1 John 3

1j3.jpgGreetings!

3     How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

God has adopted us as children.  Some people say that everyone is a “child of God,” but as I explored here that is not the case.  We should live in joy that God has adopted us and share that with others.

4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 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. 10 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.

That is a challenging passage at first glance, because it makes it appear that if we sin we aren’t Christians.  But that can’t be reconciled with many other passages.  There is a deeper meaning that appears to distinguish between our sinful nature and our new nature in Christ, such as in Romans 7:20 – Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Love One Another

11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.

We are often desperate to be liked, but the message of the Gospel will offend people.  We don’t want to add to the offense with ill manners and the like, but it is more important to make the truth about God known than to try to win the world’s approval.  In the end they won’t approve of you anyway.

14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

16 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. 17 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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

We are commanded to believe in Jesus and to love one another. 

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Best thank-you ever

I taught an economics lesson for a 4th grade class at the school where my wife is a librarian.  I combined some old Junior Achievement lessons and did a chocolate chip cookie taste test.  I explained a lot of financial and decision making principles along the way, and we discussed how advertising works and what we can do to avoid being tricked. 

The kids were great.  They enjoyed the cookies and asked lots of good questions.  I’ve taken a couple years off after teaching JA classes for various grades for about 12 years.  It was a lot of fun, and I’m thinking about starting it up again.  JA classes are proven to reduce drop-outs.

The teacher had the students write thank-yous, and they were all sweet.  But this one was the best (emphasis added):

Dear Mr. Simpson,

Thank you so much!  You are the best!  You saved me probably more than $100!

Now I know that Mrs. Simpson is very lucky to live with you.

With care,

John

That’s what I’ve been saying all along!  Finally, someone agrees with me.  Be sure to tell Mrs. Simpson (actually, she read the note before I did and was equally amused).

Evil

evil.jpgI think the existence of evil in the world does more to prove God’s existence than to disprove it (see this for more on that idea).

Some consider the existence of evil as proof that a loving God doesn’t exist.  But while such philosophical discussions are important, there is an element of silliness to it.  If I created a model universe with all the complexity of ours, and one of my little sentient creatures on my model earth determined that since he couldn’t fully understand everything about me and the universe I created and concluded that I must not exist – even after I wrote my moral code on their hearts and clearly revealed myself to them- I would find it amusing and irritating. 

The end of the book of Job is there for a reason (as well as other passages). 

Job 42:1-6 Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

The question of evil is typically offered as a challenge to Christians, as if it is only a problem for us to explain.  But how does the atheist explain it?  It is an even more difficult question for them to answer.  They can’t provide a foundation for the morality that they constantly reference.  There is no redemption of evil in their worldview.  That isn’t what makes their view wrong, of course, it just shows how the problem of evil isn’t the trump card against Christianity that many make it to be.

God permits evil, restrains evil and will ultimately redeem evil.  He already defeated sin and death at the cross.

Here are some terrific YouTube videos on the issue of evil.

1 John 2

1j2.jpgGreetings!

As always, it is important to read the context of Bible passages.  If you just take the first part of verse 1 you would have a false teaching that we might never sin again.  But reading on you see that sin is still going to be in our lives and we have Jesus in our defense when Satan accuses us. 

Also, while Jesus died for the sins of the “whole world,” one shouldn’t conclude that all are saved.  Countless other passages show that without faith in Christ we will still be accountable for our sins ourselves. 

2     My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

We can claim to love Jesus and be in the light, but it is so easy to hate others. 

12 I write to you, dear children,

because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

13 I write to you, fathers,

because you have known him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,

because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,

because you have known the Father.

14 I write to you, fathers,

because you have known him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,

because you are strong,

and the word of God lives in you,

and you have overcome the evil one.

Do Not Love the World

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

V. 15-16 are great to memorize.  It is a constant challenge not to get pulled into the world’s perverted system of right and wrong. 

Warning Against Antichrists

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

People who deny Jesus are also denying God the Father.  This is one of the many passages (roughly 100) in the New Testament that demonstrate that Jesus is the only way to Salvation.

24 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Children of God

28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Buddhists make lousy postmoderns

pluralism.jpgBuddhism has an eightfold path which should be followed when trying to avoid and reduce suffering.

  • Right View
  • Right Thinking
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Diligence
  • Right Concentration
  • Right Livelihood

Sounds kinda dogmatic and preachy to me.  There are a whole lot of truth claims there. 

Not that there is anything wrong with that.  It just shows that Christians aren’t the only ones making truth claims, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with making truth claims.  There is something self-refuting about making truth claims about why it is bad to make truth claims. 

1 John 1

1j1.jpgGreetings!

This is a short but powerful chapter.  John jumps right into an apologetic (a defense of the faith) by noting how they heard, saw and touched Jesus.  He was fully human and fully divine.  Some false teachers held that Jesus wasn’t really human, because they thought material things were essentially evil and needed to be abandoned.  Others taught that Jesus was not God.

John heard the message “from him,” that is, Jesus (v. 5).

Why did John write this?  To “make our joy complete,” not to pile burdens on us.  Sometimes we share the “Good News” (the Gospel) as if it were bad news that needs to be apologized for.  Not at all!  The bad news is that we are sinners before a Holy God and rightly deserve punishment.  The Good News is that Jesus died for our sins and we can have salvation by trusting in what He did for us.

John expands on the “light” imagery he used in his Gospel (John 1:4-5 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.)

 Those who claim to be without sin lie to themselves and about God.  Praise God that He is faithful and just and will not only forgive us but purify us.  But John wasn’t saying that we can’t be obedient to God.  He also says that we should walk “in the light.”  One way to look at it, which I concede could be an oversimplification, would be to say that as authentic believers we won’t be sinless but that we will sin_less.  And if we have trusted in Christ then all our sins – past, present and future, are forgiven. 

We are forgiven not because of righteous things we have done, but because God is faithful to his promises.

1 John

The Word of Life

1     That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Walking in the Light

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

The worst church growth program ever?

acts-5.jpgA comment on the Yoko Ono post referred to this portion of Acts, and I wanted to clarify a few things.  It relates to how believers treated their possessions in the early church.  It could be called “the worst church growth program ever.” (I’m kidding, of course.  The church grew dramatically even with this not-so-seeker-sensitive approach.)

Acts 4:32-5:11

The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Ananias and Sapphira

5     Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

In the midst of the dramatic church growth we read this cautionary tale.  Some people read it as the early Christians being communistic, but that isn’t the point at all.  As always, we must read carefully and in context.

The passage describes the general behavior of believers but it doesn’t say God commanded this (“No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”). 

Peter didn’t say that Ananias and Sapphira were obligated to donate anything at all: “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”

The sin wasn’t in not giving enough, it was lying to God.   This was a serious thing, especially when the church was forming.  They needed purity and honesty, just like we do today.  Just because we are in the age of grace doesn’t mean that God doesn’t take sin seriously. 

We don’t need deception to spread the Gospel.  We need the truth.

Satan was defeated at the cross in an ultimate sense, but he was and is still active in tempting Christians and non-Christians. 

Despite this event, the church continued to grow.  Consider how lax church discipline is in the U.S. today.  I’m not wishing for judgments like those again Ananias and Sapphira, but the lack of discipline has let all kinds of false teachers in the church and corrupted our witness. 

Again, this passage was not a Biblical command to be property-less.  Saying your possessions aren’t your own doesn’t mean anyone can come take them.  It is recognizing that ultimately they all come from God.  We aren’t giving him anything He didn’t give us in the first place.

Other passages round out the New Testament guidance on giving, notably 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.