IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Final closing words

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 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. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

It occurred to be beloved that what I posted for this day and for this verse says very little about the verse itself except for the very last bit, about idols. Before I read what the historic Anabaptist writers (for it was a group and not an individual) wrote, I was going to make a “call and response” (if you do not know what that is . . . well, maybe you better just ask me in a comment) out of this passage. But then I got on to a different line of thought. But I did not want to just walk away from this verse.

The writer of 1 John wants us to know that being born of God means that sin cannot and should not have a part of our lives. It is a wonderful hope . . . and a good exhortation, but not always the way it is. But being children of God we can learn a different way of living, and that God’s own Holy Spirit will guide us in that way. We do not need to fear that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” because we need not be under the evil one’s control. And that we can know what is true and false, fleeing the false and embracing Truth.

And I think that is what avoiding idolatry is all about – knowing what is false and what is true. Worshiping in truth and only the Truth. And leaving completely alone what is false. Easier said than done. But it has been said by God, and God’s will is to be done on earth as God’s will rules heaven. Selah!

What Happens When We Are Saved?

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 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.” (I John 3: 8b-10 )

I wish the writer of 1 John was correct – that when we have “God’s seed” within us, nothing else can grow. But I fear it is more of a fervent wish (or warning) than an absolute. I hear the echo of Albert Barnes’ words when he says that none of the biblical people we hold as examples where free of sin once they knew and followed God.

But it does not mean that the Son of God did not come to “destroy the devil’s work” nor does it mean the Son of God did not succeed. It simply means that this destruction takes place every day, every time, a sincere Christian asks for forgiveness. In that moment of grace and mercy when forgiveness and compassion are given freely and without condition, the devil’s work is destroyed more and again. But as Paul said (and this I agree with) we should not sin and should not be unconcerned when we sin. For if we sinned and did not confess our sin, then the devil would win. If we sin, if we cannot help sinning, let us at least confess our sin and ask for mercy.

It is said by some you can only be “saved” once, that is ask God into your life one time. Salvation and redemption – one time because Christ died only one time. But I believe we continually need to be saved and redeemed because the devil does not try to “get us” only one time, but is continually laying traps (or so it seems) for us. Or maybe it is not evil personified that is out to get us, but simply the sum total of things that can and are done that goes against God’s nature. And we stumble across them again and again. God and Christ are continual because we need them continually.

So to answer the question, what happens when we are saved? Most likely God and Christ say, “I’ll be here when you need me, so do not hesitate to come to me again.” That is the gift of salvation, that it keeps giving.

May you gentle reader always make your way back to our Lord Christ when you need. Selah!

Baptism – What should be clear is blurry

“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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” (1 John 5: 6-8 )

First let me say as way of explanation, I wanted to look deeper into this passage, so I looked at what some commentators said. But what I discovered was that there is controversy and disagreement on this passage in the meaning and purpose of this passage. (One would not think so by doing just a surface reading.) Even my friend Albert Barnes can shed no helpful light on this passage. It has something to do with the trinity, and that part of the passage is not in reliable Greek manuscripts. The Confession picks up that “[t]he baptism of blood, or baptism of suffering, is the offering of one’s life, even to death. Jesus understood the giving of his life through the shedding of his blood for others as a baptism” which does not address the water reference nor what part the Spirit has in it.

This actually reminds me, in a way, of something that I have been experiencing lately. At work I read a lot of emails and work on the computer. Usually at work I can do this with ease while wearing my glasses. But the past two days I have had problems focusing on the screen with my glasses on. Yet when I take my glasses off I can not see the screen clearly either. The logical thing of course would be to check with my eye doctor. But I am hard pressed to understand how the change could have come so quickly in just two days time when previously I had no problems. I suspect, actually, it has more to do with the resolution on the computer screen then my eye sight. I will be checking that out tomorrow. (Of course remember gentle reader, that my “tomorrow” was several days after you read this.) But the analogy still stands – when something is “fuzzy” do not assume it is a deficit on your part. I thought there was something wrong with my thinking when I could not figure out how to do a deeper analysis of this passage. When in actually it is the passage that is “fuzzy” and not my thinking.

Five years ago when this passage came up the writer for that day focused more generally on the three types of baptism – water, blood, and Spirit – and did not go “hand to hand” with the scripture itself. I think in light of the “fuzziness” of the passage it was a wise move.

Now as I said above, it seems to be straightforward on the surface reading. But the personification of the water and the blood seems unusual. If you can or wish to give illumination to this passage, I would welcome your thoughts. If not, let’s just leave at the fact that we do not know all that is knowable about Christ, baptism, and the Spirit. But we can rest assured that whatever Christ and the Spirit did and do is true and right, and done for our sake and our salvation.

May gentle reader rest assured in the dependability of our Lord and Jesus Christ, and the Spirit that is with us always. Selah!

Walking clearly and obviously with God.

“If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. “ ( 1 John 1: 7 )

Just before I sat down to write this entry, I had gotten a forwarded email from an extended family member; these are emails that follow the theme of not being ashamed of faith, and about proclaiming your beliefs by forwarding the email to other people. I never do. Not because I am ashamed of the message or that I do not want to be supportive of those family members. I decline to forward them because most of the time the message was forwarded from someone who had it forwarded to them who received from yet another person. This “sending process” usually means the item sent has been around for a good many years, and over time has “evolved” from its original format. There may be a great deal of truth in what was forwarded and it is usually worthwhile to read. But I figure why send on something that has been passed around when I can write something fresh on my own.

I do not think I have ever been vague or reticent about my faith in my writings – and if I have, please tell me so and I will be even more clear and open! While my views on faith and spirituality are very ecumenical, in my writings I do not shy away from expressing faith. And in my job, while I do not evangelize, it does not take a lot of guess work to know I operate from a core of Christian faith.

It was just the other day that I was remembering back to that day in the summer of 1992 when in the middle of a church service I felt a calling by God. Wow! That was almost twenty years ago! My youngest son was still a babe in arms when I heard the voice of God calling me out, and just last week we celebrated his 20th birthday. For the past 5 years I have been contributing to this blog, and over a year ago I took solely writing responsibilities. [Next year I am looking forward to writing on scripture citations found in The Mennonite Confession of Faith!]

I do not claim to always walk in the light as God does. But I try hard to stay out of the “dark shadows”. And while I do not “push” my faith, neither do I back away from it. For almost twenty years it has been the undercurrent of my life. Yes, it has ebbed and flowed. And yes, at times I have needed to find ways to live it more fully. But always, it is there.

It is my hope and prayer seeker that you also walk in the light with God. And that over this past year you have found ways to bring missional thinking into your faith journey. May the Lord who first called us to the light, and may Christ who taught us how to walk in the light be with you every step of the way. Selah!

Bright against Bright

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1: 5 )

As I sat down to write to this verse, I wondered what I could say. Here, at the end of this cycle of verses, it has been harder to write on these verses. The connection to the individual themes and overarching topic of mission seems to be less clear. So I have been looking for inspiration and direction from my personal life, the commentaries of Albert Barnes, and other sources as I find them. At times I have looked back to 5 years before when other contributors to this blog were actively writing. On Dec 9, 2006 John Thomas wrote on this verse, and I read again what he said. It was, and still is, a moving account from his journey to faith. [ ]

In our world we judge how light/bright something is by contrasting it with dark. If you have a bright beside a bright, it is hard to tell the difference. But if you have a bright beside a dim, then your eyes can judge the difference. But you can not apply that logic to God. If there is no “dark” in God, there is nothing to compare God to. Hence, God stands alone – so to speak. There is no one or nothing in this world that has such purity to it.

Some have said, if God is good/kind/wonderful, how can the Lord allow this, or that, or the other thing. But the point is, that is not of God. God created the world, and then handed it to humanity. It was humanity that allowed the darkness in. But as each amount of darkness enters the world, God remains bright. In fact, with each piece of darkness, God seems even brighter.

I am writing this in the dimness of my room, with only a small light above the keyboard to guide my fingers. If my room was bright, the light of the bulb would be consumed. But in the background dimness, this little light stands out. The same is try when Christians are in the world. The small light that comes from Christian living stands out against the darkness of evil. But in the light of God, all darkness is banished, and our “little” light is absorbed into the light of God.

Just as the writer of 1 John proclaimed to his/her readers that God is light and in the Lord is no darkness, I say the same thing to you. In this Advent season may the light of God bring you love, joy and peace. And may God take you into the brightness of the Lord’s presence. Selah!

Whose Joy?

“This life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. “ ( 1 John 1: 2-4 )

I puzzled over this one for a short time, wondering “What can I say, other than Amen?” But I had to wonder why the writing and declaring of this would make the writer’s joy complete? Because he/she has told the reader/listener about these things? That it makes the writer feel good thinking about it? That by passing on this message, the key to salvation has also been passed on? That the “Great Commission” has been carried out?

Then I read Albert Barnes on this passage, and he said, “The best editions of the Greek Testament now read “your joy,” instead of the common reading “our joy.” Ah ha! And looking at the various translations and paraphrases are saw that same said “your” and some said “our”. So place me with the “your” crowd.

It may have completed the writer’s joy to say these things, but to my way of thinking, the important part is that the reader/listener knows and accepts fellowship with God and Jesus Christ. Then everyone’s joy is completed!

May you seeker find joy in your relationship to Christ and our God. And may you especially find joy in this Advent season. Selah!

Vicarious Living

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. “ ( 1 John 4:9 )

What if we took this seriously, and literally? Some parents are said to live “through their children.” That is, the hopes and dreams they had for themselves, they pass on to their children and through their children’s successes they re-live their younger years, and/or achieve the things they always wanted to. It can be tragic if the child or children are forced to live a life they do not want or can’t realistically achieve. But in some circumstances it works because the child’s dream mirrors the parent’s. But back to my original question.

This passage’s intent was not to exhort the reader to emulate Christ, but to attain eternal life through Christ’s salvation/sacrifice/redemption. But if we did mirror Christ’s would not God’s love be revealed through us and not just among us? We have read previously in this section of 1 John about abiding in God, and having God/God’s love abide in us.

God and Christ our Lord have hopes for us; and not just hopes for an eternal life with God, but hopes for the lives we live here on earth. And yes, these hopes are expressed and achieved through missional living so that we that we show others how to live by living and through Christ, and allowing Christ to live through us. This is the meaning of “abiding.”

May you seeker allow the Spirit of God to so abide in you that it is as if you and Christ are living mirrored lives. Selah!

A “Cycle” of Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. “
(1 John 4:7-8 )

The ones that John loves . . . . he encourages to love each other . . . . based on the fact that God sent love into the world . . . . . and each person who loves his/her fellow human . . . . . is a child of God . . . . and so knows God . . . . and the person who does not love . . . . cannot possible know God . . . . because the essence of God is love.

It really is not so hard to figure out. If we love our fellow human then we must know God because God is love. Knowing God means we love each other. Then why is it that with nations claiming to know God we have so much violence, hatred, and intolerance? In fact, according to some people in some places at sometimes (and I want to make very sure you understand that I believe this to be a misconception ) some Christians are seen as the most “unloving” and intolerant. How can they believe they “know” God? That is the real puzzlement.

May you seeker know God and know God’s love, and show that to all who you meet. Selah!

Who, who, who are you?

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. “
(1 John 3: 1 )

[ Title inspired by the song composed by Pete Townshend, and the title track on The Who’s 1978 release, Who Are You ]

This is an interesting idea. A group of people whose intention and focus is closely aligned to God’s that they are like God’s image, but not recognizable as such because the viewing audience does not know God. This, if I can be so prescriptive and repetitive, is also missional. We carry within us an image of God so that others can know what God is like by knowing us. But, if the viewing audience does not know God, how will it help them to know us? The answer; we must tell them about God and then they will see God by interacting with us. But woe to us if we do not successfully emulate God because then our target audience will think God is like us – fallen, fallible, and sinful.

When someone meets you and gets to know you, will they know God through you?

Seeker, may you so emulate and reflect the glory of God that the world will know God as intimately as you know God. And may you seeker, be a child of God all of your days. Selah!

The “Now” of Mission

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” ( 1 John 3: 17-18 )

It seems, seeker, that we are still “abiding” in abiding. And from the sentiment of this verse, we are not just abiding in passive reflection but in forthright, intentional action. Just as God has a plan for the world, so should we have a plan for caring for God’s creation. When our plan and God’s plan coincide and support each other, then we can be said to be doing “missional” work and care.

And so with this explanation, the question that the writer of 1 John poses echoes in my thinking. How can one, who has all the resources he or she needs and more besides, ignore and turn away from the needs of another? We are not talking about taking food from one’s own mouth or the mouth’s of those near and dear to us, and giving it to someone else. No, what is being asked how can one, out of one’s own abundance, turn down another? Well, easily I would guess for some. But if a person claims to be “abiding” in God’s love, why would that love not spur one into action? I do not know if the writer of 1 John was writing out of concern for a particular situation or situations, or if he/she was writing a general exhortation. But it seems the latter is more likely.

So, seeker, I do not write this because I think you are not already showing missional caring. I am sure you are. What I see as the emphasis is the present tense-ness of this verse, in other words, in real time – now. If the question should ever arise, when should one do mission, the answer should be NOW! Missional work is not done by committee but by real people exactly at the point when the need arises.

May you seeker be spurred into action by the Spirit of God and may you have the “goods of the world” to do so. Selah!