Christianity 201

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

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 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 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 . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

May 20, 2021

With So Many Opinions About Jesus

Thinking Through 1st John 2:18-28

by Clarke Dixon

With so many opinions about Jesus, whom do we trust?

We live in days of opinions on everything. Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? Jesus, or no Jesus? There is no shortage of opinions on politics, hockey, religion, the weather, anything and everything.

The internet has only made things worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It is said that thanks to the internet we live in the Information Age. It may be more correct to say that thanks to the internet, we live in the age of opinions.

Anyone can now share their opinion with the world, no matter how ridiculous the opinion may actually end up being. Nothing needs to be reasonable, or sensible, to be published.

This might be fine when the opinion does not matter much. Which hockey team will win the Stanley cup? I may have an opinion on that, in fact I do. You may not care. It may matter to some of us now, in fact there is a whole industry devoted to sharing opinions on sports. But will I care in 100 years? Will any of us?

There is something that matters now, that can make a big difference in our lives now, and will matter to each and every one of us 100 years from now; What, or better, who, is God?

What, or better, who is God? This is the most important question ever asked. This is the most important question ever avoided on a regular basis. When it is asked, there are so many opinions.

Even if we narrow it down to thinking about Jesus, asking, ‘is Jesus the best representation of God the world has ever seen?’, even then, there are so many opinions.

Some are of the opinion that Jesus is just a mythical figure. Some are of the opinion that Jesus was a man who lived, but the early devotees, or rather ‘inventors’, of Christianity, made him bigger than he is, turning the man Jesus into a God following his death. Some of us are of the opinion that Jesus rose from the dead and is, in fact, Lord and Saviour.

How do we ever find our way in a sea of opinions about Jesus?

John, in his letter known to us as 1st John, responds to an opinion some were promoting about Jesus. What John has to say in helping the early Christians navigate a different opinion about Jesus will help us navigate different opinions about Jesus in our day. So let’s take a look:

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.

11 John 2:18-19 (NLT)

With our fascination with the end of the world, we may want to know more about the Antichrist. However, John here is not wanting to talk about one figure, but rather some people who were sharing opinions about Jesus that were new and different. They are “anti,” meaning “instead of” Christ. They were promoting their own conception of Jesus instead of receiving the teaching about Jesus already given by the apostles. John is careful to point out that these people may have hung out with the Christian community, but they were never really Christians.

Who are these people?

In John’s day there was a way of looking at things which developed more fully into what is now called Gnosticism. There is much to say, but to keep it simple, anything “spiritual” and “otherworldly” was good, anything “material” and “this-wordly” was bad. Interestingly, many Christians today are somewhat gnostic in their thinking!

Given such a view, you can well imagine how certain teachings of Jesus would resonate, things like “I am the light of the world.” Since some of the teachings would resonate, they basically highjacked Jesus. They tried to change Jesus to fit their way of understanding instead of changing their understanding to fit Jesus.

They denied the humanity of Jesus, his death, and his bodily resurrection, and the logical conclusions from those facts. These things were all too “worldly” to fit with their way of thinking.

What is important for us to understand here is that the apostles, including John, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and life after death. They were with Jesus, heard his teaching, knew him to be a man like any other, yet a man unlike any other, saw him killed, and saw him alive again, not as some ghost, but as he was, in the body, yet different somehow. The disciples of Jesus adjusted their thinking to fit the facts before them. So when some people come along giving their opinions on how Jesus fits their way of thinking if you just think differently about Jesus, John is eager to set the record straight.

To this, John says,

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.

1 John 2:20-22 (NLT)

John is saying, you know the truth! And you know that these opinions from the false teachers are not it! You have heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, from the eyewitnesses. That’s it! Plus there is a presence through the Holy Spirit that brings you to a place of hearing about Jesus and saying “that’s it.” And “it” is the best news ever!

You know it and in fact you don’t need these false teachers to teach you anything anything extra:

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 Spirit 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 2:26-27 (NLT)

Hearing the false teachers would be like being on a jury, hearing all the evidence that has been carefully collected and presented, then picking up a tabloid with the headline “the shocking truth” about the case you are working on. So John is saying, don’t trade facts for opinions!

So 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.

1 John 2:24-25 (NLT)

So how does this help us navigate the many opinions being shared about Jesus today? Is Jesus just a mythical figure? Is Jesus just a mere man that other mere men conferred divinity upon later?

Just as the false teachers in John’s day were trying to change Jesus to fit their way of thinking instead of changing their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus, there are those today, who having already made up their minds that miracles do not happen, that the supernatural is not real, or that Christianity is a bad religion, try to change Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit Jesus.

We do well to do as the early followers of Jesus did and follow the evidence.

The early Christians had heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection from the eyewitnesses, the apostles who had experienced the reality of Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. With the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the news rang true, that Jesus is Lord. And the news was the best news ever.

Today we still follow the evidence. We still have the testimony of those who knew Jesus, witnesses of his life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is found in the writings we now call the New Testament. The case for Jesus as Lord and Saviour is compelling. It is both beautiful and believable. (See my sermon series called “Compelling” which is summarized here.)

People can share their opinions about the lake I go windsurfing in. They might be of the opinion that the lake is teeming with great white sharks and that since I fall off a lot I had better not windsurf there. They would be correct about my falling off a lot, but what about the presence of great white sharks? I can do the research and look up what kinds of fish are found in Ontario’s lakes. I can do the research and find out what kind of water great white sharks live in. I can ask those who regularly swim in the lake. I can learn from my own experience of swimming in the lake.

Let us follow the evidence, then walk with Jesus:

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.

1 John 2:28 (NLT)

There are many opinions about Jesus, but it really matters that we get it right.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus affects life now, it matters now, it makes a big difference, not just for us, but for everyone around us.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus will still matter to us 100 years from now and beyond, when God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life will matter more to us than anything.

Let us not settle for opinions about Jesus, Let us pursue Jesus.

With so many opinions about Jesus being shared in our day, whom do we trust? Let us trust Jesus!


The full sermon on video can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

May 10, 2021

Identity: Being The One That Jesus Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are highlighting an author who is new to us. Brian writes at On The Way. He is a pastor, which we learned from his various blog posts, but without an “about” page we can’t tell you more, except to say that we really enjoyed this article — it was one of three I considered — and hope you’ll click the header which follows to read this at On The Way.

I am the one Jesus loves

…I came across a bit from the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey:

“Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words: ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, ‘If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would not reply, “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,” but rather, “I am the one Jesus loves.”‘

“What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves?’ How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”1

The promises in our reading are amazing. Jesus is talking to his disciples after the Last Supper was over and before he was arrested. This reading comes right after last week’s discussion of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” He says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” Jesus loves you and he chose you. How does life change if we take this point of view seriously? Would your view of yourself change if you saw yourself as Mr. Yancey suggested: “I am the one Jesus loves.” This suggests that our primary identity doesn’t come from our jobs, our families, or our achievements, but from God. You are loved by God, and are a child of God who was chosen by God. When God sees you, it’s not through your acts, good or bad, or through your eyes or anyone else’s. God sees you as a child, and sees you through the lens of Christ.

You are loved and chosen. Many of you may think you have chosen Christ. It’s easy for us to think of that choice we made for Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. But before you could even make a choice for Jesus, Jesus made a choice for you. In prevenient grace, God seeks you even before you are aware of it. And as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus we are justified in God’s grace, with our sins being nailed to the cross. The grace of God continues throughout our lives, sanctifying us in God’s love. God chose us, offered us this amazing gift and as we have journeyed with Jesus he calls us his friends. Jesus told his disciples all the Father told him. He said they are no longer servants, but friends.

This distinction as Jesus’ friends is crucial because of the cross. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus did for his friends, the ones he loved, the ones he chose, you and me. This is not some romantic love or a friendly love. This is amazing love, a deeper love than we have known. This is a sacrificial love. This is not some abstract idea. This love is a verb, implying actions. The action is so deep that death can’t even destroy it.

But he doesn’t just love you and he didn’t just choose you, he loves and chose all of us. It’s not for you to decide who gets the love of Jesus; that’s Jesus’ choice. So if Jesus chooses to love everyone in this room, praise be to God, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that Jesus loves some people you may not enjoy. So what are you supposed to do with that? Harbor resentment, extreme dislike or hate for another person? No. Jesus says in verse 12, “This is my commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you.” Jesus isn’t simply asking us to pretty please with a cherry on top maybe consider thinking about loving each other sort of. No. Jesus is plainly commanding us to love each other as he has loved us.

Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave in chapter 13, where he tells the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus restates this in his prayer to God in chapter 17, just before his arrest, saying, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This love is what we are to be known for by those who aren’t Christians. But again, this isn’t some romantic love, some pleasant thoughts about one another. This is a love that is both feeling and action. Jesus calls for us to love one another as he loved us. How does he love us? He has walked among us, taught us, healed us, equipped us and ultimately died for us in order that we may be set free from sin and reconciled to God. Jesus’ love was one of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ love was one of servanthood. After the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told the disciples to do the same to each other. They are told to love one another and to serve one another as he has loved and served them.

Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands: to love one another as he has loved us. By doing this, we can live lives of complete joy knowing who we are and our purpose: We are beloved children of God who have been chosen by God to bear fruit and love one another. In loving each other, we show our love and devotion to God and bear the light of God’s love in the darkness of the world. Our light becomes the fruit of our love.

And while loving as strong and sacrificially as Jesus does sounds like a tall order, I believe we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own power to love that much because none of us have that power. Only God has that power. In order to love like Jesus we need to let go of our anger and resentment toward others. We need to stop thinking we’re better than others, stop slandering and gossiping about others, stop making fun of others. And this is within the church walls. We need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and see people as Jesus sees them, with great sacrificial love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Not only are you the one Jesus loves, but so are your brothers and sisters.

It’s not just us that we have to love. Jesus commanded love for God and neighbor, even when that neighbor is your enemy. How can we have love for our enemies if we can’t love each other? Our reading from 1 John 4 last week even questions our love for God if we can’t love each other. 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We love because God first loved us. 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.

The church and Christians are known for a lot of things, some good and some bad. Unbelievers look at the teachings of Jesus and then look to Christianity and too often find incompatibility. How can those who profess to follow Jesus neglect this important commandment to love one another. What is with the infighting within the church that has made it split into thousands of denominations? What is it within denominations that cause people to bicker and split? What is it within churches that causes people to split? Where is the love that Christians are to be known by?

We have to get this right. Our light and our witness affects our ability to make change in this world. Christianity isn’t just about scoring your pass to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of heaven to our current reality. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about the place you’ll go when you die, but something that Jesus is calling us to right now. The key to bringing it here is by living in the power of Jesus’ love. Jesus chose you and Jesus loves you. Abide in his love. Be encouraged, inspired and empowered by this. Live like you are the one Jesus loves. But also live like others are also the ones Jesus loves. Jesus calls us friends. He has given us the command to love one another and the power to do so. Love one another, not just superficially, but truly and deeply, as Jesus loves you. Let us show the world that we are Christians by our love toward God, each other and the world.


1 Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan, 2011.

April 15, 2021

What is the Bible and Can it Be Trusted?

What is First John and Can it Be Trusted?

by Clarke Dixon

What is the Bible, and can it be trusted? Your answer to that may lie somewhere between two extremes.

At one extreme, as I once heard it described, the Bible was dropped into our laps by God one day, already leather bound and including maps and a ribbon. The Bible is purely the work of God, people need not be involved. Therefore, of course it is to be trusted. Don’t question it!

At the other extreme, the Bible is a library of works written by men long after the events they speak about or purely based on their own religious speculations. The Bible is merely the work of humans, no God need be involved. Therefore, of course the Bible is not to be trusted. Don’t question your doubt!

Because we are beginning a series in 1st John, and because thinking of the whole Bible would make for a very long post, we are going to focus in on 1st John; what is it, and can it be trusted as a source of truth? Did God drop 1st John into our laps, or was it written by a mere man? The first four verses will help us sort this out:

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. 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. 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. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

We might notice that the words “we” and “our” come up a lot. Who is represented in this “we”? Specifically, this letter is traditionally thought to be written by John, a disciple Jesus called to follow him very early on in his public ministry. By saying “we,” John is including all the disciples who were with Jesus during the events related to us in the Gospels.

Having been followers of Jesus from the beginning, having seen him, heard him, been with him, and having seen him risen from the dead, the disciples were sent out by Jesus to teach people about him, all that he taught, and that he died and rose again, and what that all meant. The disciples, meaning ‘students’, became ‘apostles,’ meaning ‘sent-ones’. They were sent out to tell people what they knew to be true according to all they had witnessed. They were eyewitnesses. They were called to tell people what they had seen:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

We might think of the disciples receiving a call to be “witnesses” in a religious sense, just as I am a Christian “witness” today. But really the were called by Jesus to be eyewitnesses, like in a court of law.

It was important that these apostles were eyewitnesses, able to speak from personal experience. We can consider the qualifications Peter set out in replacing Judas:

So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 1:21,22 (NLT)

So what is 1st John? It is a letter written by an eyewitness, John, who was a follower of Jesus based on his personal experience of Jesus, sent to Christians in various communities to encourage them.

As we read 1st John, we can be aware that John, as an eyewitness, was not making stuff up, but living life out of what he had seen and experienced. This is a real letter from a real person speaking from real experience. Therefore, before we even start talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in John’s writing, there is already good reason to consider that John knows what he is talking about.

We often think of people like John as being primarily religious leaders, people who just loved to think of philosophy and religion. Let us keep in mind that John was a fisherman, and not someone who was seeking a career in spiritual leadership. He was a fisherman whose life was changed by Jesus. If John were still alive today, he may feel more at home in a witness stand in a court of law, than in a pulpit of a Baptist church.

The apostles were not sharing religious ideas they cooked up, in fact they would not have come up with this stuff anyway. Rather they were simply sharing what they had seen and experienced. Let us again consider the opening words of John, being sure to think of “we,” not as “we representing all humanity,” but as “we who were there with Jesus, who know what we are talking about”:

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. 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. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

1 John 1:1-3 (NIV emphasis added)

Someone may object, how can we trust John to tell the truth when John is obviously a Christian and therefore biased in what he says. That is like asking if you can admit as evidence in a court of law, the testimony of someone who has seen someone commit a crime. You can accuse a witness of being biased to thinking that a criminal is guilty. But if they saw the criminal commit the crime, you want to hear their testimony and weigh it along with all the other evidence. So of course John is biased. He is a Christian precisely because of what he has seen, heard, and experienced. Of course John is biased, he has spent time with Jesus, before his death and after his resurrection. It would be odd if he were not a follower of Jesus!

Let us recognize that in his letter, John does not just simply report on the fact that Jesus is risen. He unpacks what that means and how it applies to life and faith. We will be looking at that in the weeks ahead, but even in the first four verses we can see how John can speak of the identity of Jesus, as being from God in a significant way, being the source of eternal life, and being the Messiah, the rightful King of the Kingdom of God. In other words, John doesn’t just want to share that Jesus is risen, but that the resurrection of Jesus has meaning, it confirms Who He really is.

We have not yet spoken of the inspiration of Scripture. In what way can we speak of this letter of John as being “God-breathed” or “inspired”? Let us be reminded of what God is like:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture we can recognize that God would want to be involved, not just in the writing of Scripture, but any editing that has happened, and also the collecting together of the Scriptures into what we now call the Old and New Testaments. With regard to the New Testament, the early Christians were very intentional in limiting the writings they revered as Scripture to ones they knew were connected with the apostles, the eyewitnesses. Therefore John’s three letters are included.

The events of the Bible cover a long span of history because God had been relating to us in a special way for a long time before Jesus came. It took a long time, and a lot of people involved, to get to the point of being able to say we have “a Bible”. The Bible was not a book dropped in our laps by God. Rather it is a library of writings written by many different people for many different reasons at many different times. They are each a response to God’s real work in our world and in the lives of real people. This makes the Bible a very exciting read!

The Bible was neither dropped into our laps by God, nor written up by religious types who wanted to fool us. The Bible is a collection of writings by real people experiencing God in a real way. They are a real response of real people to God’s very real presence. God showed up. People wrote about it. God was involved in the shaping of the those writings then, so that He can show up in the shaping of our lives today.

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full sermon can be seen as part of this online worship expression”)

November 2, 2020

The ‘Other’ John 3:16

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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.
 – 1 John 3:16 NLT

This week’s look at the ‘other’ John 3:16 was prompted by something Ruth wrote for Sunday’s service, placing the thoughts of the passage into verse. But first, we’ll see what others have said about this verse. Because we can’t sing as much presently, Ruth has been teaching the congregation American Sign Language. The phrase this week and our theme today is,

I’ve been forgiven because of Jesus’ cross.

At KnowingJesus.com:

Many believers like to focus on the love of Jesus because they think that this will cause unbelievers to get saved but they prefer to allow Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to be side-lined in a blurry background, in case it offends or puts the unbeliever off the Christian faith!

But the shed blood of the incarnate Son of God Who was born into His own creation, and the immutable love of the eternal Father are inseparably interwoven and irrevocably united together.

It was love that caused the almighty God to send His only begotten Son into the world to become the sin-sacrifice for the entire race of humanity and it was love that caused the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that caused the Lord Jesus to be crucified on a cruel cross — willingly, so that all who believe on Him might not perish but have everlasting life…  [click the link above for more commentary]

David Bartlett at WorkingPreacher.org

…Here we glimpse the depth of the gift and the gravity of the demand. Christ gives unconditional love for us, even to the point of death. And he demands our unconditional love for each other, even to the point of death.

Yet, as preachers so often do, the preacher who writes this epistle tries to show what love to the point of death might mean, not just at the extreme moments of sacrifice, but in the daily give and take of the loving life.

Concretely, such love means charity. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17) … [click the link heading this section for more on verses 16-24]

At BibleRef.com:

In contrast to the person who hates or murders (1 John 3:15), the ultimate sign of love is to lay down one’s life for others. Jesus gave the supreme example of this kind of love by giving His own life on behalf of the sins of the world (John 3:16; Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is the ultimate example of how we ought to live our lives (John 13:15–17).

But what does it look like to lay down our life for the brothers? John certainly had in mind more than physical death, though this could certainly apply. Verses 17 and 18 add additional details about how to help others in need, and to show that God’s love abides in us (1 John 3:17). This includes helping those in need through actions and truth (1 John 3:18). God desires believers to both know the word and live it out (James 1:22), not merely to “feel” love and not act to benefit other people (Matthew 15:4–9).

PreceptAustin.org quotes Steven Cole:

…If you’re running short on love, stop and meditate on what Jesus did for you. If the servant who had been forgiven the huge debt had stopped to think about it, he would have forgiven his fellow servant the lesser debt (Mt. 18:23-35)…If you lack love for someone, first make sure that you are born of God. Then, ask Him for it…

Cross-references from BibleHub.com

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Philippians 2:17
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

1 Thessalonians 2:8
We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. That is how beloved you have become to us.

1 John 2:9
If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness.

The Cross: Forgiveness – by Ruth Wilkinson

He took my sin in His body,
His breaking makes me whole;
His wounds have been my healing,
The Shepherd of my soul.

My broken self is gone now
No longer am I slave;
Sin cannot command me,
It lies within His grave.

Jesus, my beginning,
My life now and my end;
I thank you Father, Holy Ghost
And Son, my Lord and friend

This is how I learned love:
He gave His life for me.
This is how I must show love:
Like Him, in truth and deed.

 

July 13, 2020

Spiritually Good People Can Be Worn Down by the Spiritually Bad

Today we’re returning to the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garrett. Readers there have been working verse-by-verse through the book of 3 John, and if you go back into previous articles, you’ll learn much about a character named Diotrephes, and the effect he is having on the local church. (If you have the time, this makes a good study.) Then, John moves to a passage which might be more familiar to us. Click the header below for today’s piece.

3 John -11

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. 3 John -11

John now begins a new thought, as indicated by the word, “Beloved.” This is the fourth and final time he uses this word in the letter. As with each instance, it is referring to the main addressee of the letter, Gaius. John has just referred to Diotrephes, noting his disgraceful conduct towards those he interacts with. Understanding this context, John now says, “do not imitate what is evil.”

The word mimeomai, translated as “imitate,” is seen only four times. This is its last occurrence. It is the root of our modern-day word “mimic.” Thus, the translation as “imitate” is well-founded. Gaius (and also we who apply John’s wisdom to our lives) is encouraged to not imitate what is evil. This implies that what Diotrephes was doing is, in fact, evil. The word translated as “evil,” however, is not the same as the previous verse. This word is a more universal word signifying morally bad. One can think of rot in wood which eats away at the tree.

Therefore, rather than imitating such conduct, John next says, “but what is good.” In this, Gaius needs to look no further than the example of Christ. Diotrephes had rejected that. Instead of being vibrant and healthy, his actions were rotten and in a state of decay.

John next says, “He who does good is of God.” The idea here is that the good a person does shows that he is out of, or from, God. His actions demonstrate the character, and the source of, who he is. Jesus referred to this in Luke 20 –

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Understanding this, John then finishes with, “but he who does evil has not seen God.” John’s words are to be taken in a general sense. There are people who do things which are “good,” which may be even more admirable than that of Christians. And there are Christians who do things which are not so good. They may be worse than those who are not Christians. What John is conveying is a state of being similar to that found in 1 John 3 –

“Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” 1 John 3:7-9

A person who is in Christ has moved from the authority of the devil to the authority of Christ. His actions are reckoned in an overall state.  Without being dogmatic on the matter, it appears that John believes Diotrephes had never truly believed in Christ. His actions are contrary to what a true believer would do. However, he does not question his salvation. He simply makes the observation that what Diotrephes is doing reflects the character of someone who has not seen God (meaning believed in what God has done in Christ).

Thus, when he comes, John indicates that he will deal with the matter. It will probably be an action similar to what Paul exhorted the Corinthians to take in 1 Corinthians 5:13. By putting him out of the congregation.

Life application: One may question, “Why would John say the words of this verse to Gaius if he had been acting in a Christian and responsible manner so far?” The answer is that just as a stone wears down to a pebble in a river by the continued slow grinding of the water and turbulence, we are equally susceptible to wearing down in our Christian conduct.

Bad company and bad examples will always bring down those around them unless they are diligent in maintaining their good behavior. This is abundantly evident in the political landscape of America. As people practicing perversion, and others with less than moral behavior, move into positions of power, those around them tend to degenerate into like-mindedness. The exceptions are belittled for their morality and defense of godliness. Eventually, only the most resolute and determined souls maintain their strong morals – usually at the expense of any true influence. This then is what John is warning against.

When he says “does good,” he is using a term which describes moral and spiritual goodness, just as mentioned in the example of those in politics above. The Greek word translated as “does evil” refers to something which lacks the necessary qualities that it should otherwise possess – like a lemon in a car lot. This was Diotrephes – the lemon on the lot, inferior and unworthy of any true value in the kingdom of God. We know this because John says that he who acts this way has not seen God in any heartfelt way which would qualify him for glorification.

Glorious and Almighty Heavenly Father – the world is a difficult place filled with perversion, wickedness, and unrighteousness. It is so very easy to become overwhelmed by the ungodly living around us. Please be our Shield and our Defender against the fiery darts which are constantly thrown at us. Keep us wholesome and healthy in our walk with Jesus. Amen.

October 4, 2019

John’s Post-Ascension Encounter with His Rabbi

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Today we’re back again at First 15 which is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College. Each day’s devotional is divided into a number of parts including a worship music video which I haven’t included here to encourage you to click the header below and read this at their site.

God’s Heart to Meet with Man: John on Patmos

Scripture

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Revelation 1:17-19

Devotional

The story of John receiving the book of Revelation from Jesus brings tears to my eyes. I imagine an isolated, weary, and lonely John on Patmos spending his days waiting until he gets to be with his beloved Jesus again. I imagine his heart yearning just to see his friend and Savior. And suddenly, after years of serving Jesus, he appears to John once again, his Lord and King standing before him, speaking to him that which will be the final words of Scripture. In Revelation 1:12-20, John records Jesus coming to meet with him, saying:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Imagine the joy and awe in John’s heart as his Rabbi Jesus reveals himself in glory to once again share with him history-altering revelation. Imagine the passion John would feel as his last days, which he thought he would spend alone in exile, are interrupted by a final chapter of kingdom work delivered straight from the mouth of his Savior.

God loves to interrupt the seasons of our lives in which we feel most lost with glorious encounters with him. He loves to re-purpose us for incredible kingdom work just where we thought we were most useless. He longs to meet with us and envision us for his plans to bring his kingdom to earth. No matter where you are or how old you are, God has tremendous plans in store for all those who will serve him. There is no work he gives us too small. There is no time in our lives that we are unusable. There is no age in which we are to stop being used by our Savior. Jesus longs to meet with you today and tell you of his plans for salvation. He longs to empower you to do a mighty work for his kingdom. He longs for you to see his kingdom come to earth all the days of your life until you take your final breath here and wake up with him. May you receive and share the revelation Jesus gives you today with a world that desperately needs to know him.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s heart to meet with you in every season of your life. Allow Scripture to fill you with faith and desire to meet with your King today.

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Jeremiah 33:3

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:13

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” 1 Chronicles 16:11

2. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you afresh today. Open your heart and receive him that you might live empowered to see the kingdom of God come to earth.

3. Ask God what it is he would have you do today. How does he want to use you to advance his kingdom on the earth?

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

Go

What an incredible gift that God would choose to use us for his kingdom purposes. You and I can have a real, eternal impact on the earth. No matter what our age or past failures, God longs to use us. And through the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have God dwelling within us. The same God who raised Christ Jesus from the grave, empowered the disciples for miraculous works, and has been at the root of every great spiritual awakening dwells within us. May you allow God to use you in mighty and powerful ways today to spread the gospel of love everywhere you go.


Extended Reading: Matthew 6
or watch The Bible Project’s video on Matthew 1-13.

August 31, 2018

John Knew the Incarnate Christ Better Than Anyone

This is our second time looking at the blog of Laura J. Davis. Click the title below to read at source.

How Well do You Know Jesus?

Have you ever noticed how the Apostle John started his first book? I’m sure you have as it’s not hard to miss. He is clearly making a statement about new beginnings and he does it by using Genesis as his foundation. He is making two points very strongly by using Genesis. The first is a not-so-subtle message to the Jewish people – God has started something new – pay attention. He then follows that up with who he meant by God.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

​He begins when God brought everything into existence, but he makes it very clear that there was someone else at play – The Word. The Word was with God in the beginning. In fact, John says, “The Word was God.” Now that would have had many Jewish people sitting up and paying attention. Who was this Word?

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2

He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:2

Genesis 1:2 lets us know for the first time a unique aspect of God – He is Spirit and John continues to emphasize that The Word was with God in the beginning. The Word and the Spirit are one with God.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.– Genesis 1:3-5

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.– John 1:3

God divided the light from the darkness and John uses that example to explain how The Word was similar to the light God separated from the darkness. He explains that The Word was life and that life was the light of men. In other words, His life provided light and hope to all mankind. As God divided the day from night (light from darkness) so the Word acted in much the same way – providing light to those living in darkness. But sadly, not all those living in the darkness comprehended the Light and refused to come near it.

​So, who was this Word that was also the Light and was with God in the beginning?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying,

This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:14

He was Jesus! God incarnate who came to earth in a human vessel to lead us in the way everlasting. To show us how great the Light really is and to prepare a way for us to live eternally in that Light. Sadly, the darkness of this world STILL does not comprehend the love the Father has for them. Many are still trapped in the darkness and fog of not grasping the enormity of what God actually did for them. He came down to earth in human form. He lowered Himself to our level in order to raise us up to eternal life in Him.

Everyone can come into that light and partake of the joy of knowing Jesus. He died for sinners, not saints. In other words, He doesn’t ask you to change before you come to Him, He simply says, “Come to Me.”

I wrote a book many years ago, with that title, Come to Me. It is a novelization of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of His mother. It’s available in my bookstore. I wrote it because some people won’t bother to pick up a Bible, but they will read a novel.

If you think Christianity is what you see out in the world today, if you think that is Jesus – you would be wrong. Jesus didn’t involve himself in politics. He didn’t call out specific sins or individual sinners over others. He didn’t protest certain causes either. In fact, if he had any complaints at all, it was not directed towards government officials or causes. It was directed towards religious leaders and their hypocrisy.

So don’t judge Jesus based on the way the media portrays Christians today. Read about him in the Bible or pick up my book and read about him. But find out about him. Get to know him as he is meant to be known. You’ll be glad you did.

 

August 9, 2018

Shall We Make Alterations to Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Does what the Bible say about Jesus fit you or would you like to make alterations? You love Jesus but perhaps you would rather he did not make such exclusive statements like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? We might prefer that he had said “I am a way, one truth among many, one road to life, and people can come to the Father in various ways”. In our pluralistic day we might be tempted by a view of Jesus that seems more inclusive of other religions.

In New Testament times, Christians were being tempted by an early form of teaching later known as Gnosticism. This teaching speaks of Jesus, but does concur with what the Bible teaches about him. The apostle John deals with this temptation in a letter known as 2nd John. In John’s letter we discover three reasons to resist the temptation to make alterations to Jesus.

First, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff. John uses the word “truth” four times in the opening verses, then in verse seven he warns against deception:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 2 John 1:7

The Gnostics were making alterations to Jesus to fit their worldview, rather than making alterations to their worldview to fit Jesus. They were messing with truth.

Why are you a Christian? Is it because you were raised a Christian? This can be a great introduction to Christianity, but is not, in fact, a reason to embrace it. Why was John a Christian? It was not because he was raised a Christian. He gives us some clues in 1st John:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 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— 3 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. 1 John 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)

John was a follower of Jesus because he met Jesus, learned from Jesus, saw Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead. John was an eyewitness, he knew these things to be true. John does not write a warning against heresy because he is concerned about religion, but because he is concerned about truth. If we do not follow a Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff.

Second, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff. Love is a prominent theme in John’s letter:

4 It has given me great joy to find that children of yours have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I am asking you — dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but only the one which we have had from the beginning — that we should love one another. 6 To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

7 There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist.  2nd John 1:4-7 (NJB)

You might think it strange that I would include verse seven, about deception, along with verses five and six, which speak about love, but in fact John connects them. Verse seven begins with a rarely translated connecting word ‘for’. We might give a rough summary of the line of thought like this: “It is great to find your children living according to truth. Now you, yourself, must double down on living a life according to truth, a life of love, because false teachers are coming, and they have a very different ethic than the love ethic you learned from the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Love is important to the Christian because Jesus, in his existence, life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is an expression of God’s love. If Jesus is something other than that, then love is no longer the main thing. Under the gnostic teaching facing the Christians in John’s day, the main thing was the separation of the body from the spirit. This led to an ethic of either extreme asceticism, because you must care less about your body, or extreme indulgence, since you could care less about your body. Either way, a life of love was no longer the main thing.

There is a popular notion that all religions lead to a very similar ethic. However, some religions in the history of the world have required human sacrifice. Not all religions lead to the same ethic and not all religions are equal. Christianity offers love as the main ethic, for Christianity was born out of God’s love. We won’t be strongly pursuing a love ethic if we are listening to an alternate views of Jesus. If all religions lead to God, then who are we to condemn human sacrifice as an unloving practice? If it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff.

Third, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff. John speaks of this in verse 9:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9

If Jesus was not executed then raised, we still have a separation from God problem.

But isn’t Jesus being too exclusive when he says “no one comes to the Father but by me”? A specific problem calls for a specific solution. Suppose my motorcycle stops running and a mechanic tells me that I need new ignition coils. Will I then say, that sounds too exclusive, perhaps we should replace the carburetors, tires, wheel bearings, and piston rings? A specific problem calls for a specific solution and nothing else will help. Our sin problem calls for a God’s grace solution. When Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, he is not being arrogant, but accurate. Greater effort can not deal with our separation from God problem. More religion just makes things worse. Only the grace of God will help us, and that grace has been expressed through Jesus. If we are not sharing a Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff.

Accurate teaching about Jesus is important enough that we should not allow false teachers to set up shop:

10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 2 John 1:10-11

In other words, when heresy knocks, don’t send Jesus out to make room for the heretic.

We may be tempted to run after alternative views of Jesus, but truth, love, and souls are in danger of being destroyed if we do. While it might sound tempting, if Biblical teaching about Jesus is not at the heart of our Christian faith, then our Christian faith has lost its heart.


(The full sermon can be heard here or through iTunes podcast here, while available. Unless stated otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV)

September 26, 2010

The Seven Letters in Revelation

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little.   There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time.   Maybe, as the pastor at the church we visited this morning suggested, the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church.

Zoom back in.   Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras.

Zoom in again.   Churches like the seven so-described exist today.   If you’ve been around you could put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more.   Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply.   Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. These letters have application to each one of us.   Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now.   Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on!   (But it’s actually a good summary, too.)

Click the image for original source site.