Christianity 201

December 12, 2014

Digging Deeper into the Text: I John

I was looking at the blog Preacher Smith, written by David Smith who is a pastor in Baytown, Texas. The item we’re using today is a little different for us, simply a series of questions on a short text, but if you truly read these questions for all they’re worth, you might find you only get through of them today.

It also occurred to me that perhaps some of you have never been in a small group, a house church, or a home Bible study. What you’ll see below is fairly typical of the Q&A format you might expect there. But you don’t don’t have to be in a group; you can go to a Christian bookstore and pick up a study guide — I recommend the Lifeguide series from InterVarsity Press — and start working your way through a variety of studies either based on a particular book of the Bible or selected texts on a specific topic.

It’s also important to note that these questions are not homework given out after the sermon, but things this pastor expects his people to do as advance preparation.

To read this at source, and see previous studies or follow the series, click the title below.

Eluding our Idols: 20 Questions on 1 John 1.5-2.6

This coming Sunday (Dec. 14) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue a study of John’s letters entitled Eluding Our Idols. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, following is: (a) the text of 1 John 1.5-2.6 and (b) twenty questions and exercises go along with this reading.

Receiving this Word in our Mind

1.5 This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 6 If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. 7 But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 8 If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

2.1 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2 He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. 3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. 4 The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. 5 But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. 6 The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

Wrestling with this Word in our Mind

1. In this text (1.5-2.6), underscore every use of the word “in.” What is “in” God, and what is not? What can be “in” us and what can we be “in?”

2. What sort of “claims” are made in this passage. To know, note every occurrence of the appearances of the word “claim” in 1.5-2.6.

3. There is “no darkness in him [God] at all.” (1.5b) What are some of the “dark” things you sometimes hear people claim God is about?

4. God is light (1.5) and we’re called to “live in the light” (1.7). What does someone look like if they’re “living in the light?”

5. Fellowship with God (1.6) goes hand-in-hand with fellowship with each other (1.7). It’s not a matter of the former being essential and the latter being optional. How so?

6. Blood is a tangible thing, but sin is not. (1.7) And so, when John says it is Jesus’ “blood” that cleanses us from sin, what is John saying? That is, are we to understand the word “blood” literally here or are we to take it figuratively, like a metaphor for something else?

7. There is no sin too big for God to forgive us of and he can cleanse us of all wrong doing. (1.7,9) What does this truth do for your heart and spirit as well as your outlook and perspective?

8. Who in their right mind would claim to not have any sin or to have never sinned?! (1.8,10) Further, study what commentators and scholars say about who is being spoken of in these verses.

9. We can sometimes deceive others, but how is it that we can “deceive ourselves?” (1.8) What does this tell you about the power of sin and the weakness of human beings?

10. What is “the truth?” (1.8; 2.4) Make sure your answer fits John’s thinking and usage in this context.

11. The Greek word translated “confess” in 1.9 is a present infinitive, which means John is telling us that confession is an ongoing, habitual, ceaseless action for the Christian; it’s anything but a ‘one and done’ sort of thing. How is it that confession is a necessary habit for a healthy relationship with God and others? And what sort of things need to be in place in a person’s spirit so that confession can happen?

12. John writes so that his readers won’t sin (2.1). Turn that around and ponder it: your weapon with which to repel sin and your tool with which to ramp up a life of holiness is to read. So, how are you coming along with that? Tell us a bit about your reading habits regarding Scripture and some of your successes and failures with such.

13. Jesus is Christ is our “advocate” with the Father. (2.1) With the aid of BibleGateway ( or a similar site, compare the rendering of the word “advocate” here in the CEB with other English translations such as the NCV, NIRV, The Message, and The Voice. What image of Jesus Christ is being placed here before us? What does this image say about us? What does it say about Jesus and what he does/will do?

14. How is the phrase “… God’s way of dealing with our sins …” in 2.2 (CEB) translated in other renderings? Compare the GNT, NASB, NIV, and RSV.

15. After reading 2.2, consider this: how does the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ differ from the many sacrifices commanded of the Jewish people under the Old Covenant?

16. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for dealing with “the sins of the whole world.” (2.2) What does this tell you about Jesus Christ? Does this mean every person needs to be a Christian or does it mean that whoever God forgives and accepts, he does so on the basis of Christ’s work for them? Explain.

17. How do we know that we know God? (2.3)

18. No one can keep God’s commandments perfectly. And so, can we ever say that we “know” God or can God’s love ever be perfected in us? (2.4-6)

19. “… live in the same way as he lived.” (2.6) Really? How far is a person supposed to go with that statement? What phrase or concept in the immediate context of this statement serves as good commentary or definition of what John meant when he said “live in the same way as he lived?”

20. Our right standing with God isn’t based on our ability to make something like a plausible sounding claim of having no real sin in our life, rather that we have a keen sense of our dependency on the work and blood of Jesus Christ for us. How can a Christian nurture the development of such a mind as that?

January 20, 2013

Don’t Forget What You Look Like – A Devotional Poem

James 1:22-25 (NLT)

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Be doers of the word and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves.

Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

cat in mirrorWe look in a mirror and we see ourselves.

Ears, lips, nose, neck, eyes.

Sometimes, all we see is our flaws.

Uncle Henry’s ears. Aunt Millie’s nose. Not quite symmetrical. Not quite perfect.

Sometimes, we see our ideal.

Brad Pitt’s chin. Angelina Jolie’s lips. Almost perfect. Nearly beautiful.

But neither imperfections or ideals is truth. We have a hard time seeing ourselves just as we are.

Just as we are made. Just as he sees us. Just as he saw himself, the image of the invisible God, reflected in the still places along the river.

Ears, lips, nose, neck, eyes.

  • He had ears – that really listened. Not just waiting for a silence to fill, but hearing. Patient. Understanding.
  • He had lips – that smiled, knowing the difference between just talking and actually saying something. Whispering or shouting as needed.
  • He had a nose – that sniffed out trouble. Sniffing out the hurt, the lack, the fear, the lonely, drawing him toward, not away. Sniffing out hypocrisy, pretension, and lies.
  • He had a neck – strong, but never stiff. Always stretching to see beyond the immediate, and beyond the stars. And bending to work and to pray, in compassion and in humility.
  • He had eyes – deep, bright, warm, embracing, looking through the surface to the truth. Seeing the eternal beneath the skin. Seeing the beauty beneath the brokenness.

Jesus is the mirror that the Father holds up for you. The mirror the Spirit polishes and refines in you.

The mirror that commands us to, more and more everyday, reflect God’s image into the world.

He is the mirror that we so quickly turn away from, forgetting what we look like.

So our prayer must be this:

Teach us to look at ourselves and at you. To look honestly.

Show us where we have been deaf.

Show us where we have been silent.

Show us where we have failed to face corruption.

Show us where we’ve been proud or stubborn.

Show us where we’ve chosen darkness, and ignored the light.

Show us what we look like. Don’t ever let us turn away. Don’t ever let us forget.


~ Ruth Wilkinson

January 17, 2013

What’s In It For Me?

It’s great when readers submit original work here. Kim Rogerson returns for the second time in what just might be a recurring role!  This passage in II Kings deals with Hezekiah’s rather strange reaction to Isaiah’s prophecy. Verse 19 is key, and if you miss the nuance, the NLT and Message get to the heart of that verse.

2 Kings 20:16-19

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

19 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”

New International Version (NIV)

One of the saddest verses in the Bible is 2 Kings 20:19 – Hezekiah’s reaction to Isaiah’s prophecy. Hezekiah is a King of Judah who has witnessed God’s deliverance first hand. When the Assyrians invade Judah and threaten to destroy Jerusalem, Hezekiah turns the matter over the Lord and prays. God answers Hezekiah that He will defend Jerusalem against the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:35) and He does! The angel of the Lord kills 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp and their army withdraws (2 Kings 19:35 & 36). Hezekiah is also healed from a terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1-11).  Politically and personally, Hezekiah knows that God is working powerfully in his life. Yet his attitude to Isaiah’s prophecy that his progeny will be carried off as exiles to Babylon is surprisingly congenial apathy. It’s as if he is saying to himself, “Oh, well. So sad for them, but I’ll be all right.”

Contrast Hezekiah’s response to his great-grandson’s response to the same prophecy. During Josiah’s reign the Book of the Law is found in the temple. When it is read to Josiah, he is overwhelmed with grief and sends to enquire of the Lord about what is written there. The prophetess Huldah tells Josiah that God will punish Judah for not following Him (2 Kings 22:15-20).

15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

So they took her answer back to the king.

However, Josiah’s reaction is different from Hezekiah’s. In 2 Kings 23:1 it says, “Then the king …” and Josiah gets busy. He makes sure everyone hears the word of the Lord and then he starts obeying what it says. He gets rid of the idols in the temple and the pagan priests practicing there. He goes into all the country and smashes the altars made for other gods. He celebrates the Passover with the people of Judah with whole-hearted enthusiasm. In 2 Kings 23:25 it says of Josiah, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” What an epitaph!

Imagine if we truly cared about what is written in the Bible and turned to the Lord with all our heart and soul and strength? We can’t stop the fulfillment of prophecy, but we can get busy and put God’s Word into action, especially Jesus’ commands to love God and to love each other (Matthew 22:37-40).

If you missed it, link to Kim’s previous article about David and Joab.

October 6, 2012

How Firm a Foundation

In 2010 we visited the blog Christian Blessing; today we return for an article by Wayne Stiles which appeared there under the title How to Fix Foundation Problems in Your Spiritual Life. (You’re encouraged to click that link and read this at the original source.)

Years ago, my grandmother’s 1909 house got a fresh layer of wallpaper.

But only weeks later, I noticed in a high corner the wallpaper had buckled, and in some places, it had even split.

When I asked her about it she said: “Oh, the house needs foundation work. Every time the seasons change and the wind blows a different direction, the whole house shifts.”

That made sense. For years I shaved inches off most of the doors trying to get them to close. But the repair only lasted until the wind shifted again.

Look closely at the lives of your friends and family. Maybe even your own life.

You’ll see this old house’s problem in vivid display.

Foundation Problems Affect Everything

The choice to fix foundation problems always costs. But so does ignoring them.

When I remember my grandmother’s old house, I remember Jesus’ words:

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand . . . the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” —Matthew 7:26–27

Hearing God’s Word, but failing to follow it, is like papering over the cracks of a bad foundation. Sounds silly, but we see it all the time:

  • When one marriage hits the rocks, another follows with little more success.
  • When one obsession or addiction seems conquered, in its place comes one more of equal destruction.

Job after job, church after church, relationship after relationship—when the walls of lives get wrinkled or ripped apart, the solution seems simply to paper over the tear with a fresh print and start over.

The problem, of course, lies not in the wallpaper, the walls, or even the wind. These remain but symptoms of the real problem: a poor foundation.

Our Favorite Foundation is Faulty

I’ll never forget the sobering statistic I read from the Barna Group years ago:

“The basis of people’s moral and ethical decisions these days is more likely to be feelings and less likely to be the Bible.” —Barna Group

The problem here? God never intended feelings to guide us. Instead, they betray us. (Tweet that.)

  • When the devil tempted the first woman to disobey, the cunning serpent appealed to emotion by discrediting God’s Word (Genesis 3:4-6).
  • When we doubt God’s truth—or simply stay unaware of it—we have nothing left to base our decisions on but emotion and common sense—both inadequate as foundations.
  • When we make decisions based on any other foundation but God’s Word—not simply morality, but real, biblical truth—we sit at the mercy of any wind’s whim. No marriage will endure, no salary will satisfy, no job, church, or relationship will last.

How can they, when we base them on feelings that constantly shift?

How to Fix Foundation Problems in Your Life

Got some cracks in your spiritual life? In key relationships? Don’t paper over them. Work to fix foundation problems.

If you choose to invest time in the Bible and apply its life-changing truths, you will live like those of whom Jesus spoke:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.”—Matthew 7:24-25

The decision to fix foundation problems always costs. But so does ignoring them.

Question: On what basis do you make your decisions?

~Wayne Stiles

August 8, 2012

Listen and Obey

Today we make a return visit to the blog of Kalamazo, Michigan pastor Jeff Jones on hearing and obeying God’s voice.  Click here to view at Jeff’s blog.

“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Today’s text is both inspirational and instructional in nature. On the inspirational side, who wouldn’t want to have God set them on high and have His blessings overtake them? But, did you notice that God gives us some pretty clear instructions in terms of actually qualifying to receive those blessings? The key is found in just one word—a big one, “if”. If we will listen and if we will obey, the blessings come, if we don’t, they don’t. Pretty simple, huh? Our ability to receive these promised blessings from God requires our willingness to diligently obey the voice of the Lord. There are a lot of voices in our world that are daily trying to influence us. Advertisers have a voice, our friends and family’s have voices, and even popular opinion has a voice. But those voices are always changing. The voice of what’s in and what’s not, what’s today and what is so yesterday. Aren’t you glad that God’s Word never changes?

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” Psalm 119:89 

While these voices may speak to us, we need to establish ourselves firmly on the ONE voice that will see our through our whole life—The Word of God. God’s voice should always have preeminence in our lives because His voice never changes. We can always take Him at His Word. His voice in our lives is not moved by current culture or by popular opinion. He is the Lord and He doesn’t change. Do you remember what He said in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord I change not…” God’s positions on life and social issues don’t evolve; they stay the same, because He stays the same. We can place our trust in Him.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19 

Finally it’s important to note, that we’re required to do more than just hear the word of God, we are to obey it. In other words, we’re not to debate it, massage it, manipulate it, nor are we to try to adjust it to fit the times. We’re to obey it, period! We don’t ask God to adjust His Word to fit us; we adjust our lives to fit His Word. We don’t have an option, either we build our lives upon the truth of God’s word or we don’t. There is no middle ground, no room to compromise, only obedience. But because we’ve chosen to listen and obey, our faith is now under attack. Because of our love for God and His Word we are called haters, bigots, intolerant, or even simply minded. So let’s make our stand upon the Word of God. Let’s stay strong in our trust in the truth we find within its pages. Let’s continue to diligently obey the voice of the Lord our God.