so undeserving of it.  There is nothing good within us that causes Christ to love.  Instead it is out of the depth of His love that we – the undeserving – are loved.  This is why many will not understand the love that John talks about.  They believe that they have something in them that forces Christ to love them.  They want to make Christ’s love a phileo love – a love based on affection or feeling – and so want to treat others with a phileo love.

“By this we know that we are of the truth,” when our hearts begin to recognize and line up with His heart.  We miss this so often because we first refuse to love as Christ has loved, and second because we want to trust our own ability to define what is right and good.  We don’t want someone above us, watching us, calling us to account.  We want to make these actions bad and these actions good.  We don’t want to address our hearts or the hearts of others.  We simply want to engage in what we can control.  Christ’s love cuts to the heart of who we are, and so will His truth.

“By this we know that He abides in us,” when the Spirit bears fruit in our lives.  The love, truth and abiding nature of Christ will change us.  We will not be the same.  The Spirit will testify to the saving work of Christ in our lives by bearing His fruit in the way we live.  Christ’s love will flow forth based on the truth He has revealed as we begin to be patient in times that we were impatient before knowing Him.  Joy will be born in times of sorrow. Kindness will be born when there was only hostility.  Self-control will be born when there was addiction or over-indulgence.  The Spirit will confirm in our lives the work done as we submit to the love and truth of Christ.

There is no one on earth who can know these things on your behalf.  You can listen to as many preachers, read as many books, and attend as many Bible studies as you want, but they will never replace you knowing them for yourself.  Engage with Christ.  Come play.  Touch, see, and hear the beautiful reality of who Christ is.  Come allow the Spirit to bear fruit in your life.  Be a student of His Word by being more than just another intellect.  Live the Word.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 3:11-15, Genesis 4:1-26 – Hate; September 21, 2011

1 John 3:11-15, Genesis 4:1-26 – Hate

 

I wanted to title this post “Love part 2,” but in looking at this text again to write this next part of the study in 1 John, it just didn’t seem to fit.  One of the beauties of the Apostle John’s writing style is that he will use similar themes and rehash them in order that we may understand the very weighty concepts that he is wanting his “little children” to understand.  John does mention love in this text but it is by no means his emphasis.  He, instead, wants to show us hate.  He wants us to look full on into the face of hate in our own hearts and see for ourselves whether we fall in the light or stumble in darkness.

The story of Cain and Abel is a story that you learn in Sunday School when you’re very young. I remember it being taught as a means of telling us not to be mean to our brothers and sisters or a lesson in obeying mommy and daddy so we don’t murder our siblings.  Either way, the point of the story is missed.  John, like his Teacher, is wanting us to examine the heart of Cain not his external actions.  When we read the account of Cain and Abel we see two things initially: Cain and Abel make sacrifices to God, Cain is rejected while Abel is accepted.

I’ve tried and tried to find a reason in the original text for why Cain was rejected and Abel wasn’t.  I kept remembering an old children’s cartoon that documented this account.  Cain was a gruff, caveman-like brute who brought a bunch of raggedy veggies to God and Able was this clean, handsome looking young man who brought a nice lamb to God.  It was easy to see why Cain was rejected and not Abel in the cartoon.  Cain was an ogre while Abel was an angel. Cain brought garbage while Abel brought the best he had.  The Bible makes no such distinction.  Other than Abel bringing the “firstborn” of his flock, there is no distinction between the two offerings.  And this was long before there were any laws laid down as to what was acceptable for sacrifices and what was not acceptable.

As with most of Scripture, we need a bit of help to figure out why Cain’s offering was not accepted by God.  God tells us a hint when He confronts Cain and asks the question “If you do well, will you not be accepted?”  Apparently Cain did not do well in the bringing of his offering.  But we know by looking at the rest of Scripture that it’s not the external, moral action that gives us right standing before God.  It is the condition of our hearts that gives us right standing.  It is not the bringing of the sacrifice that pleases God, but the brokenness of a heart seeking Him.

Here is how this translates for us.  Often when we’ve been trying so hard to do the right things, we neglect to come to God with humble hearts.  We believe that we are accepted by the things we do on the outside and not the position of our hearts on the inside.  Cain’s deeds were evil because his heart was not right, not because was doing immoral things.  Now as we finish the story of Cain and Abel, we know that Cain’s actions changed to match the evil in his heart.  His murdering of his brother was simply an overflow of what was in his heart.  His default heart position was against God.  Instead of reaching for love, he reached for hate.  Instead of reaching for patience, he reached for impatience.  Instead of allowing purification to take place in his life, he dove headlong into the sin that marked him for the rest of his life.

If the Spirit were to examine you, what would your default heart position be?  Do you reach for love or hate?  Kindness or spitefulness?  Humility or pride?  Spirit or flesh?  What’s your response when someone cuts you off on the road?  What’s your response when the waitress gets your order wrong at a restaurant?  What’s your response when a coworker, spouse, child or sibling rubs you the wrong way?  The Spirit is warning us that if we are not reaching for the things of God as our default, we may not have any part of Him at all.  I am not trying to imply that we will be perfect, and neither does John.  But we must be willing to see the truth of where we are in Him.  Are we trying to stand as close to Him as we can without having to do the work of sanctification that demands us to give up our rights?  Are we so lost in Him that our defaults are now based on Christ’s love for the person who may have hurt us or made our lives a bit inconvenienced?  Anger in the heart of a believer is committing murder when we are supposed to be carriers of Christ’s life to the world around us (2 Corinthians 4:10).  May we be faithful of being life-givers instead of life-takers.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 3:4-10 – Lawlessness; September 14, 2011

1 John 3:4-10 – Lawlessness

 

I must admit something that may seem strange to some.  When I try to define or think of what lawlessness looks like I can’t help but picture a scene from a western movie where the outlaws run things.  There’s no order, there’s no peace, and everybody knows that there’s no law but no one is able to do anything about it.  Everyone, even the outlaws, knows that something is wrong; they just won’t do anything to fix it.  People simply survive.  The common folk go about their daily lives just trying not to get in the way while the outlaws explore every selfish depravity they can come up with.  There is a clear distinction between the outlaws and the common citizen.

I think, for the most part, this is probably how most of us will define lawlessness.  We’ll think of the bad guys we’ve seen in movies or heard about in the news.  We’ll imagine some fiend sitting in riches that he has accrued by theft or greed, and that to us will become what lawlessness looks like.  Few of us will look at our own lives and see lawlessness.  Few of us will acknowledge our need for Christ’s righteousness.

Lawlessness is not simply living outside of the law; it is living as if there is no law outside of what we invent for ourselves.  If we could be honest with ourselves, we tend to define for us what is good and right.  We will most often fall in line with whatever governing authorities have been put in place.  We’ll follow the speed limits to a reasonable extent.  We won’t steal, harm, or kill the people around us.  We will fall in line as it seems best to us.  After all, if we don’t follow these social norms we go to jail, and no one wants that.  But what about the other parts of our lives, the private thoughts and motivations, what law governs those?  Who decides what your motivation should be for obeying the laws of the land? What laws govern what kind of spouse, sibling, child, friend, and coworker you are?

The truth is that most of us see God’s commands like we see the laws handed down from our government.  They hang over us and keep us from doing the really bad stuff, and we follow them so we don’t go to Hell.  They keep us from doing the really bad stuff, but don’t really break through to our hearts.  We don’t allow God to command our heart because we believe one of the greatest lies in the history of the world: we are good people.  God has no right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t drink because it’s not like you’re killing someone.  God has no right to tell you what to do with your free time because it’s not like you’re dealing drugs or stealing from people.  God has no right to tell you to submit to your husband because your husband is an idiot.  God has no right to tell you to obey your parents because they are so out of touch and old-fashioned.

Most of us live lives of lawlessness.  We don’t allow the Lord to address the deep parts of our hearts that care nothing for Him or His Word.  We simply want to avoid the “big” sins that keep us out of Heaven.  What we fail to see so often is that when we refuse the regenerate work of the Spirit in our hearts, we refuse Christ all together.  We don’t get to simply pick the parts of the Spirit’s sanctifying work that we want and dismiss the ones that make us uncomfortable.  We don’t get to submit to the public modifications and refuse to submit to the private transformations that make us more like Christ.

The obedience that comes with a transformed heart is one of total obedience.   It means that every aspect of our lives is submitted to Him.  It means we discipline our lives down to the very thoughts we think during the day.  Abiding covers every part of who we are, down to the very private motivations that drive us to do what we do in our day.  It’s no longer good enough to simply follow the rules because you don’t want to get punished for being out of line.  We love the King and in loving Him follow Him.  We love Christ and in loving Him submit everything to Him.  Most of us miss this essential aspect of our relationship with Christ because we’ve had no other relationship in which we’ve experienced this type of obedience.  As we’re growing up we learn what behaviors our parents accept and which are not accepted.  We adjust our behavior so that our lives are more enjoyable depending on our level of selfishness.  Our motivation is our own comfort and survival, rarely is it the love of our parents.  As we get older this becomes more and more true.  Teenagers tend to obey their parents so that they don’t’ get yelled at or grounded, not because they have an overwhelming love and admiration for their parents.  Anyone who has been a teenager knows this.

As we graduate from the adolescent years we adjust our lives to the will of whatever government we are under.  Most of us will do whatever is necessary to not get arrested.  We do this not because we love our government, but for our own comfort and survival.  This is how we operate.  We adapt for our own comfort and survival, all the time our hearts being about what we want.  Our motivations are self-centered, self-exalting, and self-preserving.  This is how we come to God.  Most of us have been told or simply believed that God is calling us to a place of eternal comfort and that if we follow a certain set of behaviors we will forever be comfortable.  Our motivation for coming to Christ is rarely out of true, submissive love for Him.  Our motivation is usually for our comfort and eternal survival.  We live with the appearance of obedience, but lawlessness reigns in our hearts.  Our love for Him is shown by the smallest of things that is handed over to Him.  We walk with open hands, holding on to nothing in this life so that we may receive Him when this life is over.  He governs all things, that means there is nothing that we get to take for ourselves and say, “I’ll do this my way.”  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 2:28-3:3 – Children; September 7, 2011

1 John 2:28-3:3 – Children

 

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard someone reference “child of God” in a sermon or conversation, I’d be a very rich man.  It’s one of those clichés that gets thrown around in churches all the time, but few of us ever truly feel the weight of it.  We tend to think of it as if we were worldly kids and God is our parent.  The problem is not in the definition, but in the heart that often accompanies that definition.  Too often we love to play the role of the spoiled kid who has been given everything he or she wanted without discipline or correction.  We love to be “children of God” because that means we get to have whatever we want in this life with no need to feel guilty or responsible.  God will just take care of it and leave us to enjoy the peace and comfort in this life.  I’ve heard this text taught over and over again as a stand-alone sermon where the preacher wanted to make everyone feel good because they were “children of God.”  He wanted to puff them up and tickle their ears and let them know how much God loved them and wanted to give them peace and comfort in this life.  He’d go on to tell them how God wanted them healthy and wealthy because God takes care of His children.  Most of those sermons would end with me pacing the room and thanking God that I would most likely never meet that man in person.  I would probably not be a very good witness if I did.

John in his letter to the Church takes great care in developing a way of life that is very clearly distinctive from the rest of the world.  He discusses that not everyone who simply says they are of Christ is actually of Him.  He tells us that our lives will call us liars if we are not actively abiding in Him.  If we refuse to humble ourselves, to separate ourselves from the desires of this world, and to love each other we cannot in truth call ourselves children of God.  John is very clear that simply giving lip service to Christ does not equal adoption, just as doing moral things but never confessing Christ does not equal adoption.  There are clear and necessary evidences that accompany being called a son or daughter of God.

We have already discussed what John has discussed thus far in his letter, so in light of those things I will not rehash in this section what has already been discussed.  Let us instead rest for a moment in the love of our Father.  For those of you who are being sanctified – whose lives are in full pursuit of Christ and His glory – let us rejoice together in the grace and mercy of Christ.  In Christ we are seen as pure, holy, righteous, blameless and without sin.  To one who has been called into fellowship with the Father there is no greater gift that can be given.  There is no amount of comfort in this life that we feel we are owed outside of this one grace.  We who are true children, adopted by the saving work of the Lamb, now stand before our Heavenly Father ready to receive all that He has prepared for us.

For a child of the King there is nothing that can challenge or diminish the single purifying act of the Cross.  There is no trial that can shake us, no storm that can uproot us, no temptation that can overcome us.  We no longer have to fill our minds with what we want, but are able to joyfully and gladly look to the interests of others.  We are detached from the need to follow the world and its pursuits.  We no longer look to our own abilities or talents to provide for our needs, but trust that our Father will provide.  What a freeing thing it is to be a child of God.  What a joyful state in which to live where our external circumstances no longer define our understanding of God’s love for us.  What peace has been given when we can stand with Job and truly say “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Rejoice, child of God, for your inheritance is not rooted in the desires of this decaying world.  Rejoice, sons and daughters of the Most High, for your joy does not rest in what you can acquire and achieve, but in what He has had from the beginning.  May it be that we can learn to walk in holiness as children of God, forsaking our former ways and pursuing Him with our whole hearts.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT