Archive for July, 2013

Jul
24

How to Know That You Know:: 3

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Keeping in Stride

The third test John provides is a difficult one. In chapter 2, verses 9-11, he wrote, “If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”

Evidently John’s readers were faced with the same challenge we are…learning to love difficult people. In my own experience, the most difficult people I’ve had to deal with are “church people,” and if you’re like me you have plenty of stories about people in the church who have said or done terrible things to you.

The core value of our faith is love, but love is only authenticated when it’s tested. Difficult people provide two hidden blessings for us. For one, difficult people reveal character. Much is said on the surface regarding loving others and how important it is for us to “love our neighbors.” But when our lives intersect with those who are difficult it reveals whether or not we really love others. The second blessing that difficult people offer to us is the opportunity to build character. They provide us with the opportunity to love everyone, not just the easy ones. Every challenge we face is a chance to grow.

There’s a lot of talk in the media about valuing tolerance. Tolerance is advocated for those who are difficult and different. But demonstrating mere tolerance is less than the expectation of Christ. Christ does not command us to passive tolerance. He commands us to actively love everyone, even the difficult and different. In doing so, we give evidence that we know God.

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Jul
23

How to Know That You Know:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

Picking up where I left off yesterday, John offered three tests in the second chapter of his first epistle that help us know whether or not we know God. The first test that John offers is a heartfelt desire to obey God. “And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him” (1 John 2:3-5, NLT). The obedience John is describing is more than rote obedience. It is the genuine desire to know and do God’s will. As we come to know and do God’s will, our love for God is matured, because we understand our relationship with God is based on love, not law.

Test number two is that we will walk as Jesus walked. “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6, NLT). When I was a kid, I used to get in trouble for mimicking my dad. I’d mimic his gestures and parrot his words back to him. Walking as Jesus walked is more that mimicking Jesus’ gestures and parroting his words. It is imitation. Imitation comes responsively and reflexively as we share in his divine nature. We can live as Jesus lived because the Spirit of Jesus lives within us. When I look at my kids, I can see how they imitate me or their mother. While the physical resemblances are somewhat obvious, the similarities in our personalities, mannerisms, phrasing of words, sense of humor, and decision making are also evident. Our children no longer mimic me as they did when they were little. They imitate me and their mother. I observe them as they make choices and think to myself, “That’s how I would have done that.” John’s vision for his readers lives is that we relate to God so closely that we become like him in word, thought and deed. We know that we know him because we act like him.

Tomorrow I’ll share the third test, that of loving our Christian brothers and sisters.

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Jul
22

How to Know that You Know:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

Are you a “name dropper?” Do you know any name droppers? You know the kind. They are always bringing up who they went to school with or who they recently met for lunch. In the course of normal conversation, a name dropper will find a way to share something they said to or did with a person of notoriety. Sometimes you may wonder if the name dropper really knows the person whose name they dropped.

The first century gnostics were name droppers of sorts. They claimed to know God and talked often of knowing God. The problem, however, was that the gnostics didn’t really know God. Even worse, they were leading people in the church astray. (To read a brief explanation of first century gnosticism, click this link to Theopedia).

One of John’s objectives in writing his first epistle is to counter the claims of Gnosticism. He intentionally uses the word “know” (gnosis) to help his readers understand how to know if they really know God. In the following passage, he provided three tests that give evidence of really knowing God.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.
If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister,a that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sisterb is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness
(1 John 2:3-11, NLT).

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll start unpacking the three tests John offered.

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Robby Jones of the Washington Post wrote a fascinating article yesterday titled The Coming Rise of the Religious Left, claiming that religious progressives are out gaining theological conservatives among millennials. Included in the article is a soft prediction that there is hope in the future for America’s mainline denominations. This one is worth your time.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Jul
18

What to Do with Our Sins:: 3

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Keeping in Stride

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2, NLT).

John’s line of thinking crosses into chapter two. There, he presents Jesus as both advocate and atoning sacrifice. The imagery is of a court room, where sinners stand before a holy judge. Our guilt has been established. Jesus acts as our defense attorney and pleads our case. But not only does he plead our case, he serves our sentence. His body and blood covers the debt we cannot pay on our own. What’s amazing about this picture is that the judge, our Heavenly Father, is not reluctant to forgive!

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Jul
17

Six Types of Atheist

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Lest we assume all atheists are the same, this report from CNN.com cites six variations of atheism. You can read the article HERE.

Categories : Atheists
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Jul
17

What to Do with Our Sins:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

I think we’re clear on the fact that we are sinners by nature and by choice. Enough has been said about that. The trick is to determine where we go from there. I believe that every Christian needs to be familiar with this important verse in the Bible.

“But if we confess our sins to him he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9, NLT).

Let me unpack this for you. The word confess means “to agree with.” When we confess, all we are doing is agreeing with God that what he calls sin is sin. If you are accused of a crime and the police arrest you and accuse you of a crime you have committed, your confession is nothing more than your agreement with the charge. But here’s the good news. If we agree with God about our sin, his faithfulness and justice requires him to forgive us of our sin. It is God’s nature to make promises that he intends to keep. To say that God is faithful and just to forgive is a promise to you and me that God will keep his word.

Forgiveness is a bookkeeping term, which means to cancel a debt or release one from the obligation of a debt. But God doesn’t stop with a promise to release us from a debt. He goes on to say that He will cleanse us from all wickedness. The word cleans is the same word we discovered in chapter one verse seven. It’s the same word that was used to describe Jesus’ healing ministry in the gospels.

When we confess our sin, God’s covenant promise is two fold. He deals with the fruit of sin and the root of sin. Let me illustrate it this way. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said that the people had always heard that “Thou shalt not commit murder.” That’s the fruit. “But I say to you that you should not become angry.” That’s the root. He adds, “You have heard that your should not commit adultery.” That’s the fruit. “But I say you should not have lust in your heart.” That’s the root. When we sin, God promises to provide forgiveness for the fruit of our sin and to help us with the root of the sin.

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Jul
16

What to Do With Our Sins

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Keeping in Stride

The other day I was waiting in line for my name to be called. Seated behind me was a grandmother accompanied by her four year old granddaughter. As I waited, the grandmother continually scolded the little girl. As a parent, I have learned that there is a difference between a child behaving like a child and a child that is naughty. As far as I could tell, the little girl was just acting her age. She was a bit loud and very fidgety. Evidently grandma thought she should behave like an adult. After a few minutes of nagging, grandma finally reached her breaking point. Here’s what she said to the little girl:

“You see that policeman over there? Well, his job is to catch bad people and lock them in jail. If you’re not good, that policeman is going to come and put you in jail. So you better be good or I’m not taking you anywhere ever again.”

As I age, I find that my filter is diminishing. It was very hard not to turn and give some parenting advice to granny, but I refrained. As I have reflected on this incident over the past couple of weeks it occurred to me that this is precisely how some people view their sin in relationship to God. God is a stern judge whose job is to reward the good people and “catch” the bad people and “lock them away.”

My personal philosophy of preaching is that people who attend church week in and week out know why they are there. I never feel compelled to harp on long sin lists every week. We know we need God. We know we’re sinners in need of grace. I never want to present an image of God that casts him in the role of the angry judge who is lurking around the corner just waiting, even hoping, to catch us messing up. Having said that, however, it is important that we have a clear understanding of what to do when we do sin.

John is addressing an audience that lacked that simple humility. They were like the Pharisee Jesus saw praying outside the Temple who said, “God, I’m so thankful that I’m not like these sinners.” John’s original readers deflected, denied, diminished and dismissed the idea of sin. They refused to acknowledge sin in principle and in conduct.
John mentions this problem three times in chapter 1.

“So we are lying is we say we have fellowship with God yet go on living in spiritual darkness…” (1 John 1:6).

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves…” (1 John 1:8)

“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar…” (1 John 1:10)

This was more than a problem of ethics and morality. John’s readers had developed an entire theology about their sin, or lack thereof. But there’s a problem with this approach. When we refuse to acknowledge our sin, we cannot benefit from the gospel.
Tomorrow I’ll pick up with the rest of the text and detail what the Bible says we are to do with our sins.

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Jul
15

God is Light:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

1 John 1:7 states that if we walk in God’s light, two things are true. First, we have fellowship with one another. In other words, we don’t just walk in God’s light, we walk in God’s light together. Which brings me to an important question. Do we value Christian community? We never sin in isolation. On occasion I’ll hear someone make a statement about how as long as their behavior doesn’t affect anyone else it shouldn’t matter what they do. But is that really true? What is my responsibility to my brothers and sisters in Christ? What is my responsibility for my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Second, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. The verb tense for cleanse indicates that this is a continuous, ongoing process. The forgiveness we receive at salvation continues to operate each day of our Christian experience. The good news is that when we sin, we have a remedy. The word cleanse in Greek is katarizo; the same word used some 19 times of the healing ministry of Jesus. I like that imagery, because it speaks of the breadth and depth of God’s gracious forgiveness. We are not just “forgiven,” we are healed…which takes grace to a whole new level!

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Jul
11

God is Light

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Keeping in Stride

The creation account in Genesis chapter 1 states that the first thing God created was light. Light exposed darkness and became the divisor between day and night. From that point forward, light is an important metaphor in the Bible. It is used 139 times in the Old Testament, and its impact is carried forward into the New Testament. Jesus claimed to be the “light of the world.” Jesus told his disciples that we are the “light of the world.”
The apostle John is especially fond of the imagery, using it in his gospel as well as in his epistles. His assertion that God is light forms the heading to the first division of 1 John.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7, NLT).

John affirms that God is light—absolute light—without any darkness at all. In reference to God, light is symbolic of God’s glory, purity, holiness, guidance and presence. It has an intellectual dimension. Light is equated with truth, and this light enlightens every person (John 1:4). But light is not just intellectual. It carries a moral dimension. Truth is not just something to know or think about. It is something that demands action from us.

John gets to the heart of the matter in verse 6 and addresses an error in the lives of his audience. According to John, one cannot claim to walk in the light and have fellowship with God and concurrently live in darkness. Antinomianism was a false teaching that had crept into the church. People had come to believe that the human body was simply and envelope that covered the human spirit. The spirit could not be contaminated by the deeds of the body. A person, therefore, could relate to God spiritually independent of the morality of the body.

We face the same kind of challenge today. We will diminish sin, justify sin, excuse our sin, blame others for our sin, or even openly deny sin. John’s point is simple: we cannot claim fellowship with God and simultaneously clutch our sins. That leaves us with this question. Do we take sin seriously? A good God expects good people. Or better said, a holy God expects holy people. I don’t think God expects perfection from his children. But I do believe he expects progress. What are you doing to ruthlessly eradicate sin from your life?

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