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Archive for 1 John

Keeping in Stride

John’s negative example of Christian love was Cain and Abel. He argued that when Christians treat each other with deep contempt, the end result is that our Christian witness is damaged and our Christian witness and our mission is compromised. His positive example is none other than Jesus himself. If we want to learn to love others, we need to study the life of Christ.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:16-19, NLT).

John characterizes Jesus’ love in three ways: sacrifice, compassion and action. If we are to follow Jesus’ example of loving one another we must understand these three things. First, true love is sacrificial. It’s going to cost you something. It may be time, effort, emotional energy, financial resources, or something else. But love always comes with a price tag. Think about Jesus. From the incarnation where he limited his glory all the way to the cross, Jesus loved us sacrificially.

Second, true love is compassionate. You’re going to feel something. It’s not possible to walk in community with your Christian brothers and sisters and remain emotionally untouched. God did not create us to be benign or void of emotion. He made us to feel compassion toward those who are in need.

Third, true love is not just expressed in words. It is expressed in action. You’re going to do something. Jesus always stood in contrast to the religious leadership of the day. The Pharisee’s religion was a religion of “talk,” while Jesus’ religion was a religion of “walk.” You probably have noticed that many of Jesus’ miracles were performed as the introduction to his teaching, not the other way around.

The positive example of Jesus was followed by a second negative consequence. When we fail to love our Christian family members we diminish our fellowship with the Father.

“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him. And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us” (1 John 3:20-24, NLT).

It is important that we love God first and foremost. But the second commandment is not down graded to insignificance. Jesus said the second greatest commandment of loving neighbor as self was equally important. In fact, perhaps the best way to demonstrate our love for God is to love our neighbors. When we don’t love our neighbors our fellowship with God suffers. Perhaps this is why Jesus included this important teaching in his Sermon on the Mount.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT).

When we love one another, our witness is compelling and our fellowship with God is deepened. Even though Christian love is the hardest part of our faith, it is important to remember that it’s the most important part of our faith.

Categories : 1 John, Love
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Keeping in Stride

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11, NLT).

1 John 3:11 serves as the transitional verse between section one and section two of the epistle. During the first half of the book, John has written under the theme, “God is Light.” Now he turns his attention to the next heading, “God is Love.” And the first thing he wants his readers to know about God’s love is that God expects his children to love one another. To emphasize his point, John gives a negative example with a consequence, then a positive example with a consequence.

“We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous” (1 John 3:12, NLT).

It’s fascinating that John uses a crime of passion as a negative example of Christians not loving one another. The story of Cain and Abel is legendary. As you recall, Cain and Abel had two very different approaches to worship. Cain was a farmer and brought an offering from the harvest of his crops. Abel was a herdsman who brought a sacrificial offering from his flock. In short, God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. Cain was disappointed and angry. Even though God warned him to respond appropriately, Cain took matters into his own hands. Ironically, Cain killed his brother by slitting his throat–perhaps in the same fashion Abel killed his sacrifice. The consequence of such brother on brother hatred is significant.

“So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them” (1 John 3:13-15, NLT).

What I believe John is conveying through these verses is that when Christians do not love one another it hurts our Christian testimony and hinders our mission in the world. The proof of our faith is not our doctrinal purity or our orthodox practice. Jesus said that the world will know that our message is real through our love for one another (cf. John 13:35). If we hate or hurt our Christian brothers and sisters, we have nothing compelling to offer those who have yet to experience Christ’s grace and forgiveness. We are silenced. Loving one another is indeed a high standard, yet it is the standard. Tomorrow we’ll look at the positive example of Jesus to see exactly how to love one another.

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Keeping in Stride

Last week I participated in a peer learning community that discussed an ARTICLE written by a pastor who had experienced a tragic illness. He was misdiagnosed which led to even further health decline. At his lowest moment, he contemplated how he would spend his remaining days. One of the conclusions he came to was that the local church would no longer be a part of his remaining days. Not as a pastor. Not as a member. Not at all. The reason? He couldn’t tolerate the interpersonal conflict within the church.

The conversation caused me to dig a little deeper on a topic we are all too familiar with. What I learned was amazing. For example, 25% of churches reported some form of serious conflict in the past five years. Another source cited that 19,000 churches every year have some form of internal strife. It probably comes as no surprise that 98% of those conflicts were due to interpersonal divides. Only 2% were attributed to some form of theological disagreement.

Like any war, church conflict leaves collateral damage. 50% of people who enter vocational ministry don’t last in ministry beyond five years. 1,300 pastors are terminated every month in America. And it gets worse. Every day, 3,500 people make the conscious decision to leave the local church, never to return.

So what’s the answer? John appeals to his readership to recall Jesus’ command to love one another. That’s the hardest part of Christianity. This week I’m posting from John’s words about what that love looks like and why its important.

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Keeping in Stride

John has counseled his audience to live confidently and embrace their true identity in Christ. His final movement was to challenge his readers to maintain purity. 1 John 3:3 simply encourage us this way: “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”

So the big question is, “How do I purify myself?” Let me offer two thoughts as I wrap this week’s series up. First, we purify ourselves by taking responsibility for our own lives, especially pertaining to our sin. There’s something about human nature that causes us to justify our sin, excuse our sin, or blame others for our sin. Rather than justify, excuse, or blame others for our sin we need to simply take responsibility for it.

The apostle Paul is a great example of a person who took responsibility for his own stuff. Check out this opening to 1 Timothy: “We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:8-14, NLT).

Paul named a lot of pretty serious sins. They were culturally unacceptable then and for the most part culturally unacceptable now. Our culture is quite adept at affixing labels to the sinners who sin these sins and then compare their own marginal lives to the lives of those who got called out instead of comparing their lives to the standard of Christ. Having said all of that, look at what Paul said in the next verse: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all” (1 Timothy 1:15, NLT).

That’s right. He went full circle and called himself out as the chief of all sinners. He honestly believed that he was the worst sinner on the face of the planet. That’s how you take responsibility for your life. You focus on yourself and how you measure compared to Christ and let God be the judge of others.

The second way we purify ourselves is to embrace suffering. Suffering is one way that God reveals our character and provides opportunity for growth. Just as fire removes the dross from precious metal and refines it, suffering purifies our lives. Suffering is a part of life. Live long enough and you will matriculate into the University of Adversity. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the value of the assignment and we struggle and strain against the adversity, somehow hoping to survive and come through to the other side. We complain at the injustice of it all and wonder why everyone else has it so much better. We recall all of the goodness of our lives and present it as a defense and the basis for our relief. All the while missing the very thing God is trying to produce in our lives. When adversity comes we can embrace it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

When I was serving in St. Louis, I participated on a church fast pitch softball team. During one Friday night game I dove for a ball and landed on my gloved left hand, rolling my hand and injuring it. On Saturday I noticed that it was swollen, and by Sunday it was turning all sorts of interesting dark shades. I went to the Emergency Room and got the X-Ray results confirming that I had broken my hand. The E.R. doctor put my hand in a splint and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. That next week I attended my appointment. When the surgeon looked at my X-Ray, he noticed that the broken bone had twisted. He told me that I could have surgery to insert a pin in the fracture to correct the alignment, or he could manually try to twist the bone by wrenching my hand with his hands. I consented to allow him to try to twist it back into place, which caused incredible pain. But it worked.

Sometimes we experience suffering and we opt to bypass all of the painful, correcting, growing parts. We just want to skip it and find comfort as soon as possible. But when we embrace it, God is able to grow us for our long term benefit and his eternal glory.

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Keeping in Stride

The second thing John called his readers to do was to embrace their true identity in Christ. 1 John 3:1-2 says, “See how much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”

Older translations present the opening more dramatically. For example, the KJV states, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us.” The phrase literally reads, “Of what country is this love?” The point is obvious. The Father’s love is so unlike anything that we have known or experienced on earth that it is literally, “out of this world.” This love is so unique and powerful it results in making us children of God.

John uses an adoption metaphor, imagining us named, legitimized and secured in the Father’s love. That would have been a powerful metaphor in the first century when it was legal for fathers to reject unwanted children and have them discarded. Historians report that under the governance of Tiberius in North Africa, fathers could order children to be sacrificed to a god, drowned, left to die of exposure or even offered to wild dogs. John’s reassuring words about the Father’s love certainly would have fallen on the ears of his original audience differently than they do ours!

Like his first century readers, we are loved and accepted by God. We have been given his name. We bear his image now in part, but when Christ returns we will see him as he is and will be like him in fullness. Check back tomorrow and I’ll finish up this series with the final word of advice from John’s pen.

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Keeping in Stride

So far, John’s has fulfilled two purposes in the epistle we know as 1 John. He wanted to expose false teachers and their distortions of truth. Additionally, he offered words of reassurance to those who were staying the course. While much of John’s exhortation is polemic, he real goal is to build up his readers and enlarge their faith. He does not want them to waver but rather desired that they would live their faith with boldness and courage. He did this in three ways.

First, John called his readers to live with confidence. 1 John 2:28-29 reads as follows: “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children.” The word return (parousia) was originally used for the arrival of a ruler or celebrity, usually accompanied by celebration. It was adopted by New Testament authors to describe the second advent of Christ. Christ’s return holds the promise of setting all things right and identifying those who truly belong to him. This glorious return will produce two reactions. There will be those who are confident, having lived their lives in a state of righteousness and readiness. But then there will be those who will experience shame. Like teenagers whose parents come home a day early from vacation, not everyone who loves the Lord is going to be excited to see him.

As Christians we are like restaurant managers. They know the health inspector is coming, they just don’t know what day he or she will arrive. They can operate the restaurant with the expectation that at any moment the health inspector will walk through the door so they do their best to make sure everything is in order and functioning properly. Otherwise, they are ashamed and embarrassed by the citation.

John’s desire was that his readers would be ready. Are you? Tomorrow I’ll pick up the next section beginning in chapter 3.

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Keeping in Stride

Do we all have to believe the exact same thing in order to worship together? For years I’ve used a statement by Rick Warren to help our church members sort through this question. Warren presents it this way: “In the essential things we have unity; in the non-essential things we have liberty; and in all things we have charity.” I think it would be difficult to improve on that!

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True or False?

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Keeping in Stride

Like you, I took a lot of tests during school. Back in the day there were six kinds of questions that faculty members would utilize to measure learning. There were true or false, multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, short answer and essay. Some instructors or courses designed tests that could measure objective or factual knowledge while others preferred a more subjective approach.

I was never a good test taker, partially because I had a hard time focusing during class and partially because I over analyzed every question. As I think about it now, I probably should have relied on my gut when in doubt instead of parsing every single word in a given question.

True or false questions were the worst. Let me give you an example. True or false: there are 3 outs in an inning of baseball. Your first response may be to answer “true,” but then you would be wrong. The correct answer is false because there are 6 outs in an inning of baseball.

Last weekend’s message was titled, “True or False?” and dealt with one of the more challenging sections of 1 John. Check this out:

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us. But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.
I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spiriti teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ
(1 John 2:18-27, NLT).

The problem John addressed centered around false teachers who were circulating heresy within the church. They were teaching that Jesus Christ was less than divine…that he had not come in the flesh. They taught that Jesus was born as a man and that he became “the Christ” at his baptism. At his crucifixion, he ceased being the Christ and died as any human would. End of story.

How did John counsel his congregation? First, he challenged them to remain faithful to what they had been taught. To me, this speaks of the importance of the teaching ministry of the church. The early church was devoted to two things: preaching the gospel and teaching doctrine. Their teaching was purposeful and intentional, a strategy that was rooted from the earliest days of Judaism (cf. Deuteronomy 4:4-6). One of my concerns about the 21st century church is that we have abandoned these two practices in favor of addressing felt needs. Instead of saying important things we have settled to merely be interesting. We can no longer afford to neglect these matters. Failure to do so will continue to foster the crippling spiritual anemia among our ranks.

John’s second word of advice was for the true Christians to listen to the Holy Spirit and depend on him to be the true teacher. The end of the above cited text recalls Jesus’ strong words from John 14:26, where he said, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” Yes, churches should continue to be spiritual resources and provide ample opportunities for members to learn. But in addition to teaching sound doctrine, we should equip our members to mine their own gold. Few things are more enriching than picking up a Bible and digging into God’s truth for yourself as the Holy Spirit speaks to you. As you study or interact with others concerning God’s truth, that “still small voice” will resonate when its right and sound the alarm when its off the beaten path.

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Stuff About Stuff:: 3

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Keeping in Stride

In the passage, John explains the rationale behind his position. First, the things from the world are not from God. We have not been wired to find our fulfillment or our identity in pleasure or from possessions or recognition. Second, all of these things are transient. They do not last. It has been said, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” but the reality is that “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” I’ve spent a lot of time with those who are dying. Those final conversations never include the phrase, “I wish I’d have spent more time at the office.”

As part of my research for this sermon I investigated the personal storage industry in America. Television shows like Storage Wars have romanticized it to some degree. The storage industry initially began as a service to those who were between moves or for military personnel who were between assignments. But did you know that there is more than 2.3 billion square feet of rental storage space in our country? That’s 7.3 square feet for every man, woman, boy and girl. Just over 9% of American households are currently utilizing a personal storage until, primarily because they simply don’t have houses big enough to store all of their stuff.

Finally, there is an eternal reality at stake. Jesus desires that we live our lives under his eternal purposes. Time and time again he, along with others remind us that this world is not our home and that our true citizenship is in heaven. Instead of focusing on the temporal stuff that doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts, we must live with the constant notion that in the Kingdom of God the price tags are changed. Often what we value most is worthless in eternity, and what we minimize here on earth is of utmost value in heaven.

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Stuff About Stuff:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

So how does the world compete for our affections? What is the attraction? John spelled it out in verse 16. First there is the craving for physical pleasure. Some writers think that this is a direct reference to sensuality, but the general consensus is that the language is so broad it is very inclusive.

Next is the craving for everything we see. If you think about it, many of the notable stories of sin in the Bible begin with the eyes. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil before she took it and ate it. Achan saw the piles of gold at Jericho and coveted it and took and hid it in his tent. David was hanging out on his rooftop when he saw Bathsheba. The list goes on. The phrase reminds me of how my wife and I would give our small children toy catalogues and ask them to think about what they wanted for Christmas. Instead of circling one or two things, they would end up circling virtually every toy in the book!

Finally there is pride in our achievements and possessions. The word for pride (or boasting) is alazon, which describes the kind of person who pretentiously promises more than he or she can deliver. Pride in our achievements and possessions is tricky for me personally. As I write these very words I am overshadowed by wall hangings that display my ordination papers and four earned degrees.

Is John saying that we should not enjoy life or have a good time? Is he suggesting that we should live as ascetics and give all of our possessions away? Does his counsel include that we renounce awards, recognitions, or education? I don’t think that’s his point. His point is that pleasure, possessions and achievements do not deliver what they promise. They are not where we find our true identity. They do not provide fulfillment.

One of my dearest friends is a man named Greg. Greg has been successful in business and has been greatly blessed. Alongside these blessings, God has given him a generous heart. His generosity and willingness to share has been a blessing to churches, para-church ministries and individuals. One day Greg and I were talking about God’s blessings and he offered this wise advice. He said, “I don’t love anything that can’t love me back.” That’s excellent advice. We live in a culture that advocates loving things and using people. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus advocates that we love people and use things. That makes all the difference in the world.

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