Tag Archives: Life

Hope for Life

Imagine the crew that Ernest Shackleton left behind, hopelessly stuck in Antarctic ice, facing a certain, slow, agonizing death by freezing, as he attempted to go for help. If you are not familiar with how far he needed to hike and then sail to find rescue, look it up. It’s one of the most astounding adventures of all time. But the guys left behind, huddled together, day after frozen day, with death circling like a wolf: how deep their despair must have been.

And how great their joy when one day, a speck on the horizon appeared, to let them know that Shackleton had returned, that he was not dead and that they were about to become the benefactors of a most improbable rescue! If you can grasp a sliver of their amazement, their blinking wonder and joy, then perhaps you can glimpse a portion of the disciples’ joy when they saw and touched Jesus after His resurrection.

Later, Peter wrote these words:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3)

As each person discovers that “speck on the horizon” and recognizes Jesus coming for them, they catch the full glow of Peter’s words. Not many of us can write music like Handel, but we can all jump up and sing “Hallelujiah!”

No Lie

Jesus knew He would be tortured to death within the next several hours. He knew the men around Him had left everything behind to follow Him, that soon they would be consumed by a tsunami of terror and grief. He had one last chance to speak with them. It was time for straight talk. Here’s what He began with:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-4a)

In effect, He said:
A. No matter what happens, don’t panic; God is trustworthy and so am I
B. I am going to fix it so that we can live together with God forever.
C. It really is true that God’s “house” has “rooms” (literally, places for people to move in and live forever).
D. There is no way I would lie to you about this at a time like this.
E. I’ve got to leave you, but I will come back for you.

All of that is comforting. It sounds like what a loving father might say to his family just before he leaves to immigrate to a new country where they will be safe, and where he will bring them as soon as he has a job and a place to live. “Don’t worry! I will come back for you!” Comforting.

But then Jesus said:

“You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:4b)

You can imagine how that comment raised anxious questions:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:5-6 )

Jesus wasn’t lying about any of that, either.

Just Like Candles

As beautiful as it is, a candle-lighting service also contains a powerful, instructive imagery.  We sit in the dark with cold, unlit candles. Our candles cannot make themselves burn; they must wait until the main candle is lit.  From that one, the flame is passed, one to another, until the whole room is filled with light.  When someone extends  their burning candle toward mine, its heat soon lights my wick.  Now heat and light emanates from my candle, allowing me to offer that flame to my neighbor.   I cannot do so until I have received the light.

Think of that imagery, and chew on this:

We love because he first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)

God’s kind of self-sacrificial love (agape love) does not exist in us when we are disconnected from His Spirit.  We love those who love us, we love others when it benefits us in some way.  But we know nothing of the type of love Jesus extended to us.  As Paul wrote in Romans:

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:7-8)

But if by faith, we accept His love, then we begin to love.  We love, like a candle that shines because it was lit.   It is not something we do out of obedience but something we do because our makeup has been changed.  His Spirit is alive in us.

We love because He first loved us.  

As we extend that love toward others, occasionally they, too, will receive the love of God and come to life.  That’s what John means when he says God’s love is made complete in us.  He gives it to us that we might give it to others.

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 4:12)

Just like candles…

Living Love

In 1970, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with…”  A few years earlier, John wrote: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7b)

Does that mean Stephen Stills is “born of God?”  Not necessarily.  Because when John uses the word “love,” he means something very different from what Stephen means.  The opposite.  Here’s the key to understanding what John means by love.  He wrote,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16a)

“Love” is giving myself up for you – my wants, my pride, my self-interest, my needs, etc.  I set aside what I want in order to minister to what you need.  For, example If you “can’t be with the one you love,”  you will still be faithful to her.  The ultimate example of love is Jesus’ choice to die so that we could live.  It’s only in understanding what John means by love that we can make sense of the rest of what he wrote:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

Once again, John defines what he means by love.  But notice that God’s act of love is not pointless; it produces in us a new birth (born of God) into new life (…that we might live through Him).  Everyone who accepts God’s Gift of love – Jesus and His atoning sacrifice – is given the Spirit of God.  This Spirit is “born” in the believer and “lives” in him or her.  This is God’s Spirit, the Spirit of love, because “God is love.”

Make sure you follow the logic of these thoughts.  They are not just nice valentines from John, but revolutionary truths!  Only when you comprehend what John is saying here, only when you “get it” with an “Aha!” sort of understanding, will it make sense to read:

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows 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)

Just the Way it Is

Lately I’ve heard a bunch of complaining from Christians because they are not respected in this world.  Some say they are hated and persecuted for their beliefs.  John says, “Duh! What else is new?”

John knew that Jesus saw people in two groups: those heading for eternal life and those heading for death.  There was no middle ground.  Here is an example:

But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be,a you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

In this life we think we are making progress if we are going faster. But it doesn’t matter how well you are doing if you are heading the wrong direction, away from life and toward death.  The turning point comes when we believe in Who Jesus claimed to be (God).  

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Jesus moves us from death to life because He gives us the Holy Spirit, connecting us eternally with the life of God.  Our human bodies die.  When given the life of the Spirit, our souls live forever.  Jesus said,

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.   (John 6:63)

The thief (Satan, the ruler of “the world”) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  (John 10:10 – my added parenthetical notes)

When we believe, Jesus turns us away from death and toward life.  Our citizenship, our place of belonging, is transferred from “this world” to God’s family and His Kingdom.  Those who have the Spirit, take their cues and motivations from the Spirit.  Those who do not have the Spirit, take their cues and motivations from the ways of the world.  These two groups are moving in opposite directions and see things from two opposing viewpoints.  That is why John writes:

Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.  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 3:13-14)

The “world” hates those who believe in Jesus?  Really?  That is what Jesus taught:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

Gang members know, if they ever leave the gang to pursue a different lifestyle, with different rules and a different way of seeing the world, the rest of the gang will hate them.  May even try to kill them.  That’s what happens when you leave the gang of “the world” to follow Jesus.  No point complaining about it; it’s just the way it is.

No Middle Ground

If you don’t love your brother you might just as well murder him.  There is no middle ground.  Hold on!  Step away from the gun.  I am making a point (actually John is) in a blunt way.  There is no middle ground between love and murder when considering whether your actions are motivated by the Holy Spirit or by Satan.  Your actions reveal to whom you belong.  Here’s how John sets it up:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)

Somebody asks, “Hey, John, what if I just sort of tolerate my brother?  Do I really have to love him?”  John’s response is:

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. (1 John 3:11-12a)

There is no middle ground.  Any attitude toward your brother that is not produced by the Holy Spirit is motivated ultimately by Satan.  The Spirit produces life; Satan comes to kill and destroy.  John says, you either are a child of God and have His Spirit, or you do not and are a child of Satan. That sounds harsh to us.  We want shades of gray, ambiguity, moral no man’s land.  But spiritual reality leaves no middle ground.  It is like the sharp edge of a sword, dividing one side from another.   Jesus taught this “either-or” message in the sermon on the mount”

 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22 )

There is no middle ground.  You either are in step with, and powered up by, the Spirit of God, Who gives life, or ultimately serve the one who brings death.  That teaching is tough.  It doesn’t sound reasonable.  But it is true.  We might compare it to the attitude of a college football coach who will not accept anything less than 100% from his players.  Any player who is half-hearted, who simply goes through the motions, might just as well go sit with the other team.  No middle ground. The difference with John’s teaching is that who you are, which “team” you are on, is not based on personal effort but rather on a gift, God’s Gift, His Spirit.  That is why John calls those who live by the Spirit “Children of God.”  They have been born into new life in a new family.  In his Gospel, John explains it:

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

If this doesn’t rub abrasively against your natural instincts, you should read it again, chew on it some more.  There is more coming…