Tag Archives: John

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)

Don’t Touch That Dial…

Changes are coming – big changes.  Over the last couple of years we have been working on an interactive audio ebook entitled “Who is Jesus?”.  It is almost ready!  Don’t touch that dial.   Over the next few days I’ll try to answer a few questions you may have, questions like, “What’s an ebook?” and “Who is ‘we?'”  Or, “How will I use it?”  and “What’s it going to cost?”  The last one is easy – the book will be free.  But let’s start with a more basic question:  “Who cares?”  “So what?”

The last line in the Gospel of John says this:

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

What’s so great about yet another book – even an “ebook” – about Jesus?   Let me show you a picture I recently found amidst some family junk:Who Dat?

I had no idea who this picture was, until I spotted the names written on it.  It’s a picture of my grandparents!  But they were doing something very uncharacteristic.  In my memory, my Grandma and Grampa Andy were rather reserved and formal.  But here they are, horsing around like young lovers.  As I looked at this picture, it occurred to me that whoever took this picture probably knew some things about my grandfather that never got mentioned at family gatherings.  It would have been fun to sit down with that guy and have him tell me who my grandfather really was, what he was really like.  Friends frequently have a better understanding of someone’s character and personality than teachers, bosses, colleagues or even family members.  Friends know things…

John the Apostle knew Jesus as a friend.  His Gospel account of Jesus reads very differently from the others in the Bible.  I think that was partly because he wrote it as a friend.  If you want to know more about Jesus, you can’t do any better than listen to what John had to say.  And that is what this ebook will be all about: Who does John say Jesus is?

How do you get a copy?  Don’t touch that dial; we’ll get all the details worked out and let you know.


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

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.

Gimme a Scroll Bar!

Were you surprised the government couldn’t run a website as well as Amazon does?  Not me.  The first time I filed my taxes online, I remember you had to click on a big button that said SUBMIT!  Submit, indeed…   But once I pushed the button, the screen went blank and nothing seemed to be happening.  For a long, long time.  Freaked me out, because I wasn’t sure if they got my return or not.  I wondered if I should shut off the computer and try again or if that would ruin everything.  There was no way for me to know because nobody at the IRS thought to program in a little scroll bar – you know that little green, line thingy that shows you the download progress when you order a new app or song?  it lets you know everything is okay.  Don’t panic; just wait.   That scroll bar has probably done more for mental health than psychiatry has.  It’s nice to have some real time feedback to let you know that everything is proceeding in the right way.

There is a “scroll bar” for Jesus.  Think about it:  How can you be sure, once you have put your faith in Jesus, that anything has changed?  How can you know that by believing in Jesus you really do have eternal life?   John said you can know in three ways:  First, you can know because Jesus came all the way down to where you are – all the way down to stand in the waters of baptism  (See “All the Way – Part 1″).  Secondly, you can know because Jesus went all the way to the Cross – giving His life, spending His blood – which no one would do unless it was going to work (See “All the Way – Part 2” and “What’s Love (or Justice) Got to do with It?“).

But you can know in a third way, too.  God gives us a scroll bar, too – something to let us know everything is okay – don’t panic.  God gives us real time evidence that we have been connected to Him forever.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  (1 John 5:6 )

The Spirit shows us day by day, in real time, that we are alive in Christ.  He is like a scroll bar.  Obviously, He is a lot more than just evidence that everything is working, but the fact that He testifies – continuously – is important.  We don’t need to wonder if trusting Jesus is really effective.  We don’t need to wonder if we have eternal life.  The Spirit shows us.

Here’s the rest of what John said:

For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.   We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.   Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.   And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:7-13)

That’s the truth.  It comes with a “scroll bar.”

All the Way – Part 2

We’ve been chewing on something puzzling that the Apostle John said about Jesus:

“This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  (1 John 5:6 a) 

NOTE – The previous post dealt what John meant about “water.”  If you haven’t read it, click on this link – All the Way – Part 1.  Hopefully, this second part about blood will make more sense.

When John said Jesus came “by water and blood,” he meant  Jesus came all the way – all the way TO you and FOR you.

Every week in the summer, out here in the Rockies, people find themselves stuck after climbing half-way up cliffs.  They cling desperately to the rock face, helplessly waiting for a rescue.  If someone came all the way down the cliff to stand next to them, they would feel so much better.  (This is the “water” part)   But feeling better wouldn’t be enough.  What they really need is for that person to do whatever is necessary to get them all the way out to safety.

That Jesus came by water means that He came all the way TO you.  That He also came by blood means He came all the way FOR you, as well – He came to do everything necessary to rescue you all the way.   Your rescue from sin, and from ultimate death, cannot be completed without blood.  His blood.

Why blood?  Why did God require a blood sacrifice before He could forgive you, wipe your slate clean forever and connect you to His Spirit?   Perhaps you have heard several explanations about why the Cross was necessary.  If you are like me, you “sort of get it,” but there are still lingering questions.  I believe those lingering questions remain because human explanations cannot completely encompass the wisdom and understanding of God.  If you ask a software engineer to describe what he or she does for a living, they will struggle to explain it to you in terms that make sense.  If you ask an advanced physicist and mathematician to explain string theory, chances are you will only have a vague notion about what they say.  Human understanding strains to comprehend such things.  God knows software and string theory like you know how to tie your shoes.

God helped his people grasp the concept – that blood is required for forgiveness and reconciliation –  by teaching them to act it out symbolically, by sacrificing an unblemished animal.  When Jesus sacrificed His own, perfect and sinless life, they “sort of got it” – some of them – but not fully.  Neither do I.

But I do get this:  Almighty God, Who is characterized by love and grace, would never have required His own Son’s blood on my behalf if there was any other way.  He told His people it was going to happen:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

And Jesus made very clear that it had to happen:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

Good enough for me.  Bottom line, Jesus came all the way; He came all the way to me in the water and He came all the way for me by His blood.  I wish I understood it completely.  For now, I “sort of get it” and that will have to do.

Stay tuned – there’s a bit more to this…

The Difference Between Belief and Belief

John writes:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.  (1 John 5:1)

But is that really true?   Everyone who believes Jesus is the Christ is born again?  It is true, if you understand what John means by belief.  There is belief, and then there is belief.

You discover you have a cancerous tumor and go looking for a surgeon.  Turns out your neighbor’s brother is a surgeon.  Do you believe it?  Sure.  But do you decide to lie down on the operating table, undergo full anesthesia and let your neighbor’s brother open you up and cut a few things out?   Not necessarily.  But if you do, then you believe in your neighbor’s brother in a way similar to what John means by believing Jesus is the Christ.

Real belief shows.  It changes a person’s outlook and behavior, so that, instead of following the group-think of the world, he or she gets in step with God’s design and commands.  John calls that “overcoming the world,” and that is a good description of what it feels like to resist the pull of what most people do and choose to do what seems foolish by their standards.

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1 John 5:2-5)

Which all fits, which all makes sense – provided you believe.

The Main Thing

The teacher said, “Label these maps,” and I did that.  But some of the girls went overboard, trying to impress the teacher with how good they were.  So they colored their maps, too.  I’m still mad about it because it made me and my buddies look bad.  Got all the countries labeled right and I still got a lousy grade.

Pharisees in Jesus’ day colored their maps, too, so to speak.  They went overboard, keeping all the religious rules with strict detail.  Tried to impress God and made everybody else look like a putz.  Now, one of those Pharisee guys was also a head official in the Jewish ruling council.  Double toady.  But he got curious about Jesus, and went to see Him secretly, late at night.  He thought Jesus would be impressed with how good he was.  But Jesus flunked him, said he’d never make it, not the way he was.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again [literally – “born from above“].’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:5-8  my added note)

It’s not about how hard you try to keep the rules.  The main thing is the Spirit of God, living in your soul.  How does that happen?  The Spirit gives birth to the Spirit.  It happens when you accept Jesus’ offer of complete forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Then He gives you the Spirit.  Alive.  Inside.   Because this is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, God and Jesus take up residence in your soul.  His words, not mine:

…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. … On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  …   “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.   (Excerpts taken from John 14:16-23 –  Read the whole thing; it’s amazing!)

Being a Christian is not about “do this” and “don’t do that.”  It’s about surrendering to Jesus and receiving His Spirit, His eternal life.  That’s the main thing.   That is why John said:

 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  (1 John 4:13-16 )

How about you?  Do you know what John said he knew?  Do you have God’s Spirit living in you?  If not, consider this:  If you believe that Jesus was telling the truth, that Jesus really is Who He said He was, and that He really can connect you to God by His Spirit, then ask Him.  Sincerely ask Him for His gift.  You will likely have a few other things you want to say as well – but those are between you and Him.  Ask Him for the Spirit.  You will be amazed…

How to See God

Do you suppose this world would be any different if people could actually see God?  A pileup happens on the interstate.  Nobody hurt, but plenty of people are steamed.  They start yelling at each other.  And then God appears; they all see Him:  What changes?    Or, how about Congress?  All those high flying representatives, all vying for the top dog position, trying to out maneuver one another and show how powerful they are…   and then they see God.  Can you imagine?  We can dream…

God plainly stated that He cannot be seen directly (Exodus 34:20).   He is invisible (Colossians 1:15-16).  But He has provided for people to see Him indirectly.   You can’t see TV broadcasts directly; they are invisible.  But you can see them indirectlyby running them through a TV set.  In a similar way, God arranged for people to see Him indirectly by “running Himself through” something.  What does He “run Himself through?”

You.  Check it out:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  (1 John 4:11-12 )

God loves us so that, as we extend His love to others, they will indirectly see Him.  His love is completed in our expressions of love.  When John says “His love is made complete in us” he means God’s love is brought to its full intended purpose and effect.  You put batteries in your flashlight but their power is not “made complete” until you shine the light.  God lavishes His love on us and that love is “made complete” when we extend that love to others.

Remember that the next time you are struggling to love someone.  It matters when people see God.

Dead or Alive?

If you get trained in CPR, they frequently say things like, “Don’t worry about tearing their clothes or breaking a rib; they are dead; they won’t care – that is, unless you can bring them back to life!   Puts the whole deal into perspective.  It really matters when you go from death to life.

Jesus knew that humans were not connected to the Holy Spirit and were dead – “dead” like a cell phone is dead without a cell signal. (For another analogy, see Who Can Fix It?)  But Jesus came with spiritual CPR.  He said,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

Notice, that “eternal life” is not something given once a person dies, but is given at the moment of belief.  The crossover from death to life has already happened for those who believe. It is the Holy Spirit, living in their souls.  But this “new life” is given to people who had always assumed they were already alive!  But how can we be sure this new life is real?  How can we check?  On a phone, you make a call: if it goes through, you know your phone isn’t dead.  How can we know about eternal life?

John says:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  (1 John 3:14)

But what is “love?”  Anybody who has ever exchanged valentines in 3rd Grade knows that the word, love, is pretty loosey-goosey.  And everybody loves somebody in some kind of way.  But John doesn’t leave us wondering: He is talking about the kind of love that is the exact opposite of hate.

Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.   This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  (1 John 3:15-16)

Hate is a response designed to protect myself from someone who I think wants to take something away from me (could be money, girlfriend, fame, prestige, an aisle seat…).  Love, John says, is a response motivating me to give myself to someone because they have a need.  This isn’t 3rd Grade valentine love.  It’s not “I love you, I need you, I wa-aaaa-nt you…”  Not even close.  This is, “I will give myself up for you.”  Even if you hate me.

But let’s face it: we are not often in a situation where laying down our lives would make any difference for someone else.  So, John makes it practical, …  and threatening.  He says:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (1 John 3:17-18)

Are you dead or alive?  John says, consider your response when you see someone in need.  If we turn away, hoping someone else takes care of the need, or perhaps rationalizing why it would be wrong for us to help, then “how can the love of God be in [us]?”  Whose love?  God’s!  Where?  In us! This kind of self-sacrificial love is so contrary to our ordinary human impulse that, when we see it in ourselves, we know God is doing it, we know God’s Spirit lives in us.   God’s love doesn’t just say, “I love you;” it puts that love into action!

John is not claiming that everyone who believes in Jesus is  immediately transformed into the person Mother Teresa wished she could be.  John knows that receiving the Spirit does not make us suddenly perfect in every way.  However, if you habitually harbor an attitude of hatred toward someone, or if you habitually turn away with indifference from someone else’s need, you have good reason to question whether you have “passed from death to life.”

But, if you notice a change in your heart, and find yourself acting with self-sacrificial concern for others, the costly kind of love Jesus extended to us,

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence  whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

Is This You?

The tech guy was baffled about why my computer was having so much trouble.  Then he asked me how I shut it off.  When I told him I just hit the power switch, he reacted with alarm and disbelief.  “You kidding me?  You don’t sign off and let the system power down?”  “Nope, I just kill the switch.”   Apparently, if you don’t let the computer shut itself off, it scrambles up the memory thingy.  It has to do with how the computer is designed.   Who knew?  Not me.  I never read the manufacturer’s instructions.  But once I had been told what to do, and why, I stopped doing it wrong.

God’s creation is like that.  Use it properly, according to the “Manufacturer’s” design and instructions, and it works well.  But, ignore those instructions, violate it’s design, and it breaks.   In the Bible, the short word for not operating according to the Manufacturer’s design and instructions, is “sin.”  Sin isn’t doing something fun that embarrasses God, it’s doing something that fouls up His carefully designed creation.  Sin hurts me; that’s why God warns me not to keep doing it.  That is the message John was attempting to convey with these words:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  (1 John 3:4  -NASB95)

That is quoted from the New American Standard Bible because the NIV, which I ordinarily use for quotes, leaves out the word, practices, and says “Everyone who sins.”  The word, practices, is in the original language and leaving it out is misleading.  John doesn’t mean anyone who happens to sin (which would include everyone) but rather, those who practice sin, who deliberately choose to ignore the Manufacturer’s instructions (who practice lawlessness).  

Computers are complicated enough that they come with built-in warning systems to alert us when we are about to do something dumb.  God’s creation is also complicated.  It is not possible for us to avoid misusing it without some kind of built-in guide and warning system.  That system is the Holy Spirit.  Jesus came to connect us to His Spirit, to make it possible for us to live in harmony with the design and instruction of the Manufacturer.

(If that statement confuses you, you can view the posts about the Holy Spirit by selecting that category on the right.  Or, read “Who Can Fix It?”)

That’s why John says:

But you know that he (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.  (1 John 3:5-6 )

Make sense?  I hope so; this is one of the most misunderstood passages of 1 John.