Monday, December 4, 2017

Thoughts on 1 John 5:13-21 (Pearls from John)

13. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. 14. And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. 15. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. 16. If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. 17. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death. 18. We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. 19. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. 20. And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. 21. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.
- 1 John 5:13-21
John is wrapping up his letter now and as he does, he dishes out quite a few pearls:

  • God hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him (v14) and God will give us what we ask for (v15).
    There are several denominations who have built a belief on the first part of this.  They believe that you can speak things into being.  They believe that if you declare something in Jesus name, then it will come to pass.  This is a dangerous thing to build a belief system on.  Effectively, believing this is making our God into a genie and that's not the point here.  While God is an amazing Father and He delights in blessing us, He's not just going to rain down winning lottery tickets on you.  If you ask God for something that it pleases him, then he will give it.  People don't understand that if you are asking God for something that He does not want you to have, that doesn't mean God isn't listening or that He isn't there.  Sometimes the answer really is just "no."  Declaring something is plain foolishness.  Who do you think you are to say something will come to pass because you attach Jesus' name to it?  He's not some kind of magical spell that you can just invoke on your wishes.  If what you are asking is not in God's will for you, then you probably won't get it.  I'll add another caveat here.  If you keep begging God for it even though it's not his desire for you, he may relent and give you exactly what you asked for.  The downside is that he had something infinitely better in store for you that you would not wait for.  Remember that when you ask God for something.  Sometimes the answer is no.  Sometimes it is yes.  Sometime it is wait.  Be patient!
  • We should pray for believers who sin so that God will give them life (v16).  Believers do not make a practice of sinning because God holds them and they cannot be touched (v18).
    Believers sin.  That's a fact and a reality of our human condition.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes we are bull-headed and don't want to confess to those sins.  If we see someone in this state, we should pray for them.  Pray that God moves in them and leads them to repent of their sin.  We are all sinners.  Believers are saved by grace through faith.  Once we belong to God, we are His forever.  The evil one cannot touch us or snatch us from the protection of God's mighty hands.  The evil one will lie to us.  He will tempt us.  As believers, our desire should be do live without sin.  We should desire to be in sin.  Once our eyes have been opened to our sin, our repentance means we turn away from it and to Christ.  If we are going back to our sinful ways, then that is not repentance.  A walk with Christ should not be a dizzying trip of going in circles from the same sins to Jesus and back and forth.  Believers do not make a practice of sinning.  If you do and you claim to believer, you really need to check your heart!
  • There is a sin that leads to death (v17)
    In Matthew 12:32, the sin that leads to death is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  John says, for those that have committed this sin, there is no hope.  He says that we should not pray for them.  Why?  Because it is pointless.  Wow.  I read a commentary that explained it this way.  Someone whose heart is so hardened against Jesus that they will never accept Him or His gift is one who has blasphemed the Spirit.  This person has declared finally that either they do not believe that they are a sinner or that Jesus is not the Son of God (or both).  John says, someone who has reached this point is beyond saving by their own choice so praying for someone like this is a waste of our breath.  But here's the rub: how do we know?  Aha!  We don't.  To try and guess is effectively passing judgement on a person, which is not our job.  Therefore, we pray without ceasing, even for those whose hearts are hardened against the Gospel.  Pray all the more for them that they may not commit this final and fatal sin.
  • The world is controlled by the evil one (v19).
    If anyone has ever asked the question of why bad things happen in the world, this is the answer.  The world is controlled by the evil one.  God has granted the evil one power in the world for a season.  God allows the bad things to happen so that even greater things can happen.  Remember that we cannot see all that God has done, is doing, and will do through what we call tragedies.  Our great and terrible losses and suffering are only for a short time.  Consider how long eternity really is.  Something that upsets you for a few days is nearly forgotten a year later.  Five years later, you may have a hard time remembering what it was that upset you.  Twenty years later, you may even wonder why it upset you at all.  Now, fast-forward to 100 years later.  Now how about 1000 years later?  10,000 years later?  Keep going.  Those things that seemed like such a big deal become less and less in the perspective of eternity.  Now, what if God takes that tragedy in your life and something amazing happens because of it.  You may never see the effects of that ripple in your life, but God does.  Rest-assured, the evil one's time on this Earth is limited.  It will come to an end.  Evil days are numbered and that should be a great encouragement to us!
  • Avoid anything that would usurp God's place in our hearts (v21).
    The evil one knows our vices.  Even good things can grow too big and try to take up residence in our hearts where only God was intended to be.  Put another way, anything can become an idol that you worship.  If it is becoming more important to you than your relationship with Christ, you need to do a reality check.  Nothing should take His place in our hearts!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thoughts on 1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 
- 1 John 5:1

John starts this chapter explaining what it means to be born of God.  John says if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, then you are born of God.  If you love the father, then you love his child as well.  Now, the meanings of this, spiral outwards quickly.

First, if you believe Jesus is the Christ, then that means you acknowledge that He is the Messiah, the one God chose and sent to save the world so that we could be made right with God.  By believing that Jesus is that makes us born of God.  That means God adopts us as His children.  That means, if we love the father (God), then we love his child (children) as well.  That means, we love all the children of God - our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Do you see what John just did there?  We love our brothers and sisters in Christ because they are also children of God, just like us!

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 
- 1 John 5:2

How do we know if we love the children of God?  We know because we love God and we obey Him.  Now, we go back to our concept of love.  If you love God the way you love Cheetos, you may need to rethink how you are using the word love (and possibly your relationship to Cheetos).  Love is a powerful thing.  The emotion behind it should be an intense connection to someone (not something).  The connection should be so intense and powerful that nothing could ever sever it.  No actions, words, thoughts, nothing could ever change it.  This is unconditional love.  It is difficult for humans to fully understand this and even harder if you have never experienced it for yourself.  We unconditionally and without any reservation love God.  That love means that we would do whatever He would ask of us.

I am beginning to understand this love because there is nothing I wouldn't do for my wife and my children.  If they want something, I would go out of my way to get it for them.  I want them to have their hearts' desires.  How much more intense is this love I have for God!  If He asks me to do something, I want to do it because I love Him and I know that He has my best interests at heart!

Love God and Obey Him.

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
- 1 John 5:3-4

Even as John is writing, he comes to the same realization that showing your love for God means keeping his commands.  Now, he is quick to point out that what God commands is not a burden to us.  Why?  Because we love Him.  He loves us.  He overcomes the world.  Because of who we are - sons and daughters of God - we have overcome the world.  This overcoming is a victory.  There is nothing that can stand against us.  Did you catch that?  We are victorious in Christ because through Him, we became part of God's family, and nothing can stand against God!  Amen!

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
- 1 John 5:5
The catch to being one of the victorious ones?  You have to be a son or daughter of God.  How is this possible?  When you believe that Jesus is the son of God and you accept him as your savior, then you are redeemed from the penalty of sin and you are adopted into the family of God!

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. 
- 1 John 5:6
I have to admit that when I read this verse, I find it confusing.  What does it mean that Jesus came by water and blood?  I understand the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is truth.  The Spirit testifies that Jesus is who He says He is.  This passage about water and blood is confusing.  After doing some research, it is apparently a widely debated passage.

When Jesus was on the cross, we know that he bled.  He had spent the previous day being beaten bloody.  Before that, he prayed so fervently that he was sweating blood.  There was blood involved at the cross.  There can be no doubt of that.  What is amazing to me is that when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus' side with the spear, water and blood came out (see John 19:34).  There was blood and water at the cross.

Now, I know that for a ritual cleansing (physical), the Jewish people used water that was set aside for that purpose.  For the ritual cleansing of the soul (spiritual), the Jewish people used blood that was from a sacrifice at the temple.  So Jesus cleanses the body and the soul by His blood.  Hallelujah!

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 
- 1 John 5:7-8
In order to establish something as true, it was the custom of the Jews to have two or more people testify to it.  Only two were needed to establish it as a fact. If more than that testified, then it was considered pretty strong testimony to the fact.  Here, we have the Spirit, the water, and the blood all testifying.  John says that these three testify and that their testimony is in agreement.  He is establishing a fact here.

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 
- 1 John 5:9
John is reminding the readers what they know about testimony.  He is saying that God's testimony is far more valuable because it is God's testimony, not just the words of men.  God testifies about His Son and that's a big deal.  You have divine testimony stating that Jesus is the Son of God.  If God says it, it is the truth!

Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 
- 1 John 5:10
John tells us pretty plainly here that we either accept God's testimony that Jesus is His Son or we don't.  If we don't accept that testimony, then that means we are calling God a liar.  Whoa.  If you don't believe what He is saying, then what you do believe is that God is lying.  Wow.  God only tells the truth.  If you don't believe that, then you believe God is a liar.  To believe that is to unravel the most basic tenet of creation.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
- 1 John 5:11
Here it is in its simplest form.  The testimony of God is that He has given us eternal life.  This eternal life is in his Son, Jesus Christ.  If we accept Jesus and that He is the Son of God, then we get eternal life, because that is what God has said is true.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
- 1 John 5:12
This is about as black and white as it can get.  If have Jesus, you have eternal life.  If you don't have Jesus, you don't have eternal life.  There are no exceptions or additional requirements here.  It's black and white!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thoughts on 1 John 4:13-21 (Completing Love)

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.
- 1 John 4:13

In John's gospel he told us that Jesus would be sending the Holy Spirit, and advocate to help us and be with us forever (John 14:15-17).  There, he also says that the world cannot accept him because it doesn't see him or know him.  To state it another way, we as believer, can accept him because we do see him and we do know him.  The Holy Spirit dwelling within us is a way for us to know that we are truly in Christ, that we are part of the family.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.
- 1 John 14-15

John is driving home the point that He has made several times before, but it is important and worth repeating.  Jesus is God's son.  He came to earth and became a man.  He was born to be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all mankind once and for all time.  If a person acknowledges that and accepts that gift, then they are with God and God is with them.  That's the gospel.  That's the good news is that John is desperate to tell everyone.  Remember, the people he is writing this letter to were abandoned by those who could not believe that Jesus could be human and still be good.  They missed the gospel because it did not align with the beliefs of the time.

We live in a time where belief in God is unpopular.  We live in a time where people do not want to be held accountable for their actions.  We live in a time where people cannot agree to disagree.  Hatred, anger, bitterness, lawlessness are the normal attitude of the day.  To claim that everyone is a sinner is offensive.  To claim that we need to be forgiven for our sins is offensive.  To believe that we need Jesus is seen now as weak and offensive.  The attitude of our society today demonstrates the need for Him even more!

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
1 John 4:16

Because we are part of the family of God, we know His love now.  We may not fully comprehend it or understand the depth of it, but we have it.  The more we grow in our faith, the more we rely on that deep wide love.  God is love.  If we are living a life full of love, then it is a testament of God living within us.  The overflow of His love is evident in our lives, isn't it?

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.
- 1 John 4:17

There's a lot in this one verse.  Among ourselves, love is incomplete.  We are human and cannot fully grasp the depth of God's love, but we can try.  I love the implication here that "love" isn't something you just have.  Love leads you and drives you to do things.  Love means that there will be action.

I have to pause for a second and acknowledge John's warning that a day of judgment will come.  This is one of those things that people don't like to hear or read.  There is a day of judgment that will come.  People don't want to be judged and held accountable for their actions (or in-actions); nevertheless, the day will come and everyone will stand and account for their lives.

Back to completing love... In this world we are like Jesus.  For love to be complete among us in this world, we are like Jesus.  Jesus didn't beat people over the head with their sins, he forgave their sins.  The sick, dying, needy all came to Him.  He healed them and satisfied their needs.  The harshest words be spoke were to people who should have known better.  He taught the people about the kingdom of heaven in a way they could understand.  He cared for them.  This is what we are to do.  We are to be Jesus to the world.  Healing, teaching, providing, all these things, that is love.  There's a reason why you feel good after doing good for others: it's the feeling of love being made complete in you!

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
- 1 John 4:18
Read that verse again slowly and let it sink it for just a moment.  Fear has to do with punishment.  That means if you are afraid of someone or something, somehow there is a punishment involved.  Perfect love drives out fear.  In Christ, we have nothing to be afraid of.  We have no reason to fear death because we are right with God through Christ Jesus.  If we die, we are with Jesus in Heaven.  There is nothing to fear.  No one can condemn us because we are covered by the blood of the lamb.  We should not be afraid of anything, but if we are, then that means that we have some growing to do.

Now, what kind of fear do you suppose John is talking about?  I don't think he's talking about when someone jumps out of the bushes and frightens you.  I think the fear he is talking about is more intense than that.  We're talking, you are frozen in place.  You are sweating profusely, maybe even sweating blood.  Your mind is racing with options to fight or flight.  Your heart is beating like there's no tomorrow.  You taste the bitterness as adrenaline is rushing through your body.  You don't know if you will survive the next moment.  That is a crippling kind of fear.  If you are under a threat, I don't think it's a bad thing.  Let's say if you turn the corner at the zoo and you're confronted with a bear who escaped his exhibit.  I think that kind of fear might be okay there.  But if you have this kind of fear when you are contemplating work, school, events of the next day, and so on, you might need to check your heart!

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

Our love for God is our response to Him.  He loved us first.  He demonstrated that love in a huge way.  Our response should begin with loving Him in return.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
- 1 John 4:20-21

Now that we have learned a little more about love and how it works, we can hear these verses a little better.  We have this perfect, complete, and overflowing love.  If that is true, we cannot and should not hate our brothers and sisters.  Our hearts and minds should not be capable of that emotion anymore.  Our brothers and sisters will frustrate us and make us angry sometimes.  That's the nature of being a family!  When all is said and done, we must love them.

Love is hard sometimes.  That's why I often pray asking God to teach me to love others the way He loves me.  I guarantee that's a prayer that will be answered.  Now a word of caution, when you ask God to teach you something, be ready for the lessons to come. 

Now, go out there and love on somebody!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thoughts on 1 John 4:7-12 - Overflowing Love

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. 
- 1 John 4:7-8

One of the major characteristics of God is love.  God's love is so vast and amazing that it has to be shared.  God loves the Holy Spirit and Jesus.  The Holy Spirit loves God and Jesus.  Jesus loves God and the Holy Spirit.  This divine love is so powerful and so enormous that the love spills over.  There is more love than we can comprehend!  Now, we should be thrilled to get what's left over from this love-overflow, but you know what, God loves us more than that.  We don't get the overflow.  We get the unfiltered, unrestrained, immeasurable fullness of God's love!  When you have that kind of love and so much of it pouring into you, it will overflow.  Your tiny fragile human body cannot contain God's love!  It fills you up and overflows you.  It is designed to be shared with those that are around you.  Jesus' love should emanate to those around you simply because you are in the room.

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 4:9-10

How do I show love?  How did God show love?  Glad you asked!  John reminds us that God showed us love first, even while we were still sinners.  If you will recall, God has always said that the penalty for sin is death.  No one sin is greater or lesser than any other.  All sin is sin.  The penalty for sin is death.  Since we are each born under Adam's sin in the garden, we are all sinners, we will all die.  But God's love is greater than this!  He knew that to conquer death and to make a way for us to be saved ("redeemed") from the penalty of our sin, He'd have to send His son to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins - for my sins.  That is love. 

God, the creator of the universe, the One who knows every hair and freckle on my body, the One who knows how many stars there are or ever were, He loved me enough to sacrifice His Son to die so that I could live with them forever.  Wow!

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- 1 John 4:11

My love for God is a response to His ultimate love for me.  Nothing I could ever say or do can ever change God's love for me.  It's amazing that even though He could hold this over me, He doesn't.  He doesn't say, "You know, I gave my son for you, the least you could do is ____."  He doesn't do that!  Now, He will absolutely lead and guide you to what He knows will be fulfilling for your life and the lives of others, but He still gives you that choice.  You can keep the love to yourself or you can share it with another.  John says we should love one another, and I agree.

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

If we are filled to overflowing with God's love, we cannot help but share this love.  I encourage you today to not just say you love someone, but to show someone that you love them.  John has expressed it in this Scripture today.  If you love someone, then God lives in us.  His love is complete.  When you share that love, you are sharing God with someone.  For just a moment, you shine as the image of God that you were made to be.  One of my favorite quotes from Victor Hugo's Les Misèrables sums up this idea perfectly and I leave it as my closing thought for the day:

"To love another person is to see the face of God."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thoughts On 1 John 4:1-6

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
- 1 John 4:1

John begins this chapter with a warning and if you stop and think about the implication, it is more than a little frightening.  John says, don't believe every spirit.  That alone should give you pause.  That means that there are spirits out there and they are talking to you.  These spirits may give you ideas and suggestions.  John warns us to test them and see if they are from God.  This means that it is possible the spirit that is whispering in my ear is not from God, and thus, it must be from Satan!  Wow.  For the non-believer, this must sound a little crazy.  Fine.  Call it what you want, but these spirits are real.  John says, many false prophets have gone out in the world.  They are false because what they teach is not Biblical.  It is not truth!  There are several very popular preachers that are teaching things that are not at all biblical.  All they have accomplished is lining their own pockets with gold while leading many astray.  They will get their rewards, make no mistake about that.  That being said, they don't get all the blame.  If you blindly follow the spirit talking to you, then shame on you!  TEST the spirit.  If it confesses Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God the Father who came to us as a man, then you may have yourself a true voice.  If it says anything other than that, beware!

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
- 1 John 4:2

Good. John is teaching us exactly how you test a spirit.  It is pretty simple.  If the spirit says that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, then that spirit is from God.  It really is that simple.  A spirit who cannot confess this simple truth will not be able to tell you other truths.  Those untrue voices should be ignored.  Call on Jesus to guard your heart and your mind.  Speak his name out loud.  Turn the spirits away and don't bother to listen to whatever else they have to say.

but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
- 1 John 4:3

If the spirits are not from God, then who do you think they are from?  John tells us they are the voices of the antichrist.  We already knew antichrist was coming.  John says, the antichrist has already come and is even now in the world.  This has never been more true than it is today.  There are those who are trying to deceive us and draw us away from the gospel.  John calls them antichrist.  They will lead you astray into things that you want no part of!

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
- 1 John 4:4

Hallelujah!  Because of who we are in Christ, we have overcome these untrue spirits.  Because our God is greater than the world, because His Son is greater than the world, because His Holy Spirit is greater than the world, we have overcome them!  Wow!  That's incredible.  We don't need to fear these antichrist-spirits.  Jesus has already defeated them, but remember: they are sore losers.  They will not just go away quietly.  They are going down and they want to take as many people down with them as they can.  Test them and make sure that you are not one of the lost going down with them!

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.
- 1 John 4:5

The spirits that are untrue come from the world.  They speak from what the world sees and knows.  The world listens to them.  In other words, untrue spirits do not come from God.  They do not know what God sees and what He knows.  They speak from what they observe.  They may not even speak truthfully about what they observe; rather, they may make stuff up and pass that off as the truth.  It may make sense to those who listen, but it may still be untrue.  Here is where I get tripped up: the world listens.  It's like someone is speaking a whole bunch of nonsense.  Then he justifies what he is saying because of how and where he was raised.  The world listens to him because of his unfortunate situation, and then applauds him for the nonsense he was saying.  Then, somehow, if you are opposed to his nonsense (i.e. you call it nonsense), then you must hate him.  Do you see that?  Anymore, calling a spade a spade will get you lynched!

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
- 1 John 4:6

John is laying it out plainly for us here.  The people who know God listen to others who know God.  The people who don't know God do not listen to those who know God.  So it seems that we can recognize other believers by observing who they choose to listen to and who they choose to ignore.