Category Archives: 1 John

Family Matters

Professional door to door salesmen have a certain air about them when the front door opens.  Kind of a mixture of formality with friendliness, practiced patter in smooth tones, dosed with expectation and anxiety.  If they want success at this house, they need to perform.  On the other hand, the kids in that household come to the front door, yank it open and go blasting through, shoelaces untied, jacket half off, enroute to the kitchen for a snack.  Big difference.  When you are a part of the family, you don’t need to perform to be accepted or even loved.  You just belong, simply because of who you are.

This is especially true for those in God’s family.  Who are they?  Consider these verses:

12 Yet to all who received him, [Jesus] to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  –  (John 1:12–13  –  NIV84)

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  (Galatians 3:26–29  –  NIV84)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a  –  NIV84)

By trusting Jesus, we are welcomed into God’s family, not by adoption, as nice as that would be, but through birth, the birth of God’s Spirit in our souls.  That’s better.  As His children there is no pecking order; race, former religion, social status – none of that matters.  We are treated alike, and have full rights as heirs.  God arranges for this through a generous act of lavish love.  Welcome home!

Taproot – Part 4

“I command you to love me!”  That’s a non-starter, isn’t it?  The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love God with all your heart and soul.  But, can love be commanded?  But, instead of hearing the word, command, as a strict order to do something we don’t want to do, think of it like this: This “command” is the most important thing to remember to practice so that things will go well for you. 

God’s 10 commandments were given after He first had arranged a rescue for the people from slavery. 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  –  (Deuteronomy 5:6)

His commands were given to protect us from falling back into any kind of slavery.  In other words, His commands were given to bless us.

Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”

“Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.”  –  (Deuteronomy 5:33; 6:3)

Our love for God is not grudging and forced, it is the natural response toward our Rescuer who loves us and wants the very best for us.  Our love for God is reflected in our paying attention to how He taught us to live, loving and honoring  Him by obeying.  As John said it, “We love because he first loved us.” – (1John 4:19)

The same is true of our love for Jesus, Who rescued us from spiritual slavery to live life to the fullest.

The Love Test

Do you ever wonder if you really believe in Jesus?  Are you a citizen or merely a tourist in the land of faith?  Since you cannot see faith, and since our minds deceive us (remember that romance in Jr. High?), is there a telltale sign we can look for to assess the genuineness of our faith?  Jesus said if we love one another as He loved us, others would know.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – (John 13:35)

Not Hallmark card love.  It’s the kind of love Jesus extended on the cross, dying to pay a debt we could not.  This kind of love (agape love) is an act of personal sacrifice in compassionate response to a need of someone else, with no expectation of any return.

If you find yourself increasingly moved to bless someone else in his need, not out of obligation or guilt, but out of agape love, this is a telltale sign of real faith. 

As John wrote:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: –  (1John 3:18-19)

The connection between real faith and sacrificial love is hope.  Not wishful thinking, but confidence in the future.  When we know we cannot lose, loving sacrifice becomes logical.  They could steal from us, hate us, persecute us, sue us or even kill us and it would not change the outcome for us in eternity.  We cannot lose.  Because we have real hope, it is safe  for us to love.  Agape love is a sign of faith because it is extended in direct contrast to the “rules” of the world.

Paul was excited and thankful for the new Colossian believers…

…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—  the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel. – (Colossians 1:4-5)

Becoming Fruit

By the time anyone noticed, she had been underwater for way too long. They hauled her out and laid her out on the dock, her body a dark purple color, her eyes lifeless. I watched as a med student kneeled over her and began CPR. When she took her first breath, when the color of her body began to chameleon back to its normal hue, when she came back to life, the process seemed miraculous. I’ve been present as each of my two children were born and took their first breath. This was like that, except that in her case, no one expected she would ever breathe again. I’m guessing, if anyone ever asks that young girl about the best gift she ever received, she would say it was the gift of life itself.

We are so used to being alive we actually take life for granted. It is all we’ve ever known. We also take spiritual death as the norm. It is all we have ever known. Spiritual death is the condition of being disconnected from the Spirit of God. Designed and created to be filled with God’s Spirit, we have been cut off since Adam’s Fall. Since we are born in this condition, we initially don’t notice anything wrong. It’s like being born blind and not discovering until later on that we were supposed to be able to see. But eventually we do sense a problem. We sense that something is missing. What’s missing is real, full life, the life of the Spirit in us. We cannot fix it, anymore than anyone could perform CPR on themselves. Spiritually speaking, we are as dead as that girl laid out on the dock.

But check out this amazing good news:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:17-18

We gasp for spiritual breath in many ways, often with no real understanding that what we seek is life itself. God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift reaches down through eternity and offers to give us “birth,” birth into eternal, spiritual life. How so? Through His Son, Jesus, the One Who is the “Word of Truth.” Those who accept this gift by faith, become like the first harvest of fruit in the orchard, the first tomatoes on the vine, the first grain in the field. The difference between fruit and the plant on which it grows is that there is continuing life in the fruit. So too with those who have been given the eternal life of God’s Spirit through their faith in Jesus.

Testing, Testing

When Jeff Bezos said Amazon was testing drones for package delivery, I’m sure he meant that they were putting the drones to the test in various kinds of bad circumstances, to make sure they would respond faithfully to the commands sent to them by Amazon.  No doubt, there are bad guys out there who will also try to influence and control those drones but in a different way.  They are going to try to override the delivery instructions, to tempt them off course, so to speak, in order to steal the goods.  Presumably, there will be two kinds of testing going on for the drones – perhaps even simultaneously.  Amazon’s testing will be designed to make them succeed; the other type of testing will be designed to make them fail.

There are two kinds of trials, two kinds of tests that happen to us humans, too.  God allows us to encounter trials, in order to help us learn to operate responsively to His instructions.  But we also encounter temptations (in Greek – both “trial” and “temptation” are the same word) designed to cause us to go astray or be destroyed.  This kind of test, temptations, come from Satan.  Remember the distinction between those two kinds of testing as you read these words from Jesus’ brother, James:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)

Temptations that drag us down toward evil and destruction never come from God.  His tests are designed to help us “fly right.”  Satan’s temptations usually are experienced as “evil desires.”

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)

If we respond to the commands from the One Who made us, the end result is life, not death:

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:16-18)

Quote: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Where’s Home?

At the Olympics this week, USA beat Russia in hockey and the Cossacks beat Pussy Riot in Sochi Square.  That second event must have been a vivid reminder to any westerner who witnessed it: You are not in Kansas, Toto; you are in Russia.  Russia is under the control of Putin.  And, Putin is not happy with Pussy Riot.  Maybe you have been comfortable in Sochi, but don’t be fooled: you don’t belong there – not if you appreciate the freedoms we protect at home.  Dennis Rodman may feel welcomed in North Korea.  But, if he made one wrong move, he would quickly discover who really controls the country that it is not his home.

When a person discovers the truth about Jesus, and turns to Him by faith, he or she turns away from the world.  They are not physically leaving the world, but are shifting their allegiance to Christ and becoming citizens of His kingdom.  They are in the world, but no longer belong to it. They experience a radical shift in understanding and in priorities.  Important motivators for the world, like seductiveness, fame or wealth, now make as much sense as Cossacks beating young girls in a punk band.  Followers of Jesus, they have become alien visitors in this world.  John reminds us:

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.  (1 John 5:19-20)

Is the whole world under Satan’s control?  You can do your own assessment.  Start with the news…  Take a trip to the Ukraine, to Venezuela, to North Korea, to Egypt, Iran or Washington DC.  Sit through a few previews of “Coming Attractions” to see what Hollywood thinks will sell.  Figure out why so many public idols have overdosed.  Is the world getting better?

Me? I’ll follow my King, my God and My Savior, Jesus.  If you are curious and want to know more, I’ll do my best to show you what I have discovered.  The nice thing is that it really is your call.

Who Holds the Chain

Enormous, yellow fangs, dripping with slobber, and hot, angry eyes were all I saw as a German Shepherd hurtled across the lawn at me.  I was walking to my first grade class at Clinton School, just cresting the rise on South Hamilton St., when I first encountered the beast from Hell.  He almost got me; i was too scared to run.  But just before his vicious teeth clamped around my face, the chain went taut and he was yanked back off his deadly trajectory.  Stephen King couldn’t have scripted it any better.  Who would do that to little kids on their way to school?  I picture an old, twisted, asthmatic geezer, rubbing his hands and cackling with glee.  Fact is, first grade wasn’t much better, but that’s a different story…

You never knew when that dog would be out.  Every day, on my way to school, I had to convince myself that the chain would hold, that he couldn’t get me.  Eventually, I learned to really trust it.

You and I are in a similar situation with Satan.  John says:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.  (1 John 5:18 – my added explanation)

Read this right:  It doesn’t say a believer is never tempted and never sins, but that he or she does not continue on that course as an habitual, regular lifestyle.  It does not say we have to try hard to be good.  It says Jesus keeps us safe. The evil one cannot harm us.  Literally, he cannot fasten himself on to us.  This is not meant to scare us, but rather, to reassure us.  We are meant to be encouraged and trust Jesus to keep us safe.  From time to time Satan will come flying out and attempt to make us think we are goners.  But Jesus holds the chain.